New Order – Substance (FACT 200) (1987)

The Smiths, Jesus and Mary Chain, Stone Roses, Echo & the Bunnymen, Primal Scream, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Siouxsie & the Banshees, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

The British excel themselves in over-rating their 80s bands, crediting them with God-like powers when, in fact, they are all very, very ordinary. With the exception of a handful of singles from the above (e.g. “How Soon Is Now”, “Just Like Honey”), mostly these pop groups were good at getting on the cover of the NME (and now, Mojo), helping spotty bedsit layabouts justify their mopiness and not much else.

It was with this prejudicial frame of mind, I set about listening to the notionally chronological compilation of 12″ mixes by one of the grand-daddies of hyper-regarded 80s pop, New Order.

Let me start by saying I’ve always admired their graphic style and I absolutely love “Blue Monday”. If all NO songs were as classy as their sleeves or as lively and soulful as “BM” we’d be talkin’ 10 fuckin’ stars here. But they aren’t and we aren’t. The first two singles, “Ceremony” and “Everything Gone Green” are promising, picking up where their old band left off, incorporating a more dance-y vibe without sacrificing Joy Div’s appealing murkiness. After that, as the band becomes more commercial, obviously funky and techno-savvy, it’s all downhill. The problem is not so much the music, which is inventive enough, but Bernard Sumner. He simply isn’t that technically good or, more to the point, interesting a singer. His flat, feather-light tone, banal melodies and awkward, deeply uninspired scansion are embarrassingly exposed without the cover provided by the earlier atmospherics. And the lyrics: “Oh, love is found in the east and west/But when love is at home, it’s the best”. He actually sings that on “Theives Like Us”, ugh.

So keep your New Order albums, I’m happy with the early 12″s I already had.

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Published in: on June 12, 2012 at 8:38 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. asbo, as an ex-pat american you might well get some flak in return for your comments here a la “well all your lot had to offer was the likes of journey and reo speedwagon” (even if that’s not strictly true). however, as one who experienced said decade as a music-obsessed native, you may be pleased to hear that you’re not the only one with the “emperor’s new clothes” viewpoint…

    as you say, most if not all of those mentioned here had one or two decent tracks to their name at best, and hardly worthy of “we’re not worthy” ism. even though my primary interest at the time was dance-oriented music i still managed (as a spotty moping bedsit layabout ha ha) to get sucked in to some extent to the NME mantra that only skinny and pasty white brits with suspect vocal talent and scratchy guitars were cool. in the case of new order i very much agree with you – their early singles had a danceable yet powerful quality about them (well musically anyway) that with a couple of exceptions sadly diminished once they leaned too much on technology. and i also totally concur on barney’s vocal and compositional limitations – had he not been in the (over-inflated) legend that is joy division then he would never had gotten away with his weedy hobson’s and “back-of-a-fag-packet” lyrics! (however, i do have to say that i liked the electronic hits, although that may be down to the fact that barney had johnny marr and the pet shop boys on board to help out…)

    it probably won’t surprise you that most of my peers are obsessed with these kind of bands, and having lived in manchester for several years now i can assure you that folk around here still think the likes of new order, the smiths and the stone roses walk on water. however, it is pleasing to hear another voice in the wilderness… as i said before (and you may think this is going a step too far ha ha), give me level 42 over noise-merchants like the jesus and mary chain and my bloody valentine any day of the week!

  2. I thought this one might be contentious.

    The difference between commercial cult bands like New Order and stadium fillers like REO is that Speedwagon, et al. were never lauded as anything other than “rock” entertainment, certainly not “art”. In contrast to the UK, American critics darlings (say, the SST bands) were rarely that commercially successful (exception: Talking Heads), a set of circumstances having much to do with the mathematical demographic conservatism of the United States and, in Great Britain, a hot-house, hype-fueled weekly music press.

  3. i would love to argue to the toss on this one, but i know secrectly that i wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. the ‘barney is shit’ argument is too powerful to contend with. and hooky was a bit of a twat too. the other two were all right, until they actually became The Other Two, which was crap. on that note, i’m gonna dump all my NO records at the nearest charity shop for some poor unsuspecting kid (or yankee ex-pat) to get snared into buying.

  4. Now you do surprise me. I was expecting the full SUAD-style body blow from Ekoquarters.


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