New Order – Get Ready

After eight long years of compilations and oddities, New Order came back in 2001 with Crystal. Reinvigorated by their recent side projects with ElectronicMonaco, and The Other Two (all of whom had managed exactly one very good album since 1993; two had also thrown out a less good one too), now they were back together to show the indie music scene how it was done.

Admittedly, they were a little late – they missed the bulk of the indie explosion by a comfortable margin – but they were just in time to turn up, show anyone else who was hanging around that they were largely recording dirges, and then disappear back into whatever hole it is that New Order hide in whenever they’re not releasing things. Well, except of course that the following year actually brought us the brilliant 24 Hour Party People and Here to Stay, but let’s leave that for that another time.

Get Ready is, though, like most of New Order‘s albums, a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Crystal is great, and accessible to many, and 60 Miles an Hour is a competent second track and second single too. Unlike the first, it was probably never going to find them too many new fans, but it kept plenty of people coming back for more.

However, it really is hard to imagine the collaboration with The Smashing Pumpkins‘s Billy Corgan really making too many people happy – it mainly seems to mean that New Order have gained another guitar line and another slightly questionable singing talent. Neither of which was exactly lacking anyway.

New Order being back together was really more than enough of a novelty, and the four-piece proved their brilliance with such understated works of genius as Vicious Streak, which, while not unexpectedly long, somehow seems as though it’s going to last forever. Primitive Notion is good too – much more of a rock piece than New Order ever used to present their fans with, but let’s just agree to see that as another string to their bow.

Admittedly, by Slow Jam you might find yourself dreaming of the beats of Blue Monday. There’s nothing wrong with this one, or Rock the Shack, the collaboration with The Jesus and Mary Chain‘s Bobby Gillespie, but New Order‘s sound was always so unique, whereas on Get Ready they just seem to be trying to find their feet again by trying to imitate what all the indie acts had been doing for the preceding five or six years. It’s not the most comfortable place for New Order to sit.

Get Ready does feel as though they were trying to practice what they preached – the instruction in the title is less for us, and more for them, as they learnt again what they were meant to sound like. When they get it right, as on Someone Like You, they’re absolutely brilliant, but a lot of this album falls a little short. For now, just enjoy how great they are when all the ingredients are right.

Close Range is good – but far from perfect. There are moments on here when it seems as though they’re just dialling it in. Bernard Sumner‘s lyrics are distinctly average (at the low end of the spectrum, it has been pointed out before that Crystal‘s somewhat confusing wording about buying honey with money could have done with a little more work, and there’s nothing on this whole CD that really grabs you and makes you think he’s pushing himself. Peter Hook‘s bass “hooks” seem a bit lacklustre here too.

So it’s really no major disappointment that Run Wild is the last track on here, closing things off with an unusually religious, Midwest American piece. It’s not great, but neither is it too bad either. Like the entirety of Get Ready, really. After Crystal, pretty much the best thing you can say about it is this: we had New Order back.

You can still find the original release of Get Ready at all major retailers.

Chart for stowaways – 16 July 2016

Here are this week’s top albums:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  2. Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  3. I Monster – Bright Sparks
  4. Pet Shop Boys – Super
  5. New Order – Music Complete
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  7. David Bowie – Best of Bowie
  8. The Future Sound of London – Environment Five
  9. Conjure One – Holoscenic
  10. Little Boots – Working Girl

Artist of the Week – The Future Sound of London

I’ve been publishing these old overviews of artists for a few weeks now. They’re from my former radio show Music for the Masses, which took place over a decade ago, and so they tend to be laden with hyperbole, as well as a few inaccuracies. Just so you know…

The Future Sound of London are Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans, undoubtedly one of the most influential and outstanding electronic acts of the last fifteen years [this was written in 2005], but sadly not especially well known.

In 1988, Brian embarked on a project for the Stakker graphics company. He created a track called Stakker Humanoid, which was accompanied by a mad video. Gaz got involved with the project and its accompanying album, featuring some eighties style vocal house.

The following three years resulted in Gaz and Brian’s partnershp growing, working under many different guises, and a lot of early techno and hardcore tracks. With Stakker Humanoid re-entering the chart in 1992, followed by the breakthrough ambient club track Papua New Guinea (the first full Future Sound of London release) they were getting more recognition. It was then reissued by Virgin, and literally stormed the charts, followed closely by the album Accelerator and further singles.

