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Disappointed. Not Disappointed

Like many of the tracks released by the constituent parts of the group that created it, Disappointed by Electronic was released as a standalone single, a gap-plugger that sated the appetite of their fans in the period between the first two albums. A fantastic gap-plugger it was too.

Bernard Sumner’s New Order were awfully fond of (perhaps even hell-bent on) ensuring singles stayed off of albums. Ceremony, Temptation and Everything’s Gone Green didn’t make it to Movement and Blue Monday, Confusion and Thieves Like Us didn’t appear on the chronologically closest Power, Corruption And Lies, although by the time of Low-Life, lead single The Perfect Kiss was a central part of the album and from then-on in, a good proportion all of their singles were used to promote a parent album.

Johnny Marr’s Smiths gave great value for money, regularly releasing one-off singles that would eventually appear as 33 rpm tracks on compilation albums further down the line; How Soon Is Now? (originally a b-side), Shakespeare’s Sister, Heaven Knows…, William…, Panic, Ask. All started life spinning at 45rpm.

Pet Shop Boys were perhaps the more conventional of the trio. On a major label they maybe didn’t have the same clout that an indie band might have on a small label (though what do I know?) and accordingly, almost all of their singles, in that imperial run from West End Girls and Love Comes Quickly through So Hard and Being Boring to 1991’s DJ Culture and Was It Worth It? were taken from their studio albums of the time.

(Photo by Kevin Cummins/Getty Images)

Disappointed is very much a product of its time and place. Chronologically, it was written around the end of 1991, when Johnny was between The The projects and just before Bernard returned to New Order to record Republic. Despite being patchy in parts (and that’s a whole other blog post), the last decent album in New Order’s original form gave us Regret, arguably the last truly great New Order single; soaring and melancholic, built on a bed of asthmatic guitar and hard-wired technology, and, from the negatively-leaning titles in, you can draw a straight line between that New Order track and Electronic’s 4th single.

ElectronicDisappointed (7″ mix)

By the end of 1991, Pet Shop Boys had amassed 19 hit singles to their name (pop quiz – name them!) Anything they touched turned to sold and gold. They were the masters at minor key pop, “The Smiths you can dance to,” as Tennant famously said at the time. Arriving on a bed of synth washes and era-defining Italo house piano – conceived by Johnny’s brother Ian – Disappointed‘s hookiness (not Hooky-ness) is immediate and immersive, mainly due to Neil Tennant’s cooing ah-ah-aah refrain.

Three seconds in and it sounds like the greatest Pet Shop Boys hit that never was. Tennant employed all the best PSB tricks; minor key melancholy, smoothed-out spoken word in the verses, flying like a kite in the chorus, those earworming ah-ah-aahs and pulsing glacial synths to the fore.

It worked. On release in July ’92, the single climbed to number 6 on the UK charts, kept out of the top 5 by Mariah Carey’s helium-voiced take on the Jackson’s I’ll Be There. Ironically enough, the b-side to Disappointed was a remix of Idiot Country.

If you know your Euro-pop, and I’m sure many of you do, you’ll be aware that Tennant tips more than the brim of his trilby to Mylène Farmer’s Désenchantée single, a massive hit on the continent in 1991. It’s there in the smoothed-out synthesizers and mid-paced feel, the down-played vocal delivery in the verses and restrained euphoria in the chorus. I don’t think it’s a coincidence either that Tennant ‘borrowed’ her ‘Désenchantée/Disenchanted‘ lyric for his own chorus. Most of us in the UK would’ve been oblivious of this at the time (perhaps even Bernard and Johnny too), a fact I’m sure the pop boffin Neil would’ve been banking on.

Seemingly content to take more of a back seat at the time, Johnny has an understated role in the single. He breaks into full-on Nile Rodgers funk for most of it, riffing across the top 3 strings like he hadn’t done since 1985’s Boy With The Thorn In His Side, his right hand rattlin’ the rhythm while his left shapes the funk, but contribution-wise, Disappointed is probably 45% Neil, 35% Bernard and 20% Johnny. The sum is greater than its parts though. It’s a great single, almost a lost single really, given the ubiquity of Getting Away With It and its not-quite-as-good follow-up Get The Message, but one that deserves reappraisal.

