Praise be for unmeetable copy deadlines, because if I'd managed to write a review of this for the last issue of Feedback it would have been more than a bit different to this one! Foolishly I forgot how long it took me to realise that NewOrder's previous album, the now four-year-old and maturing "Technique", was a work of wonder, and dismissed this as diluted electro-indie pop for The Kids, especially as how fellow hardcore NewOrder fans seemed unimpressed with it, whilst those who hadn't heard a note of their music prior to the "Regret" single were hugging it to their hearts.
Fortunately, as is often the case, first impressions failed to last, though it took a hell of a long time for them to disappear completely. True, the album is poppier than any of their previous work, but at least it provides an element of light in what can often be dark proceedings. Elements of techno and rap seep in slightly, but they're not worryingly obtrusive, especially when contrasted with the Electronic album, for example.
Much has been made of Bernard Sumner's "stream-of-consciousness" (i.e. vague rambling) lyrical method, but here he seems to be expressing more, in less guarded terms, than ever before. Take, for example, the perennial tale of broken hearts (I assume!) in "Special": "It was always special/It was like water down the drain/I feel intoxicated/Every time I hear your name". Makes sense, doesn't it? Then there's "Ruined In A Day", about the collapse of former record label Factory (apparently, though I thought "Chemical", with the lines "This is how it feels to be/On a payroll company/Your every scene is in the round/And all the men are falling down" concerned that as well, though it's probably about drugs or summat), and "Everyone Everywhere", said to concern the problems of homelessness.
It's far from the best NewOrder album, that epithet belongs to "Technique", and probably always will, but there's enough life here (eventually) to suggest that though Factory might have collapsed, the surviving workers aren't about to tarnish the memory.
NEWORDER (The Best Of) NewOrder (London)
Is this how future generations will remember NewOrder? Yet more rumours of internal strife and dissent emerged emerged the same week as this shameless assault on the Christmas market, a hollow gesture from a band once so hip that they forgot to put their name on their album covers.
Paul Morley's, er, 'enigmatic' sleevenote question and answer session is enough to make you want to burn the album immediately, but before you consign it to the flames have a shifty at the track list: on what claims to offer the cream of NewOrder's recorded output, there's no "Temptation", no "Sub-Culture", no "State Of The Nation". And what are all these tracks with "-94" appended to their titles?
When you actually get round to playing the thing, your worst fears are confirmed: kicking off with the ridiculously overrated "True Faith", subjected to a "-94" Stephen Vague remix that makes it blander than ever, the album meanders through potential highpoints - "Fine Time", which turns out to be the 7" version, an equally mercilessly chopped "Perfect Kiss", a "spot the difference" "Round & Round-94" and a remix of "Bizarre Love Triangle", which Hague's "everything playing at once" treatment wrecks totally by destroying the original's swirling dynamic sensibilities - and the kind of (im)perfect pop-by-numbers that sunk the "Republic" album. In such company, the towering wondrousness of "Thieves Like Us" and "World In Motion" is yet more apparent than is usual.
It really shouldn't have ended like this. NewOrder were one of few bands to survive the eighties intact, and with the potential, at least, to still matter. But the glossy superficiality of much of "(The Best Of)" shows them up for the dance traitors they really are - or have become. Don't buy into this tatty edifice (unless, of course, you're a longstanding NewOrder casualty who'd happily buy anything they released, mentioning no names!) - get 1987's infinitely superior "Substance" compilation and "Technique" album instead, and remember them at the peak of their considerable powers.
NEWORDER (The Rest Of) NewOrder (London)
With the customary display of marketing zeal for which his kind are justly venerated, The Man has identified a huge chasm in the marketplace for a NewOrder remix album, of such dimension that the fact that (a) the second CD of the sterling "Substance" compilation consists almost entirely of remixes of the first CD and (b) last years dismal "(The Best Of) NewOrder" compilation was packed out with dodgy -94 versions of some of the most majestic moments in Mancunian musical history/hysteria cannot bridge it. Thus we are blessed with "(The Rest Of)", ten remixes of tracks dating predominately from their uninspiring Stephen Vague period that brought us, amongst other exercises in aimlessness, "True Faith" and "Republic".
Against the odds there are four good tracks here. Respected teutonic techno terrorists Hardfloor turn "Blue Monday" into the sort of evil, distorted bruiser it had the potential to be before the dreadful -88 remix tainted it forever in the minds of the young. Biff & Memphis, whoever they be, do right by "Touched By The Hand Of God", stretching it into ten minutes of pounding analogue fury. Howie B bravely takes on "Age Of Consent", a song so old it has guitars on it, and emerges with a bruised cheek but no black eye by slowing it down and mellowing it out, whilst, unusually, preserving the lyrics. The Pump Panel Reconstruction mix of "Confusion" wisely dumps almost all of the original, replacing it with a hardcore squidge frenzy of their own design.
The rest, unfortunately...well, do you really need another (or indeed any) mix of "True Faith"? Is "Regret" somehow rendered less terrible by grafting two minutes of Italian house piano on the end of it? Should anyone, even handbag house hero Armand Van Helden, be declared certifiably insane for wanting to meddle with the euphoric perfection that is "Bizarre Love Triangle"? At least nobody dared turn any of "Technique"s glacial wonderment into a jungle track or summat.