When their third studio album, the double CD epic Lifeforms was released in 1994, it was instantly celebrated as one of the greatest ambient/electronica albums of the nineties, featuring the huge hits Cascade and Lifeforms. This album was followed in 1995 with ISDN, a semi-live album which was performed live from their studio across the internet, using the then-new ISDN technologies to stream live over the net in the first event of its kind.

In 1996 they returned again, with a tale of urban decay and hell on earth entitled Dead Cities. A mixture of the flavours they included before and something new, this album was a huge success, including the smash hit We Have Explosive. Another ISDN world tour followed, ending with a John Peel session of even more new music. And then the stream of music came to an abrupt and unexpected end. Two 12″ records appeared with the EBV name on them – from Oil and Headstone Lane, on FSOL’s own record label.

Legend has it that after Dead Cities they realised that they were heading in the wrong direction. They were getting more noisy, beginning behind these sounds, making music they didn’t really want to make. They wanted to write more melody-based music. [I’m aware now that this paragraph doesn’t make a lot of sense. Sorry.]

And then in 2001, suddenly they reappeared almost as if they never left. Psychedelic DJ sets, countless Papua New Guinea remixes, an entirely new mini-album of reinterpretations of Papua New Guinea entitled Translations, and news of a new full-length album. This all faded away again until mid-2002, when The Isness was released, followed by a single release of The Mello Hippo Disco Show.

The Isness was reissued in January this year, in a double CD set, entitled The Isness & The Otherness.

Technique – Pop Philosophy

This week fifteen years ago saw the somewhat belated release of Technique‘s debut album Pop Philosophy. A two-piece consisting of infamous Creation Records boss Alan McGee‘s wife Kate Holmes and singer Xan Tyler, they secured the production talents of Stephen Hague, supported Depeche Mode on their Exciter tour in some parts of the world, and were pretty close to finding fame when everything seems to have gone a bit wrong. But more on that later.

The album opens with Sun is Shining, a sweet and simple pop song which is every bit as good as anything else that was on the charts in the mid-1990s. It’s uplifting, cheery, and frankly brilliant. This was also their first single, peaking at number 64 in 1999.

The second single follows, You and Me, which followed a few months later and peaked at number 56, and is another great pop song. So what went wrong exactly? Honestly, I suspect they were just too late. They weren’t alone – Peach suffered similarly by trying to enter the “clever synthpop” realm in 1996, and they failed to capture the popular imagination. Why would Technique have fared any better?

Ultimately, the only reason this album seems to exist is a 2000 Cantonese cover version of You + Me, which caused enough interest in the original for people to want to own the two singles, the five other complete tracks, and two remixes by Matt Darey. Those other five tracks are good, although there isn’t really anything up to the standard of either of the singles here. Unity of Love is a pleasant enough song, as is Wash Away My Tears, but there isn’t a lot else that you can say about them.

There are others which show potential – There’s No Other Way is pretty good. Deep and Blue is pleasant enough, although lyrically it’s a bit… well, I want to call it “wet”, but the lyrics are about the deep blue sea, which makes me even worse. Quiet Storm is bloody awful, but it’s the only thing on here that is.

I had always assumed the somewhat makeshift track listing was due to the band not having finished much else, but it turns out that there’s an earlier version of the album with a whole load of other songs on it. Maybe they just picked out the least bad ones for this release. Who knows?

Either way, history may have forgotten Technique, but this one little album isn’t at all a bad way to remember them. If nothing else, it’s worth having for Sun is Shining and You and Me, as well as the remixes of each of them. Honestly these are both fairly typical Matt Darey trance mixes – they start off with just a kick drum on every beat, and slowly grow into something enormous. They’re nothing particularly groundbreaking, it’s true, but they’re great nonetheless.

Oh, and if you were wondering what happened next… well, Xan Tyler was unable to turn up for the Depeche Mode tour, so Dubstar‘s Sarah Blackwood was draughted in at the last minute. Technique then rebranded as the briefly brilliant Client, and gained a sizeable cult following before eventually Xan Tyler turned up again in 2011 as Sarah Blackwood‘s replacement. Yes, I know it’s confusing – just nod politely…

You can still find Pop Philosophy on import from major retailers, such as here.