|Track||Album / Single|
|Temptation||Substance 1987 / Factory FAC 63|
|Bizarre Love Triangle||Substance 1987 / Brotherhood|
|Procession||Substance 1987 / Factory FAC 53|
|Touched By The Hand Of God||Factory FAC 193|
|Your Silent Face||Power, Corruption & Lies|
|Turn||Waiting For The Siren's Call|
|The Perfect Kiss||Substance 1987 / Factory FAC 123|
New Order (l to r): Gillian Gilbert (keyboards), Peter Hook (bass), Bernard Sumner (guitar, vocals), Stephen Morris (drums)
Contributor: Mark Whitworth
The story of New Order is probably one of the most-written about in recent music history. If you’re reading this, there is almost certainly nothing I can tell you about them that you don’t already know. So this article is less about the familiar well-worn tales and more about how I first discovered them, liberally sprinkled with my favourite songs, along with a top ten to go at.
Being the age I am (let’s just say early 40s), when their mostly-unsurpassed early-to-mid 1980s work was first released, it completely passed me by. With no older siblings to be influenced by, during most of the 80s I was mainly listening to chart pop, largely of the Stock Aitken Waterman variety. I don’t think I can say with any certainty that, no doubt to your astonishment, I’d ever even heard Blue Monday by this point: I can definitely say I’d never heard of Joy Division and the associated backstory.
That was, until mid-1987, when True Faith was released. As if the song wasn’t great enough on its own, it came with a brilliant, eye-catching avant-garde video. I didn’t realise at the time, but it had been recorded specially for Substance 1987, which I asked for, and duly received on double cassette (remember them?), for Christmas that year. It sounds almost unthinkably naïve and ill-informed now, but I assumed for an unfeasibly long time that Substance was simply New Order’s latest studio album, rather than a singles compilation. I mustn’t have looked at the dates on the sleeve, or at least not taken them in. Still less did I realise that almost all of the versions on Substance are remixes or extended versions of some sort; it is for this reason that, even though most of these aren’t the originals, they will always be the seminal versions to me, as they are the ones I first heard and fell in love with.
Almost thirty years later and this is still one of my most-played albums. I could name you pretty much any song from it as a high point, but the standout tracks for me are Temptation (the ’87 version getting a new lease of life in 1996 thanks to the Trainspotting soundtrack), the magnificent Shep Pettibone remix of Bizarre Love Triangle, Thieves Like Us and its B-side Lonesome Tonight, Subculture, Murder, 1963 and Procession. But I’ll leave you waiting to the very end of this article for my final choice from this album …
Anyway, as I started to “get into” music properly during the late 80s, I eventually realised that there was a hefty back catalogue of New Order music to investigate. The first album I was able to get my hands on was 1983’s Power, Corruption & Lies, from a second hand record shop on a sixth form college trip to Bonn, of all places. Having still only heard the Substance tracks at this point, on first listen this was not to prove the aural assault on the senses I had been expecting, although it was soon to grow on me. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear to see that this was New Order throwing off the shackles of Joy Division, and of 1981’s stepping-stone album Movement (from which Dreams Never End is the only one to trouble the scorers for yours truly), and starting to find their own direction and sound. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the magnificent synth-driven Your Silent Face, with its unforgettable lyric “you’ve caught me at a bad time, so why don’t you piss off?”… was there ever a more apt bon mot for a surly teenager? Other highlights are the opener Age Of Consent, the proto-Blue-Monday 5-8-6, and closer Leave Me Alone which is simply brilliant in its repetitive simplicity.
1985’s Low-Life kicks off with the most un-New-Order-like Love Vigilantes, not a soaring synth-and-bass driven epic, but the bittersweet, almost country-and-western-esque tale of a returning war hero. However the album soon returns to more familiar territory; among the highlights are Sunrise, Sooner Than You Think and closing track Face Up, with an honourable mention to the atmospheric instrumental Elegia (a five-minute excerpt of the full version, which clocks in at over seventeen minutes).
Next up, 1986’s Brotherhood – put simply, a swashbuckling masterpiece of an album which I remember Melody Maker giving 10/10 in a retrospective of New Order albums in the early 90s. Much as I loved this album as soon as I heard it, how I would have loved to have heard it when it first came out. It still sounds fresh and exciting over thirty years later, and I can only imagine how it must have sounded back in 1986. Put simply, there is not bad track on here, and picking only a few to list is like choosing between your children. If forced, though, it’s hard to see past the first five tracks – Paradise, Weirdo, As It Is When It Was (I was at university in Bangor, North Wales, and the intro to this always reminded me of the theme tune to Pobol Y Cwm!), Broken Promise, Way Of Life – which for me are among the strongest five opening tracks to any album of all time – the original version of Bizarre Love Triangle (one of the few songs whose original stands up to the Substance 1987 version) and the mighty Angel Dust.
