ELECTRONIC Raise The Pressure (Parlophone)
Five years after their alright-ish eponymous debut, Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr get round to recording that difficult second album (no need for excuses though, Barney was probably tired and shagged out after working on the last NewOrder album and playing the Reading Festival in 93...). No sign of the Pet Shop Boys this time round, though sometime Kraftwerk member (or possibly his dummy, you never can tell) turns up to handle keyboard and co-writing duties. Part-time Pink Floyd bassist Guy Pratt is also on the payroll, as is famed Primal Scream shouter Denise Johnson and Black Grape alumnus Danny Saber. Should be pretty good then, shouldnt it?
The worst crime anything vaguely electronic (pun unintended) or dance-y can be accused of is sounding old-fashioned - you cant have the soundtrack to tomorrow smelling like last weeks milk, can you? The problem with "Raise The Pressure" is that its, well, very 1991. Over the course of an hour and thirteen tracks it sounds very pleasant and polished, but amidst its immaculately sequenced melodies are signs of its creators gradually losing touch with the present. Johnny Marrs guitar parts jangle just like they have on anything hes played on since "Hand In Glove", Bernard Sumners lyrics are as inscrutable as ever (barring the hilarious James Bond-style parody - at least I hope its a parody - of "Until The End Of Time"), and theres the odd snatch of burbly acid to prop up proceedings, but the underlying impression of "Raise The Pressure" is that its all glossy chocolate-box-sheen packaging with nothing at its core.
ELECTRONIC Twisted Tenderness (Parlophone)
This is Electronic's third album, and what began as something of a side project for Bernard Sumner (New Order) and Johnny Marr (late of The Smiths and The The) seems to have metamorphosed into their day job by default given the lack of activity by their other interests. You might have hoped that this would've resulted in an altogether more worthy album than their last (1996's not fantastic "Raise The Pressure") but, despite the enlisting of cred-on-a-stick producer Arthur Baker (who also presided over New Order's "Confusion" single) "Twisted Tenderness" seems like an hour of sound and fury, signifying sweet nothing.
Electronic's sound seems to have shifted, a change made explicit by the fact that neither Sumner nor Marr are credited with any keyboard work: big, brash guitars dominate the eleven tracks presented here. Unfortunately they still haven't regained the knack of crafting memorable tunes, last seen in their parish somewhere towards the end of the second side of their eponymous debut. Some of the lyrics are quite bitter too, not dissimilar to those on Ian Brown's underwhelming solo album. Take "Prodigal Son", for example, which begins "You may be a star in your own mind/But you're greatly deluded in mine/I heard reports that you drink/And you take drugs most of the time": tabloid tattle recycled into lyrics.
There are two bright spots amidst the sense of gloom that pervades most of "Twisted Tenderness". One arrives in the somewhat unlikely form of a cover of Blind Faith's bullet-proof "Can't Find My Way Home", all crystalline acoustic guitars and subtle hip hop undertones. It still sounds overcooked next to the original, but compared to much of the rest of the album it's a model of understated clarity. It's followed by the title track, which from the opening synth riff onwards sounds so astonishingly up that you'd forgive it just about anything. It's almost classic New Order, which, coming from a man who hasn't done much that sounds like almost classic New Order in a decade, bodes pretty well for that band's rumoured new album, due sometime next year.
But two tracks rarely make for a classic album, and "Twisted Tenderness" certainly isn't that. Much like their last album, it sounds curiously old-fashioned for the work of two people who've been responsible for vast quantities of the best post-punk music to come out of this country.