ElectronicDisappointed (original mix)

Hard-to-find

Hook (Nose), Lines And Thinkers

Happy Mondays made great music; lolloping, scuffed-at-the-knees and forever riding the very limit of their abilities. The producers they worked with – yer actual John Cale, Factory’s in-house madcap genius Martin Hannett and Oakenfold/Osborne no less – coaxed and teased a groove that grew ever larger and ever-more technicolour with each release. The zeitgeist-surfing Bummed proved to be the moment the band outgrew the skinny, scratchy ACR-affected funk/punk of their debut and eased their way into wider trousers and more expansive soundscapes, torch bearers of what came to be termed ‘indie dance’ – dance music that fans of guitar bands could shake a leg to to, guitar music for fans of house music to groove to. Overnight, two tribes collided. The Metro in Saltcoats began playing Stones records. Irvine’s Attic spun A Guy Called Gerald. Everyone got along.

Happy Mondays’ music was gang music, bashed out together in rehearsal rooms with each member pulling the band in their own particular direction until snapped back by one of the others. There’s little in the way of finesse about it. The assembled musicians jumped in as one, hit a groove and rolled with it, clattering and rattling out of the traps like half a dozen Tesco trolleys being pushed from the roof of a multi story car park. What came out the other side was the resultant pull and drag, a cross-pollinated melding of repetitive dance-influenced bass lines and wheezing, tongue-chewed spaghetti western guitars twisted into a Mondays-shaped wonky industrial funk. Such is the wide-eyed fear of failure in the collective, once they hit their seam, they keep at it, afraid to change lest the whole thing falls apart.

Almost every Happy Mondays track from the time has a four bar guitar riff played ad infinitum behind the keyboard stabs and spacious, echoing drums. Go and listen to Bummed and hear for yourself; Do It Better, Wrote For Luck, Brain Dead….none of them deviate from the furrow they plough from the off. Much of it is one chord groove stuff, and it’s fantastic for it. You can bet your last post-Brexit pound that Shaun Ryder wasn’t sitting at the end of his bed with an acoustic guitar and a broken heart, notebook in hand and a “wait’ll the guys hear this in the studio” chain of thought. Gaz Whelan wasn’t creating the bones of Fat Lady Wrestlers when no-one else was around to disturb his mojo, man. This music is instant, spontaneous and reactive to its surroundings. And it’s never aged.

Happy MondaysBrain Dead

In the case of Bummed, what turns good music into a great record is the vocal line. By the time it came for Ryder to add his wild grown mara-joanna stream of consciousness vocals –Grass eyed slashed eyed brain dead fucker, rips off himself steals from his brother, Loathed by everyone but loved by his mother – the finished item was quite unlike anything else of the time.

Never one to miss a potentially pretentious point of reference, Tony Wilson likened Ryder to WB Yeats. Certainly, the lyrics on Bummed scan well without the music and would make an interesting book of pre-millennial prose; Turkey Lurky, Juicy Lucy…..teachers who eat on their own…..double double good…..what about the detector vans…..You’re rendering that scaffolding dangerous!…..I might be the honky but I’m hung like a donkey…. and teamed with the unexpected twists and turns from the music -the clip-clopping Country Song for example, or Bring A Friend‘s choppy, Chic via Chorley groove, or the swirling, unstoppable shouty house of Mad Cyril, Happy Mondays were the fly in the ointment that soon became the grease on the gears of a music industry looking for The New Thing.

Happy MondaysMad Cyril

Street urchin rock n’ roll, wild-eyed on hard drugs and esoteric reference points – had anyone of our age ever heard of Karl Denver until 1988 ? – Happy Mondays ploughed their own wide-legged path regardless. Others might have followed, but all are poor imitations of the originals. You knew that already though.

 

Hard-to-find

The Temptations

Temptation by New Order is a steam-powered, clattering industrial racket, the result of maverick programming and experimentation from a band keen to break free from their previous sound and take on a brave new direction.

Coming a year after a debut album that the band struggled to like – Bernard Sumner in particular hated its unavoidable debt to Joy Division, Temptation plugged the gap between the propulsive Everything’s Gone Green and the ubiquitous Blue Monday. Like all the great bands, New Order were (are?) great at releasing stand-alone singles; bold statements of intent and hints to future direction, and made sure Temptation was seen as such. It’s the perfect marker, taking the cold, robotic greyisms of the Movement album and dressing them up in learn-as-you-go proto sequencers and asthmatic guitars that wheeze and rattle away like Nile Rodgers had he lived in a Whalley Range bedsit.

