For some reason I have never – well, until very recently – owned a New Order record. Not one. I have no idea why; I love many of their singles and must’ve picked up Substance a hundred times in record shops, only to put it down again each time, before I got to the counter.
There are, of course, plenty of artists – or authors, or directors, or TV programs – who I’ve made a subconscious (or conscious) decision not to delve into despite almost overwhelming acclaim and clear obviousness of tase-matching. As I’ve said before, you simply can’t investigate every potentially fruitful lead, because there isn’t enough time; I like riding bikes and playing football and doing other stuff too, as well as listening to records. It’s just a coping mechanism for the huge surplus there is of culture out there.
But sometimes circumstances, or fate, or whatever, aligns a little bit, and you end up deciding that now is the right time to finally investigate something. And now is the right time for me to investigate New Order. Embrace’s new record owing such a sonic debt to New Order (all those high, melodic basslines, synth oscillations and electronic drum pads) is just one catalyst among several.
Deciding I’d finally take the plunge, I asked Twitter where to dive, and the overwhelming vote was for Power, Corruption and Lies, which I duly bought and enjoyed thoroughly (especially “Your Silent Face” and, of course, the bonus non-album singles on the second disc of the remaster). Suitably impressed, I bought a copy of Technique about a week later (at the same time as I bought a CD copy of the Embrace album, actually). The very next day we had record club, so I took it with me, and so this was my first all-the-way-through listen to it (I’d put it on for about 20 minutes the night before, too), having never knowingly heard anything other than the singles previously (and not really remembering them).
So I don’t really have anything to say about Technique, because I’ve only listened to it a couple more times since. It’s certainly far more ‘Ibiza’ than PCL, and a little lacking in the (seemingly accidental) pathos and detached emotionalism they’re so good at as a consequence; I enjoyed it almost as much, though.
New Order are such a weird band; they seem to be comprised of (two, at least) unpleasant idiots who can neither play their instruments nor sing, and yet they’ve somehow managed to create some of the most emotional and beautiful music to ever emerge from Manchester (or anywhere else, for that matter). So tell me, where should I go next?
Tom listened: Over the course of the last six months it seems as though the others have conspired to give me a tour through the old and long lost TDK C90s that I used to own. Technique is another one of those – an album I always liked well enough but, much like most of New Order’s output, never really captivated me enough to entice me to part with my hard earned money. And so it was on the evening – really enjoyable, but musical ephemera as far as I am concerned – something to do with Sumner’s vocals and the lack of warmth and emotion contained within the (admittedly) finely crafted and executed pop songs on the album. My guess is the closer (get it?) we get to Joy Division, the more I’ll connect with the music of New Order, but my instinct is that unless he has a Future Islands on Letterman moment, Bernard’s vocals will always be a sticking point for me.
Rob listened: A couple of answers and a couple of questions for you Nick. Firstly, go to Substance next. It’s as good a singles comp as any band could muster in the post-punk era, brimming with distinctive, inventive and intoxicating songs. Then Low Life followed by Brotherhood. Stop there, I reckon. You might like some of the stuff from Republic but the returns are diminishing by then. Movement is great, but perhaps a little too proto for your liking.
Questions: where on earth do you get the idea that any of New Order are unpleasant or idiots? I’ve interviewed three of them and they were warm, generous and thoughtful about their music. The fourth, Peter Hook, seems similar from what I can gather. They may have fallen out with each other, but I’m unaware of anything they’ve said and done that merits those descriptors above any other average rock star.
Secondly: where do you get the idea that they can’t play or sing? They are, all four of them, innovative and groundbreaking and they did what they did by playing their own instruments. You might find some of their technique (lol) rudimentary, but then such is rock and roll, where the emotion is often found wrung from the space between an artists reach and their grasp. Bernard Sumner’s voice is an absolute case in point. Hooky’s bass playing is distinctive and really pretty wonderful. If you’re levelling some sort of ‘they just pushed a few buttons’ charge at them, and I’m pretty sure you’re not, then I look forward to you saying the same about Orbital and Four Tet. Sorry Nick, but I think that’s lazy.
As for the album, I like Technique a lot, but not as much as the four that preceded it. It signalled the point where New Order made their last great contribution to the development of our music, their third if you count what they did as Joy Division. It’s also the point at which their direction started to diverge from where I was going (ie they went to Ibiza, I went to the Hacienda on a Wednesday instead of a Saturday). Nonetheless, they stepped ahead of the rest once more, which is pretty remarkable, and the record they made still stands up today.
Nick responds to Rob: I absolutely don’t mean “they’re just pushing buttons on synthesisers” when I say they seem like they can’t play their instruments, far from it: as Rob notes, I love lots of music that’s produced by people clicking a mouse or pressing a button rather than by stroking a harp or whatever. I mean that what they do play – the bass and guitar parts, and the drums (which are often off a machine rather than a kit, obviously) – often seems so simple and perfunctory as to seem amateurish or childlike; there feels like little freedom, improvisation, or melodic development. Of course, if there was freedom, improvisation, or melodic development, then the emotional heft that they achieve would be obliterated; it comes from the mechanistic, uncomfortable repetition, from the simplicity of the patterns being produced. Barney’s singing – flat and monotone and struggling with both range and sustain – adds to this sense I have that they’re almost just lucking it out somehow. But it’s what makes them brilliant.
As for them seeming unpleasant, again thats just a vague impression taken from a distance. They don’t seem to like each other much.