A decade has now passed since New Order’s last record, 2005’s underwhelming Waiting For The Sirens Call; 25% inspiration, 75% perspiration.
In the interim, bassist Peter Hook quit the band acrimoniously and formed a Joy Division/New Order tribute band Peter Hook and the Light whilst what remained of the band continued to occasionally tour in front of adoring festival crowds, released an odd’s and sods album composed of Sirens leftovers and frontman Bernard Sumner briefly dabbled with side project Bad Lieutenant.
Also during this period, the iconic status bestowed upon both Joy Division and New Order continued to grow unabated. The music and the myth were immortalized on screen in Anton Corbijn’s acclaimed, austere biopic Control (2007), their long time champion and maligned patron of all things Manchester – Mr Tony Wilson – passed away, original keyboardist Gillian Gilbert rejoined and both Sumner and Hook published autobiographies of differing levels of veracity and disillusionment.
So with their legend secured, what is the point of New Order releasing a new album in the year 2015, 34 years after the band first formed from the ashes of Joy Division? What can they offer? And why did they sign a new record deal? Well, chums…perhaps the answer lands somewhere between opportunism and idealism but that could be said of most career musicians over the age of 40 with rent to pay and kids to feed. I would like to think they signed with Mute Records because of the label’s own uncompromising ideals embodied by founder Daniel Miller who created Mute to release his own strange electronic music in the late 1970’s. Mute have dipped their toes in the pop mainstream -Depeche Mode, Moby , Erasure, Goldfrapp – but have remained a sanctuary for the more offbeat – Fad Gadget, Wire, Nick Cave, Liars, Throbbing Gristle – and those who inhabit the grey lines between musical categories.
With their new album Music Complete now available to pre-order and due on the 25th of September, a few thrilling snippets are now online to whet the appetite and revive the mystery and as brief as they are, the energy contained easily surpass the mostly workmanlike motions of their last album. will it be a classic New Order album or just slightly above average? maybe with Gilbert restored and Hook out of the picture, the inspiration to perspiration ratio could be reversed but you just never know with this most frustrating and human musical outfit.
New Order – Regret (1993)
Because do I really need an excuse? To discuss this monster tune? Yeah, I said ‘monster’, a phrase not used outside of naff out of touch DJ’s, fantasy/sci-fi writers, young children at play and people who are growing old but can’t quite admit that they are just naff and past it. A bit like David Hasselhoff in fact! Brilliant segueway on my part there huh? Yep, me writing the word ‘monster’ to describe a New Order single from 1993 is probably just as uncool with the Hoff and his 1990’s global TV Phenom Baywatch somewhat redundant in the current pop culture universe. Until of course, they are not. But this isn’t about me and my passe, unhip writing style readers. This is about the song. The song is the thing. Oh, I’ve done it again sounding like some veteran/inside showbiz comic/actor with ‘the thing is the thing’, so inside, so cheesy and a bit pompous if you don’t mind me saying.
(No excuses needed of course to discuss the sublime but seeing as New Order recently signed with the legendary pioneers of uk electronic music Mute Records -sans Peter Hook – to record their 10th album, it seemed as good a time as any.)
Anyway, Regret is I reckon one of the great New Order songs and one of the greatest singles of the past twenty years. Yeah, that’s what I think but what is this opinion based on aside from a biased predisposition to their music from a young age? Well, there are few bands who can make music that makes you feel so inspired and so despondent at the same time. Quite a trick. I’m not sure if I like being tricked in general but if it’s New Order then it’s fine by me. So, this ‘juxtaposition’ (ding! ding! ding!) of moods in their songs is here in this video brought to its logical/farcical conclusion as five pasty-faced Mancunians perform on a beach along Hasselhoff and his tanned mannequin minions; the bittersweet sentiments of lead singer Bernard Sumners lyrics lost amidst the blazing white light of Hasselhoffs ego.
Why did this happen? How? Synergy most random? Someone knows and they can keep it to themselves frankly. Or maybe evidence of a band fighting against the resignation of the songs protagonist, grabbing a ridiculous opportunity while they can because why the hell not? Before you fall apart, allow yourself the chance to chat up pamela anderson for goodness sake!