Incredibly, the two versions that make up the 7″ and 12″ releases were recorded in one 15 minute take. On the longer version, the band crash in as if they’ve really hit the ground running, a multi-layered palette of pulsing sequencers, Peter Hook’s signature bass-as-lead and those ‘woo-oo-oo-ah-oo‘ vocals, a notion which only makes sense once you know that the 7″ edit fades at the same point the 12″ begins. Of the session, the first 5 or so minutes were given over to the 7″ version, the track that would secure enough radio play to get New Order inside the top 30, and the rest (just shy of 9 minutes) was where the band allowed themselves to fly. Cue both tracks up and see for yourself;

New OrderTemptation (7″ version)

New OrderTemptation (12″ version)

See?!?

The 12″ version is notable for the wee yelp that Barney lets out just off-mike as the track limbers its way into its free-form groove, the result of a snowball being shoved down the back of his shirt by an errant band mate as he prepares to sing and drive his band forward from the constraints of the past into a technology-inspired future. As the snowball works its way down Barney’s back he mixes up a few of those ‘green eyes, blue eyes, grey eyes‘ lines but recovers in time before anyone save the most trainspottery of listeners has noticed. I first picked up on that wee slip way back when while trying to unbend the corner of the beautiful Peter Saville-designed sleeve, bashed and bent from being hidden in my school bag to avoid the disapproving eyes of my mum who lectured me regularly on the evils of spending all my paper round money on records.

Temptation is a track New Order hold dear. Not only does it have the honour of being their most-played live track, the band would go on to re-record it on at least two further occassions. The most popular version of Temptation is arguably the one that graces Substance, the collection famously commisioned by Tony Wilson as he wanted all the New Order singles in the one place for listening to in his car.

New OrderTemptation (’87 version)

Blue eyes, green eyes, grey eyes. Photo by Kevin Cummins

 

Not remixed from the original, but recorded as a brand new track 5 years after the original, it’s a big, bold, pop record, sunshine-bright with a spring in its step and as far removed from the original as Salford is from the Seychelles. Does it lack something because of this? Soul, perhaps? Or the mis-placed wonky, seat of the pants programmed percussion? Maybe, but the Substance version of Temptation is the glossy sound of a band finally free from its monochrome past and confident in its own skin. They’d record the evergreen True Faith around this time, the melancholy-drenched beauty that went a long way to cementing New Order’s status as one of our greatest bands. Temptation though….give in to it. It’s a cracker.

 

 

Gone but not forgotten

Unknown Treasures

One of the good things about being off work is that while you do things around the house at a Doctor’s orders sloth-like pace – cooking inventive new meals, the occasional trip to the cupboard under the stairs to retrieve the hoover every couple of days, a bit of ironing maybe, emptying the dishwasher, rearranging the record collection – you can listen to what you fancy at neighbour-bothering volume knowing that 1) the neighbours are at work so won’t be bothered and 2) the house is empty, save yourself.

The past week or so I’ve massively rediscovered Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division. It was played that often in my late teens it became embedded in the music section of my brain, hard-wired to be heard without the necessity of having to actually play it again. Long before Steve Jobs had thought of the iPod, I had my own non-tangible music file that could be recalled at will and played wherever I happened to want to hear it. Sandwiched between the back catalogues of The Beatles and The Smiths and an occassional Dylan and Bowie, it keeps esteemed company. Super Furry Gruff Rhys has said similar things about The Velvet Underground And Nico, so I know I’m not alone. It’s been a while since Unknown Pleasures was actually played though, and played at volume at that, so the past few days have been soundtracked once again by its cold, uninviting touch.

joy-division-cummins-1

I came to the album in a very round about way. Like many, I’d wager, I discovered New Order before I’d even heard of Joy Division. It’s an age thing – while Joy Division were initially thrilling those teenagers who were outside looking inside (that’s a wee label reference for any geeks out there) with their other-worldly post-punk, I was doing the Nutty Dance and ah-ha-eh-ha-ing my best Adam Ant impressions, but once I started reading about New Order and discovered they’d been a different band in a previous life, I was curious enough to look for a Joy Division record in Irvine Library.