In December 1987, they released the marvellous non-album single Touched By The Hand Of God. This was the first song of theirs I remember hearing after discovering who they were, and instantly recognising that unmistakeable sound. It was accompanied by a memorable tongue-in-cheek video, with the band dressed as mid-80s Europe-style poodle rockers, and Gillian Gilbert apparently played by Cher from the If I Could Turn Back Time video. Well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it!
Just as it’s not possible to write about Teenage Fanclub without mentioning harmonies, or about Half Man Half Biscuit without mentioning that they once turned down an appearance on The Tube because Tranmere were at home, it’s not possible to write about anything from 1989’s Technique without using the word “Balearic”. At least part of the album was recorded in Ibiza and the influence of club music is unmistakeable throughout, particularly on Fine Time, Vanishing Point, Round & Round and the album’s high water mark for me, Mr. Disco. Having said this, the album contains more guitar-driven tracks than its predecessors and All The Way, Run and Dream Attack are shining examples of this style. Of the studio albums this is my favourite, and I know a few people who would agree with me on this score. Melody Maker, in that same retrospective, were forced to give Technique just 9/10 due to “the shadow cast by the titanic Brotherhood” – I personally would just about put them the other way round, although to be fair there is barely a Rizla in it.
So high in the ascendancy was their star at this point that they were able to effortlessly knock out the greatest football song of all time, 1990’s sublime World In Motion. If you can’t do the John Barnes rap word for word, go and stand behind the blackboard until the bell rings.
It is from this point on, in my opinion, while occasionally continuing to hit great heights, that New Order begin to lose some of their majesty. Republic was released in 1993 – the first release following the inevitable demise of Factory Records – and while it was by no means a flop or a lacklustre effort, the sheer coruscating brilliance of their very greatest work, for the most part, is not quite there. Regret is a notable exception, standing comfortably in the pantheon of their very finest songs, and while other tracks such as World and Everyone Everywhere are perfectly decent, Republic contains a little more filler than their previous albums. Then after an eight year hiatus, Get Ready surfaced in 2001, after the band were able to spend long enough in a room to record an album without killing each other. This followed the pattern of Republic, mostly guitar-driven with a handful of excellent tracks such as Crystal, 60 Miles An Hour and Primitive Notion head and shoulders above those making up the numbers.
They managed to notionally stay together long enough to release Waiting For The Siren’s Call in 2005. Despite the band now barely functioning as a single entity, with the Hooky v Bernard contretemps now reaching its zenith, they somehow managed to release an album which, in my opinion, was the first to contain anything remotely approaching their 1980s pomp. Who’s Joe? is a superb, brooding opener, while title track Waiting For The Siren’s Call and Turn are equally outstanding.
And that was that until 2015 when, inevitably minus Peter Hook, out came Music Complete. By now it was surely too much to expect anything to stand up to their 80s work, although Restless is a very strong comeback single, Tutti Frutti would not sound out of place as an Italian power-pop Eurovision entry, and Academic is just an excellent pop song.
But there is only one way I can round off this article. Everybody has their own candidate for this accolade in their life, and I don’t expect anybody to agree with me on this score. But for my money, the version of The Perfect Kiss from Substance is, quite simply, the greatest eight minutes in recorded pop music history. OK, so the lyrics are typically whimsical bobbins from Bernard and there are frogs croaking and sheep baaing, but if ever a song could be considered greater than the sum of its parts, this is it. It stood head and shoulders above everything else on Substance as soon as I heard it, and it remains my go-to song when I’m fed up and in need of a lift; specifically, the behemoth of a finale which kicks in at 6.12. If I could only take one song to a desert island, it would be this version of this song. I could genuinely listen to it all day long, and indeed have done on more than one occasion.
I never thought I would get to hear this played live, so when Peter Hook and The Light performed this at Shiiine On in Minehead in 2015, it’s no exaggeration to say that I was in a state of near-euphoria by the end. I have felt like that at the end of a few Everton games in my lifetime (no, not many, before any wise guys chime in) but never during a gig; I felt like rolling over in bed with a cigarette. I never got to see them play with their original, legendary line-up and with the rift between Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner looking like it will never be reconciled, with a looming court case which promises to be extremely unpleasant for all concerned, it looks like none of us ever will. But they have left us an enduring legacy of some of the greatest music ever recorded.
Mark Whitworth is originally from Runcorn in Cheshire but now lives in South Yorkshire. He is the bass player in rock & indie covers band Dr Hackenbush, is shortly hoping to start a PhD in Linguistics, and once sold a Big Mac to Mr T. He can be found on Twitter at @bringitonskippy, usually arguing about why the correct term for a soft white bread roll is “barmcake”.
Mark with Hooky – and signed copy