Monday, 2 August 2010

23. Power Corruption And Lies - New Order

Purchased : 11 June 1983

Tracks : Age Of Consent / We All Stand / The Village / 5.8.6. / Blue Monday / Kwi* / Ultraviolence / Only The Lonely* / Leave Me Alone / The Beach

* Alternate title on cassette. "Kwi" is more widely known as "Your Silent Face" and "Moon Over Moscow" as "Ecstasy"

This is a milestone purchase, the last to be bought in Oldham on a Saturday morning but more importantly, the last album of my schooldays with just two A' Level History exams to come in the subsequent week, before the life stage begun in September 1969 came to an end. It was rather appropriate then that the acquisition of this particular LP also marked the final end of a childish, face-spiting resentment towards its creators.

That was also related to the back story referenced in the early reviews. When I first met my friend Michael in April 1979 he was totally green about music despite being only a few months younger than me. He could only cite Roxy Music as a group he liked and struggled even to name any of their songs. This seemed to be a golden opportunity to become a taste-shaper but I had reckoned without his older sister and my enthusiasm for music only drove him towards her record collection. That was standard early 8os student stuff - Psychedelic Furs, Human League , Echo and The Bunnymen, Buzzcocks and above all Joy Division. Not being a Peel listener all I had to go on was "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and later "Ceremony" which I disliked for not being able to discern the lyrics and their avoidance of conventional melody and structure. Michael was at best indifferent to most of the things I tried to turn him on to - Spandau, Ultravox, Kate Bush - seemingly only going with me on bands if she'd greenlighted them eg OMD which enraged me all the more as did the enthusiasm of the cooler kids at school for the same music. So Joy Division/New Order became a pet hate increasing all the more as our friendship deteriorated, heated debates about music becoming one of the symptoms. The irony was that the seemingly final break at the end of 1981 threw me into a mood that made me much more receptive to their music. The thaw began with "Temptation" in May 1982, progressed with John Peel's Festive 50 in December (the last year he did an all-time version because of his listeners' conservatism) where I heard songs like "Decades" , "The Eternal" and "Dead Souls" for the first time then really ended with "Blue Monday". Helen, who had heard all my tirades watched this process with amusement.

I bought the cassette version of this because it had "Blue Monday" on it whereas the vinyl version didn't. It also had a track listing but I later became aware that two of the titles -as noted above - were not the generally accepted titles for those songs. If anyone can explain the reasons for this please use the comments box.

I loved the record for its sound and played it a lot that summer but its appeal started to fade after "Confusion" proved they had feet of clay and their long-delayed embrace of the music press exposed their lack of care about lyrics since Ian Curtis's death. Even though I've loved most of their subsequent work particularly the LP immediately after this one, I've never really revisited this one before now seeing it as no more than a staging post on the road towards better things. Helen played it once and pronounced it samey and boring.

This was New Order's second album and they decided to produce it themselves following the failure of their first LP with Martin Hannett, a disaster zone of half-written songs and murky sonics. The second problem was immediately solved as can be heard on the opening track "Age of Consent" which begins with a signature melodic bass riff from Peter Hook before Steve Morris's drums and the guitars come in. The sound is crisp and well separated. Then Bernard Albrecht/Sumner comes in ; where Hannett had buried him deep in the mix to try and disguise that he wasn't Curtis here he's upfront , raw and imperfect from the start . He's really straining on the chorus of this vaguely suggestive song which goes on a bit too long though there's some nice synth work reminiscent of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" in the instrumental passages.

After that bouncy opening track, "We All Stand" is slow and dolorous with Sumner singing of endless travel towards a soldier "waiting for me". The music is vaguely reminiscent of the beginning of the "Shoestring" theme. Hooky works overtime here with a bottom layer of sludgy fretless bass over which he plays mournful melodies on his six-string. Again it's too long at over 5 minutes.

"The Village" is more synthesiser-based and is quite similar to "Temptation" . It is also by far the happiest song the band had recorded to date with Sumner declaring "Our love is like the earth, the sun, the trees and the birth" and one of the first to have a verse/chorus structure. Unfortunately it's melodically boring.

"5-8-6 " is an early version of "Blue Monday" which possibly explains why the latter was left off the vinyl album. It begins with a much slower drum pattern then some squelchy bass synth noises but eventually that familiar bass pattern asserts itself. Arguably it's a more coherent song with Sumner spurning a former lover who wants to try again.

I can't imagine anyone reading this is unfamiliar with "Blue Monday" itself so let's just note that it follows next on the cassette version and retains a certain power despite its overuse and being an awful song as opposed to an impressive piece of experimental music to test out a new drum machine.

"Kwi/Your Silent Face" which opens Side Two has been used as backing music for sports coverage quite extensively. It's largely played on synthesiser with bass and guitar only colouring in the middle eight and is relatively slow and stately. The lyrics evoke a sense of stasis until the bathetic last line "Why don't you piss off ? " which is eternally jarring. From time to time Sumner plays a simple melodica riff. Yet again it's far too long, the last couple of minutes are just a repeat of the middle eight.

"Ultraviolence" restores a sense of urgency and has distinct echoes of Joy Division's "Atrocity Exhibition" with Morris using both acoustic and electronic percussion to create the necessary drum clatter. The lyrics are the nearest approximation to Ian Curtis's style on the LP with Sumner dolefully intoning "Everybody makes mistakes " in the last verse. It 's also the first track that doesn't outstay its welcome.

"Only The Lonely/Ecstasy" is virtually instrumental , the vocoder interjections being unintelligible which again sees Hook playing a melodic riff while the synths handle the rhythmic duties. This must be one of the first references to the drug of the eighties in pop music, the product of the band's ventures into New York clubland. Again its relative brevity works in its favour.

"Leave Me Alone" begins with a descending bass riff soon mimicked by processed guitar which gives the track a very melancholic feel. The words on the other hand seem to be a sly pop at their public image especially the line "You get these words wrong every time" which reminds me that many of the trays in the refectory I would shortly become familiar with had JD lyrics carved into them. Much later Hooky would admit that the rest of the band paid little attention to Curtis's lyrics until long after his demise.

The vinyl version ends there but on cassette we get "The Beach" an instrumental version of Blue Monday that adds very little to the original.

I still see this as an interesting, occasionally impressive, work in progress rather than a great album in its own right. New Order would make much better records in the future but here they're still removing bits of shell from their feathers.

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