Simultaneously, just as I was having my moment of enlightenment, Paul Young’s No Parlez album happened to be something of a popular record in my peer group at the time. Go on! Judge us all you want…

On Paul Young’s album he did a version of Love Will Tear Us Apart, all rubberband fretless bass and other such 80s wankery. Being a trainspotter-in-training,  I noticed the writing credits on the label and put two and two together. So, if it hadn’t been for the unlikely bedfellows of New Order and Paul Young, I may never have got to Joy Division until much later in life.

joy-division-live

When I first heard Unknown Pleasures, it sounded other-worldly, claustrophobic and not entirely pleasant. But I stuck with it. Nowadays it’s synonymous with the record sleeve imagery and Kevin Cummins’ iconic, epoch-defining monochrome shots in the snow, graphics that mirror the cold intensity of the music created and played by these serious young men. It’s the drums that get me. While the guitar, a howl of electrified cheesewire, bites in all the right places and Hooky’s trademark bass meanders up and down the frets with determined focus, the drums sound both futuristic and olde worlde.

joy-division-steve

The rudimentary synth pads hiss like a steam-powered Victorian workhouse, military in precision, rhythmic, never losing the pace. It wouldn’t be long until Depeche Mode and Yazoo took the blueprint and ran with it in their own chart-chasing directions, but Joy Division were the originators. Or maybe that was Kraftwerk…

Eerie whirring sounds (on Insight) were the sounds of the actual lift inside Strawberry Studios, where the album was created. At one point, the density of I Remember Nothing is punctuated by a shattering glass. That used to make me jump, even after I’d heard it 10 or 15 times. The album still sounds quite like nothing else. Imitators have managed to spit out Tesco Value versions of the real thing ever since, but Unknown Pleasures is peerless.

joy-division-curtis

Every listen transports you back to the dark days of the end of the 70s. Now, to be clear, my end of the 70s was a brilliant time; Scotland had a decent football team, I was discovering pop music, I lived near a big field where we could play in safety, I was never off my bike, all my pals lived in the same street as me….being young at the time was magic. But Joy Division, a decade or so older than me captured the bleakness of their times perfectly. Set against a backdrop of social division, mass unemployment, strikes, Thatcher, the music becomes the only possible soundtrack. It’s much more sophisticated than Lydon’s “nO fUTuRe!” gobby snarl. Nothing wrong with Johnny’s war cry, but Joy Division did it far more artily. And I like my music on occasion to be arty and self-indulgent. Stick with it and it offers up greater rewards. A BBC4 documentary last year on the band had fast-cut, black and white film footage of inner city Manchester soundtracked by Shadowplay. And it was perfect.

Joy DivisionShadowplay

joy-division-bernard

The first copy I had of Unknown Pleasures was on a hissy C90 version I’d taped from that LP I borrowed from Irvine Library. For all its scrapes and scratches (every time I hear Day Of The Lords, I expect my CD or needle to skip half-way through, and it always throws me when it doesn’t), that record had real life in it. If you held it up to the light, it changed colour from black to a deep maroon. I borrowed it more than once, to play loudly – it sounded far better than the tape I’d recorded – but sometimes just to look at and impress any pals who may have shown half an interest. It never occurred to me that I could buy my own, pristine copy. It was enough for me to have a badly recorded version on tape. Certainly an original Factory release, Irvine Library’s copy would command a high fee well into triple figures if it was still around and up for sale. Makes you (or me, at any rate) wonder what other treasure – unknown treasures? – loitered unassumingly in their racks.

joy-division-hooky

Hard-to-find

Random Order

New Order. One of the truly great bands of the last 35 (!) years. That’s undisputed fact, but you know that already. Theirs is a history you’ll be well familiar with; the untimely death of a key member forcing their metamorphosis from the finest industrial grey post-punk act to a technicolour pop explosion, albeit with a heavy hint of the shading of yore.

new-order

If you can ignore the sad pantomime of claims and accusations that’s become synonymous with their brand over the past few years, and put up with some of the sub-par material they’ve put their name to in that time – due to the availability of illegal downloads, Waiting For The Siren’s Call was the first New Order album I didn’t buy on the day of release. It was a right clunker before it was even in the shops to buy and it’s still a right clunker now. Their most recent, last year’s Music Complete was a fine return to the heady rush of Technique and a sun-kissed late 80s Ibiza, so, y’know, you take the good with the not so good. Every band who’s been at it for this long are allowed the odd dip in form, are they not? Despite this, I’d wager that New Order are probably one of your favourite bands.

New Order, NYC 1981

Hidden at the back of their sparkling discography is 1981’s second single Procession. It popped up via the lottery of the iPod shuffle on the commute to work the other day, and it’s subsequently become my latest musical obsession. My play counts (I know, I know) currently show I’ve listened to it 14 times since Tuesday. It’s playing as I type and it’s likely to cross the 20 plays threshold before this piece is published. I’m still not fed up of it.

