Saturday, July 24, 2010

Top 10: New Order

From the bleak, edge-of-the-abyss masterpiece that was Closer to World Cup football anthems: the tale of Joy Division/New Order is a pretty interesting one. Although it's tempting to portray late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis as the tortured poet and the rest of the band who carried on with New Order as salt-of-the-earth raveheads, it's overly simplistic: Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris wrote the music for Joy Division, which was every bit as dark and foreboding as Curtis' devastating lyrics, while the pulse of dance music was evident in tracks like 'She's Lost Control' and 'Isolation' long before New Order explicitly embraced it.

New Order's earliest material saw them in an awkward transitional phase, with Sumner seemingly apeing his late friend in the vocal department, but once they laid down 'Everything's Gone Green' and 'Temptation' all bets were off: here was a band willing to experiment with the rhythms and textures of dance music while still retaining the essence of a post-punk guitar band. 'Blue Monday' soon followed and took on a life of its own, rewriting the rules and introducing New York's underground club sounds to the British mainstream. For the rest of the 80's they continued to release music both experimental and exuberant, before internal conflict slowed down their output and eventually saw them split. They returned in 2001 with the massive 'Crystal',and stuck around to witness the emergence of a host of bands such as The Killers and The Rapture who had been inspired by their back catalogue. Now seemingly split permanently, their legacy is formidable.

#1 - 'Your Silent Face' (Power, Corruption & Lies, 1983)

A glorious re-imagining of Kraftwerk's 'Neon Lights', its blissful glide punctuated by some typical Mancunian humour ("You've caught me at a bad time/ So why don't you piss off"). The interaction between Hook's melodic basslines and Sumner's guitar at the 2-minute mark is amazing.

#2 - 'Temptation' (12" version)(1982)

Although 'Everything's Gone Green' before it had embraced synthesisers in glorious fashion, the release of 'Temptation' marked the point at which New Order's sound and identity crystallised, with Sumner's nonsensical yet somehow genius lyrics the final piece of the jigsaw. 'Temptation''s exuberance and sense of abandon still utterly charms. You could hear its influence all over one of the finest indie anthems of recent years - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's 'Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth'. Important note though: there's about five if not more versions of this song in New Order's back catalogue, the most famous one used on the Trainspotting soundtrack, but the raw, intoxicating, nine-minute 12" version cannot be beaten. Trivia: Sumner's audible yelp at the 50-second mark was due to Hook stuffing a snowball down his top.

#3 - 'The Perfect Kiss' (12" version)(1985)

Again, despite the fact an edited version appeared on the album Low-Life, the nine-minute 12" version is absolutely essential. Sumner's lyrics are extremely cryptic and ambiguous here, and there's much debate about their meaning. "...Pretending not to see his gun/ I said let's go out and have some fun...My friend he took his final breath/ Now I know the perfect kiss is the kiss of death.." Was it about AIDS or violence? Or something else entirely? Musically, it's an epic, with a glorious build-up that the album version completely omits. "We believe in a land of love" seemed to sum up New Order's quest for dancefloor catharsis.

#4 - 'Blue Monday' (12" version) (1983)

Despite all the legends of sleeve design mishaps, despite the fact that this tune is so famous and influential it's long since taken on a life of its own, despite the fact it's been played, remixed and sampled to death, 'Blue Monday' is still undeniable. My favourite bit is from 5.50 onwards when the whole thing moves up a gear. The 12" version is the one, needless to say. I should have just made that the title of this whole article.

#5 - 'True Faith' (1987)

This synth-pop monster came on the back of Brotherhood, an album where the band seemed to be losing their experimental edge ever so slightly. 'True Faith' was more than enough to send the doubters scurrying, with a terrific vocal from Sumner and an anthemic chorus that seemed equally suited to hedonistic dancefloors and arenas alike. A definite highlight in their live sets. The video was pretty cool too.

#6 - 'Everything's Gone Green' (1981)

This was the last New Order track that troubled producer Martin Hannett, who had been so influential on Joy Division's sound and aesthetic, worked on. The late, great Tony Wilson:

"Blue Monday" is given the credit for being the first great modern music track which uses computers. In fact although I would never try and cross Bernard because he's extremely clever, (well New Order got the credit), but if you look at Bernard's production of Marcel King at the same time, and the 52nd Street band, Section 25 then it's obviously Bernard who was doing that. But Bernard learnt it all by watching Martin. In fact the most important track of all is "Everything's Gone Green". If you listen to it, is the beginning of modern music, and "Temptation" takes it one stage further. And then Martin and New Order break up and they go off to do "Blue Monday" as the next record, that's the one that quiet rightly is seen as this incredible break through, but nevertheless the important song is "Everything's Gone Green".

This has to be the most underrated New Order tune, but then again it was followed up by the might of 'Temptation' and 'Blue Monday'. Sometimes I imagine a DJ playing this in a club some night, but it'll probably never happen. It would be an insanely beautiful thing though.

#7 - 'Crystal' (Get Ready, 2001)

New Order split after the 1993 release of Republic, and it wasn't an amicable one. However, they managed to put their differences aside five years later and got back together for some touring, introducing Joy Division songs into their live sets for the first time. They contributed a spiky track to The Beach soundtrack, but nobody could have been prepared for the sheer brilliance of their comeback single proper. 'Crystal' was arguably the heaviest, most attitude-drenched, malevolent-sounding creation of their distinguished career: old dudes weren't supposed to sound this alive! Fun fact: The Killers took their name from the imaginary band that features in the promo video,'posing' as New Order. Never let it be said that Brandon Flowers and co. are lacking in knowing self-deprecation. Thus, I've included the video version below, but the album version wipes the floor with it.

#8 - 'Age of Consent' (Power, Corruption & Lies, 1983)

Driven by a wonderful Peter Hook bassline, the opening track on Power, Corruption & Lies sounded like a sequel of sorts to Joy Division's 'Digital', its despondent lyrics masked by buoyant synths and hyperactive though sparing guitar work from Sumner.

#9 - 'Regret' (Republic, 1993)

The song that every Irish person will forever associate with the morning radio news and weather, and yet that intro somehow sounds as majestic as ever. As does the rest of it.

#10 - 'Vanishing Point' (Technique, 1989)

I remember bedding down at Electric Picnic a couple of years back and hearing the strains of 'Vanishing Point' coming from a nearby tent, a completely unexpected but cool moment. This haunting soundscape seemed to be Sumner's rebuttal to critics who painted him as the simple, village idiot successor to Curtis' tortured soul - "My life ain't no holiday/ I've been through the point of no return...". It's the soaring highpoint on New Order's finest album, one that was described as Sumner's Blood on the Tracks due to its unflinchingly personal lyrical content.

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