Manc electro pop Phoenix vs west midland speed metal madman? An unlikely combo it would seem and yet a common thread could be traced back to the early 1980’s.
During the recording of New Orders second long player Power Corruption & Lies when according to bassist Peter Hook in the illuminating 2010 Documentary Lemmy, the band copped to Motorheads musical influence; their relentless rock and roll blitzkrieg groove, locked in tight and trance like provoking post punks reluctant hedonists to indulge in more sequencer action, creating their own repetitive dance groove.
And thus both bands did record two poignant first person accounts of young men at war; one a graceful melancholy waltz, the other a brash, hopeful electro folk number and both empathizing with those ordinary lives thrown into the chaos of organised barbarism, the humanity often lost in the madness.
Int. Bedroom. Evening.
Title card: January 1995. Ballybrack, Dublin. My Gaff.
(to sister, offscreen)
What’s this? I asked for a New Order album. This looks like the front of a metal container or something, doesn’t it? Is this the proper cover? Are you sure? Look at the order form? The list? Give it to me. Ok. Where is it? I see, it’s listed under FACT-150. Id that the category number.
(delighted with myself)
FACT means Factory Records!
But are you sure? There is no band name on the front or anywhere I can see. Let me have a look inside at the inner sleeve. Yeah.
(to mother, offscreen)
What’s that? I can’t hear you, I’m in my room! No, I don’t want dinner now! I can’t eat those feckin frozen chicken things! I told you before Mam. Right, well I will cook a pizza or something. Is there one left? Ok, I will have that, thanks.
Where was I? Fuck it, I will just put the thing on will I?
I peruse the inner sleeve of the record – which is mostly white save for tiny track listings in black –
Ah yeah, I can see the name of the songs on here. It must be them so.
I close my bedroom door, remove the record carefully from the sleeve, blow the dust off and place it gently on the dusty 70’s relic of a turntable and wait…the needle hits the groove, the drums kick in, followed by some heavy synths and then the inimitable Barney Sumner vocal stylings kick in…this feels a bit heavier, quite Eighties but a bit rockier than their other stuff. The second track ‘Weirdo’, all wiry guitars, Hooky bass, desperate, breathless, joyful rhythms and I’m gone. I take my school jumper off and start jumping around the room. We get to the chorus….
Just like the ocean of the sea/just like the blood that burns in me/someone like you cannot be free/just like a lock without a key….
Someone banging. What the fuck? It’s me Mam banging the ceiling from downstairs. In mid musical ecstasy, i throw a strop and open my bedroom door.
What!!!? It’s not that loud Mam! I will turn it down a bit. No, I don’t want those chicken yokes! I’m listening to my album! For gods sake, yes! I will turn it down! I’m havin the pizza! Yeah, the one in the freezer! Thanks!
I slam the door, turn the volume down a but not enough to kill the delirium of my musical awe. Onto the next track. And the next. Then ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and…
I’m lost to the misery, to the love, the joy, the mystery. This is mine. And right now, right here I don’t feel so alone.
New Order – The Perfect Kiss Promo (1985) Director: Jonathan Demme
Joy (?) and discovery in the Pleasure Zone as conceived by maverick American film-maker Jonathan Demme ( Something Wild, Silence of the Lambs) and French cinematographer Henri Alekan (La Belle et La Bete, Roman Holiday, Wings of Desire)
Simply filming the notoriously reticent Manchester foursome in their practice room as they conjure up one of the key singles from their 1985 album Low-Life was a revolutionary and bold step at the time. The group were , for most of their lifetime camera averse, shunning typical pop group publicity photos, letting the music and the cryptic, iconic Peter Saville art of their album and single packaging speak for them and in the process creating a mysterious, romantic sort of anonymity that made them unique.
As in his startling Talking Heads concert documentary, Stop Making Sense (1984), Demme simply focuses on the fundamentals: the creation and invention of a piece of music, how it slowly builds, assembles, falls into place; the band members stoic concentration lifting the curtain; revealing the fragile, human endeavour behind this piece of inventive,sophisticated lovelorn electronic pop.