Ask a casual New Order fan to list their favourite tracks and it’s unlikely Procession would be one that makes the list, yet it’s beautiful and otherworldly, strange and obscure, soulful and hypnotic, arty, pretentious and in short, everything that makes New Order so unique.

New OrderProcession

new-order-bernard-81

It‘s the record that sees the band peek through the outer shell of the Joy Divsion cocoon, almost but not quite ready to fly as New Order. Bernard still has the Curtis-apeing vocals (and image – see above), all character-free one liners (in itself character) which he tries his best to sing from somewhere below his knees, but the band soars. Driven by Hook’s instantly-recognisable trademark bassline, it’s awash with synths, electronically-enhanced drums and a wheezing, clattering guitar that verges on the point of being in tune. The magic touch though is Gillian Gilbert’s call-and-response vocals in the ‘chorus’, the sweet yin to Bernard’s morose yang. It works a treat – one of New Order’s finest compositions.

Taken from the excellent Factory Records – Complete Graphic Album

In true band style, Procession never made it onto any New Order album at the time, such was the high standard bands like this set for themselves in those days. Procession was released in a multitude of sleeves (9 differently-coloured ones – collect ’em all, Factory fetishists) featuring some beautiful Italian Futurist artwork on the cover. New Order and Futurism, the perfect partners.

 

 

 

Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

Hook Lines

Majestic, magnificent, mid-80’s New Order. Is there anything better?

new order kev c13 ½ of New Order by Kevin Cummins 

Long before the running of the Hacienda that seemed to take priority over the music and the inter-band fights that ultimately led to their sorry downfall, the band were imperial. Their 3rd album, 1985’s ‘Low-Life‘, tracing paper sleeve ‘n all, is a high point in a full-fat discography choc-full of high points. It’s the album where post-punk morphed into dance rock – stadium house for floppy fringes and German Army surplus, if you like.

Side 1 closer ‘Sunrise‘ is New Order’s collected output in miniature; the elegant minor key keyboard swells in the intro giving way to one of those Peter Hook basslines that you kinda just always took for granted – fluid and high up the frets, and dripping with liquid quicksilver from the fingers of the Viking alchemist. It’s window cleaner-whistleable and never lets up the entirety of the song.

hooky kev cHooky by Kevin Cummins. Of course.

New OrderSunrise

Barney’s guitar is forever on the verge of being out of tune, playing a demented take on a Spaghetti Western twang, fizzing and wheezing its way through the song between vocal lines, crashing to a frantically-strummed crescendo somewhere around the 6 minute mark when the ‘F’-shaped chords rattle out like Nile Rodgers fronting the Buzzcocks. Even his vocals, never his strong point, let’s be honest, hang on in there, straining at the high notes before being drowned out by his furious strumming.

It’s a beauty.

Peter HookHeads down, no nonsense.

Even more of a beauty is last year’s homage to Anthony Wilson, St Anthony: An Ode To Anthony H Wilson. The brainchild of Manchester poet Mike Garry who’d performed the poem, beat poet-style in Manchester’s hipper venues, it was offered to a local composer who added large elements of New Order’s ‘Your Silent Face‘ to the spoken-word track, creating a gorgeous, lush, string-laden track that runs an alliterative A-Z of all that makes Manchester great.

The Arndale…Acid House…Bez, The Buzzcocks, The Bouncing Bomb, The beautiful Busby Babes…. Curtis, Cancer, Crack…. Dance, Design, Durutti, Devoto… I could list it all, but it’s better to just listen to it and soak it all up for yourself.

St Anthony: An Ode To Anthony H Wilson (Andrew Weatherall mix)

anthony h wilsonSaint Anthony himself

When it came out last August I was totally obsessed by it. Although the original version is the one I heard first, the Weatherall remix is a 9 minute monster. Motorik, relentless and repetitive, it’s the one you want to hear first.

Treat yourself to the vinyl or CD here. Go on!

New OrderYour Silent Face

*Footnote!

I’m no audiophile, but when the New Order back catalogue was re-released by Warners a few years ago, there was a huge outcry over the shoddy mastering of the music. For a band steeped in technology and futuresound, the music on the discs was tinny, weak and flimsy when compared to the original vinyl. My LP is currently spinning as I type and I can attest to this. Don’t let that put you off though – if you like the 2 New Order tracks featured here and are hearing them for the first time, just imagine how terrific they sound when played on the right format. In fact, you should probably pop down to your local record shop (every town has one nowadays) and buy them.