A master of many instruments — including his own vocal chords — Shaun Lee has lent his musicianship to everyone from Coldcut and Unkle to Leann Rhimes and the Spice Girls. With a CV like that, the idea of Ubiquity putting out an album of mainstream tracks re-imagined by a guy with soul/funk roots doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Rooted in classic soul, white-boy funk and surf guitar hillbillyism, the album takes some major Billboard anthems from recent years and makes them sound decades older. If nothing else, Lee’s experiment shows that a great pop hook can be flipped in just about any way imaginable.
Starting off with Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” an already vintage-sounding tune, Lee strips away the modern pop sensibility and leaves a swinging up-tempo soul vibe in place, sans vocals. Many of his picks were already dripping with funk and stood out from the pop crowd, like Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body” or Amerie’s “One Thing.” Lee’s interpretations of these two are spot on but don’t add much given how classic sounding they already were. Same goes for Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.”
It’s when he stretches further that Lee really gets creative. Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood” turns into a sleepy dub/reggae workout, and Missy Elliot’s “Get Your Freak On” goes psycho rockabilly. With “Toxic,” he even manages to make a Britney Spears record listenable, replacing the vocals with exotic guitar licks and the drum machines with frantic live percussion.
Alternating between live replays, faithful reinterpretations, and complete overhauls, Hits the Hits is certainly diverse, but it often lacks that intangible funk feeling. With so many talented pop producers out there, it means that Lee’s efforts are sometimes welcome and other times a disservice to already stellar pop productions.