Control (2007) Dir: Anton Corbijn
Something bothered me about Anton Corbijn’s acclaimed 2007 biopic of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis. The film based on Deborah Curtis‘ book Touching from a Distance and it certainly doesn’t paint Curtis in too sympathetic a light showing a troubled, confused young men much like other troubled, confused young men in early adulthood. Albeit one diagnosed with epilepsy couple, blessed with a unique, spectral stage presence and voice that helped the band became of the most influential of the crop of post punk bands to rise out of the ashes of punk in the late 70’s.
Corbijn’s film is beautifully shot in black and white which neatly referenced both his own iconic photographic work with the band and the feel of the grey skies and dank streets of life in a northern town during that period. Sam Riley as Curtis does an uncanny impersonation of the singer and is suitably soulful, troubled withdrawn as the legend dictates.
But the portrayal and tone of the film seemed quite humorless and in awe of its subject as if made by one of the intense,earnest Camus reading young men that seem to make up much of the bands cult following.
As I sat there watching the film, I kep on thinking ‘Where was the spark of humour so apparent in Michael Winterbottom’s irreverent take on the Factory Records story?’ In 24 Hour Party People, talented character actor Sean Harris plays Curtis with a similar, wired intensity but comes across as a fairly affable, witty, occasionally volatile character.
Cinema is not about presenting an absolute truth and certainly, a more light-hearted side of Curtis personality might have jarred with Corbijn’s overall vision but for me, the solemnity of Control saps something of the energy and excitement out of Curtis’ musical legacy and paints him as a monochrome martyr.
24 Hour Party People is also guilty of its own myth making but is up front about it from the get go with it’s use of the late Factory impressario Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) as an unreliable narrator but the impish, reckless life force of that film and its brief focus on one of the key English rock bands of the last thirty years feels more authentic in spirit than the entirety of Corbijn’s well-intentioned feature-length memorial.
In tribute to New Order’s impending performance at the Forbidden Fruit Festival here in rain-sodden Dublin – which I’m fortunate enough to attending this evening. Instead of selecting tracks piecemeal and inserting them into the Essential Sounds Series, a theme which could conceivably go on for decades into my old age if I don’t come up with some new ideas fairly soon, the timing felt right to finally compile a list of my favourite tracks by the influential Mancunian outfit before i find myself lost and confused in the musical desert of middle age wondering why my taste has abandoned me and the cruel realization that the word hip would now suggest not transient cultural knowledge of youth but the looming possibility of hip replacement.
So, rather than compile a High Fidelity-esque top 10 to make this easily digestible, tagworthy and possibly easier to discover on any world-wide web search function, I will instead journey chronologically through the bands recorded output, throwing together a mixture of singles and album tracks.
I’ve passionately enthused about this song before on the blog back in December 2010 but the bands first single which charted at a lowly 34 on the UK Singles chart back in March of 1981 retains its life affirming restorative powers even after countless listens.
Written as a Joy Division track, the words written by Ian Curtis and filtered through Bernard Sumner‘s suitably hesitant vocals view an impending union; the onset of domesticity, routine, real love with both trepidation and elation. God, Peter Hook‘s opening bass line breaks me every time.
Dreams Never End (1981)
The opening cut from Movement, the band’s debut with a rare Peter Hook lead vocal. Maintaining the propulsive, wiry guitar attack of Ceremony, Hook does a decent Curtis imitation in this raw, fizzy rocker, pointing the way forward for a brighter, purposeful less fatalistic future for the band.
Another stand alone single and the first steps to defining the New Order sound; synthetic and organic, ecstatic and melancholic. Sumners vocals are more sure yet still refreshingly wan as he recounts an end of night post pub/club odyssey filled with maudlin romantic and sexual longing familiar to most of us.
Drum machines, sequencers buzz with the echo of Moroder and Kraftwerk and transform these former doom laden prophets of post punk gloom to the forefront of hedonistic, pan sexual club culture.
Your Silent Face (1983)
Deadpan electronic folk existentialism anyone? The bands were now mastering their technology, fusing the old and new methods with skill and grace on their second album Power, Corruption and Lies.