Just to underline the generosity of The Man in lightening our load with this release, initial copies of the CD came with a free! disc featuring no less than eight (count em!) mixes of "Blue Monday". I had tears in my eyes, really. But isnt it all rather a long way from the ways of a certain late, not entirely unlamented Manchester record company whose good business sense led to them losing money on every copy of "Blue Monday" sold?
NEW ORDER Get Ready (London)
So here it is, after an eight year wait during which all we've had to sustain us is the thin gruel of Electronic, Monaco and The Other Two albums, finally the latest New Order album is with us. And as if you couldn't predict it, it's a crushing disappointment. If your torch totem of New Order is that of the band that produced the majority of the greatest electronic pop music ever fashioned, the band whose every utterance dripped melancholy and melody in roughly equal proportions, look away now, because "Get Ready" resurrects the rather less successful guitar-band New Order ghost. (When were New Order ever a guitar band , you might reasonably ask? Only for the duration of their debut feature "Movement", for which they could be forgiven since they were still attempting to cast off the chains of Joy Division, the first, less successful side of "Brotherhood" and some of the glossy, unsatisfying "Republic" album.)
And that's the problem with "Get Ready": there's approaching zero of any real substance here, leaving you scrabbling vainly to take something of value away from the listening experience. There are a few semi-passable tracks that are more than likely going to prove the final death throe gasps of the electro New Order I knew and loved ("Vicious Streak", "Someone Like You"), and the appearance of former Smashing Pumpkin singer Billy Corgan during "Turn My Way" at least gives it something the other tracks haven't got. ("Get Ready" hangs heavy with guest appearances, at least by New Order's usual hermetically sealed, insular standards: Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes of Primal Scream pop up later on "Rock The Shack" - my shack remained conspicuously unrocked, despite their presence.) There's only one song here that I would classify as anywhere near good, that being the closer "Run Wild", which, with its back-porch acoustic guitar, melodica and synthetic string section is apart from just about anything else the band have released. But elsewhere all that makes this not an Electronic album is Hooky's slithering, grumbling bass, and all that distances it from the Monaco back catalogue is that Bernard's doing the singing, not Pottsy. In other words, "Get Ready" is an album so bereft of spark, imagination and luscious melody that it makes "Republic" look like an oasis of invention by comparison. At their current workrate the next New Order album should arrive in 2009 - it's probably not worth waiting up for it.
NEW ORDER Back To Mine: New Order (DMC)
Subtitled a personal selection for after hours grooving, Back To Mine attempts to emulate what you might find on the decks had you staggered back to Barneys or Hookys in the watery light of a Mancunian dawn.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, then, its heavy on throbbing electronica. Donna Summers I Feel Love is practically a given: here presented in a nine-minute Patrick Cowley mix, it sounds like dance musics Anarchy In The UK moment, Summers vocals slowly melting an icy inner core of trans-Europe machine music. Ominously prescient, it could be a prototypical version of New Orders Temptation five years ahead of its time. Giorgio Vs. Talla 2XLCs E=MC2, substantially a collaboration between synth and sequencer talents Giorgio Moroder and Harold Faltermeyer, with its crazy vocoderised closing credit reel, still sounds quaintly futuristic, like a 2001: A Space Odyssey for the ears. The biggest surprise of the set is Cat Stevens Was Dog A Doughnut?, a frankly barmy Chick Corea collaboration that posits the future Yusuf Islam as an electro pioneer who knew? Hacienda-era dance music is represented via the elastic likes of Mantronixs Bassline, Joey Beltrams Energy Flash (the latter replete with a charmingly na´ve, nudge-nudge grin-grin wink-wink whispered Ecstasy! Ecstasy! hook) and Rhythim Is Rhythims gravity-defying The Dance.
Perhaps more unexpectedly, theres also a healthy serving of chemically-altered guitar rock churned into the mix. The album opens with the stark raving strangeness of Captain Beefheart And His Magic Bands Big Eyed Beans From Venus, the Captains pulverising rewiring of the blues as a scorching critique of consumer culture and cult consumers. A somewhat misleadingly titled Original Version of Primal Screams Higher Than The Sun is deftly constructed by splicing together the standard mix with the Jah Wobble-ized A Dub Symphony In Two Parts alternative; similarly, Roxy Musics In Every Dream Home A Heartache has its mid-song fade-out/fade-in exorcised in the interests of continual grooving. The sardonic track-by-track sleevenote commentary likens the scratchy punk dissonance of The Velvet Undergrounds Venus In Furs to the sound of John Cale sawing a cello in half. The Groundhogs Cherry Red is another astonishing find; more psychotic than psychedelic blues, it howls like an English 13th Floor Elevators might.
All told, New Orders Back To Mine is the best mix compilation Ive clapped ears on since Turin Brakes entry in the Late Night Tales series. Admittedly, its the only mix compilation Ive clapped ears on since Turin Brakes Late Night Tales, but, lovingly curated and expertly sequenced, it succeeds in telling you more about not only the music selected but also the band doing the picking.