Wearing their Germanic influences on their sleeve and yet creating a hypnotic distillation of both man and machine without sacrificing those essential human elements of warmth or humour.
Leave Me Alone (1983)
The closing number from Power, Corruption and Lies serves as a reminder of their roots and highlights the bands bipolar tendencies, often hopping back and forth between their electronic selves and a more pure guitar/pop style on their albums.
At this stage, Martin Hannett was no longer guiding the band as producer as they gained more confidence in the studio but this track harks back to the Joy Division Hannett era with the powerful rhythm section, mechanical concise drum beats, a melodic bass line dovetailing with brittle, refined guitar melodies with only Sumner’s aching, vulnerable vocals marking it as a New Order track.
Gillian Gilbert, who joined the group as keyboardist in 1980, added a vital feminine element that counterbalanced the pulsing testosterone of a male dominated line up but here she is absent and the song is a monument of herculean young male self-pity but no less brilliant and moving for that.
Age of Consent (1983)
Infusing their pop side with the repetitive motion of dance music and finally express their inner joy.
Love Vigilantes (1985)
Continuing where Age of Consent left off, Love Vigilantes from 1985’s Low Life retains that tracks vibrant musicality and wraps it around a poignant tale of a soldier at war in a far off land aching for his family and his homeland. Here, the band now blurring the line between their dock and dance personas adding a twinge of country or folk to the mix.
Face Up (1985)
I’m choosing this album track over the more well-known single The Perfect Kiss because well, its wide-eyed vitality makes me feel giddy and lovesick all at once.
From my favourite New Order record, the more guitar heavy Brotherhood, this moody number almost makes New Order sound sexy The sound of a band in full command of their musical and sonic gifts.
All Day Long (1986)
Having said that, the use of synthesizers is still quite prominent and here they achieve a majesty of sound that incorporates all of their apparent disparity with ease forging a moving elegy to what exactly? Urban alienation, relationship abuse, deprivation, lost innocence or maybe none of those things. Only Sumner knows.
Bizarre Love Triangle (1986)
Quintessential New Order. This is another piece of perfect pop yearning. Several versions or mixes exist but all still contain that spine tingling synth and bass crescendo that simply melts your stony cynical heart.
True Faith (1987)
In which New Order beat their closest sonic rivals at the time, The Pet Shop Boys at their own game with a towering glacial construction of electronic pop melancholy. The sound of liberation tinged with a potent undertow of resignation.
Love Less (1989)
A somewhat downcast, acoustically flavoured kiss off to a former lover that sounds quite sparse when compared to other tracks such as Fine Time and Round and Round on their Ibiza influenced 1989 album Technique but it’s a perfect example of how the bands seemingly effortless tracks are often their most effective.
And finally…well not finally but this is where it all started for me. My love affair with New Order and probably their last great single. The band was now at their musical peak technically and mainstream acceptance was now a given.
But just as it appeared that this wonderful single and the middling album from which it came Republic would take them to a new level of success, the band split and Regret seemed like as fitting a send off as any; a touching reflection on past decisions filled with yearning for a future with more substance.
A life beyond the fickle, treacherous world of pop. And yet…
Close Range (2001)
There was still some inspiration left. Reforming in 1998, it took them three years to finally release their comeback album Get Ready and it was somewhat dismissedcritically and commercially at the time but i consider it a solid, if not great and undervalued New Order album where they show the 21st century new kids – who were now brashly declaring their love of all things Joy Division,New Order, New Wave and Post Punk – how it’s done.
Turn My Way (2001)
Billy Corgans involvement dates it a bit of course but it’s a surprisingly effective collaboration, both parties complimenting each other. Corgan had already displayed his New Orders influences quite explicitly on Adore, The Smashing Pumpkins doomed electronically styled follow-up to their seismic multi million seller Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness.
Here, once again they make the banal sound beautiful.
So no Blue Monday, Perfect Kiss, Shellshock, Crystal, Subculture, Weirdo, State of the Nation, Touched by the Hand of God, Thieves Like Us, Round and Round, Run, World in Motion?
Tell me. What is your favourite New Order track?