New Order – Substance

Released thirty years ago this week, New Order‘s first compilation, the companion album for Joy Division‘s slightly later album of the same name, is widely celebrated as one of the best compilations of its era. Uniquely, thanks to their habit of releasing non-album singles, more than half of the tracks had never appeared on another New Order album.

The singles are presented here in relatively simple, chronological form, and so it opens with one of two versions of Ceremony, the Joy Division track that New Order recorded after Ian Curtis‘s suicide. It’s a great track, if somewhat poignant.

Continuing with their early works with producer Martin Hannett, we then get Everything’s Gone Green, representing their second single from late 1981. I’ve never been hugely fond of either this or Procession, which makes up the other half of the single. As a minimum it’s an interesting period piece, but it’s noticeably lower quality than Ceremony, and to me seems to show a group struggling to find its way after the death of its guiding light.

By Temptation (1982), they seemed to be starting to find their way. It could have been a lot more polished, but you could definitely see what their sound was starting to become. This version was slightly re-edited for Substance.

What can you say about Blue Monday that hasn’t been said before? Not much. Let’s just say it’s fantastic, groundbreaking, and unforgettable, and leave it at that. However good anything else on here might be, it’s never going to be as good as this.

A tweaked version of Confusion is next, unsurprisingly a sizeable hit after Blue Monday, just missing out on a top ten placing. Written with Arthur Baker, it’s an oddly experimental track, full of huge eighties snares and orchestral hits, but somehow it also displays a certain brilliance. Five tracks in, and New Order are firmly and consistently producing great music.

Thieves Like Us is probably the most “pop” of the earlier tracks. From the traditional New Order instrumental introduction that lasts over two minutes – more than a third of the song – despite being challenging and unusual, is already accessible, and Bernard Sumner‘s vocal, when it finally arrives, is unusually well delivered.

The eight-minute 12″ version of The Perfect Kiss is an odd inclusion in a way – it just seems a bit too long among the other singles. Which is only ironic because due to limited playing time on the CD, this is actually slightly edited from the original release. Still, it’s a great piece of music, and speaking personally, I’m all for frog and sheep samples in my music.

Also from Low-Life is Sub-culture, which follows, also in the form of a slightly obscure edited remix, which apparently led to sleeve designer Peter Saville refusing to design a sleeve for the single. Then comes the brilliant Shellshock, again an edited 12″ version, but sounding every bit as resonant as any of the single versions on here.

There are then two tracks from 1986’s Brotherhood – firstly, State of the Nation, a number 30 hit in September of that year. Honestly, by this stage it would be hard for New Order to do anything wrong – particularly not with their singles. Truly brilliant. But not, honestly, quite as good as Bizarre Love Triangle, which appears here remixed by Shep Pettibone in typically extravagant form. It’s perplexing and confusing that this only reached number 56 on its original release.

Finally, promoting the album was the fantastic one-off single True Faith. If you were forced to name a New Order track, the chances are good that you would pick either this or Blue Monday – it’s utterly fantastic, and unusually (at least as far as I’m concerned) the title actually seems to fit the song. Everything just seems to come together perfectly.

So Substance is an unusual compilation, focusing generally on the 12″ versions rather than the ones you might have heard on the radio, but as a companion to New Order‘s first four albums, it’s rather fantastic. The second disc gets you a whole load of b-sides and alternative mixes. You would probably have to be an established fan these days to buy this instead of the more recent Singles, but it’s definitely an essential purchase for completists.

You can still find Substance at all major retailers.

Chart for stowaways – 8 July 2017

These are the top albums right now:

  1. Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  2. Erasure – World Be Gone
  3. Kraftwerk – 3-D Der Katalog
  4. Depeche Mode – Spirit
  5. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  7. New Order – Music Complete
  8. New Order – Lost Sirens
  9. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  10.  Erasure – Hits! The Very Best of

Coming soon – Stowaway Heroes

This blog might be five years old and rapidly approaching school age, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do new things here every once in a while. Starting next week, and for the next few weeks, we’ll have a series of Stowaway Heroes, people who aren’t necessarily directly credited for having huge hit singles, but have somehow shaped the sounds we’ve been listening to around here.

The names will remain a secret for now, so stay tuned!

Honeyroot – The Sun Will Come

A decade ago this week saw the release of the second of two Honeyroot albums, The Sun Will Come. Founded by Heaven 17‘s Glenn Gregory in the twilight of their career, the Honeyroot project saw him and Keith Lowndes working together on beautiful, relaxed pop music. The less accomplished Sound Echo Location had kickstarted the project in 2003, and with The Sun WIll Come, they truly managed to create something magnificent.

Confusingly, it opens with the triumphant instrumental Goodbye, before introducing the first of several fantastic guest vocalists for the quite brilliant Nobody Loves You (The Way I Do), a minor single release that appeared the same year as the album. With its enormous pads, chilled piano, and warping bass, as well as a very familiar lyrical message, it may be fair to say that nothing here is entirely new, but it is delivered in a quite exceptional manner.

The adorable instrumental Heavy Drops comes next, also the other side of the double a-side with the preceding track. There’s a gentle, soft arpeggio running through most of the track, with a soft melody line, that sounds absolutely fantastic. The vocal samples I’m less sure about, but it would be hard to spoil anything this good.

I got to know this album on a five-day train journey across Canada in 2008, and one of the most evocative tracks is the adorable single Where I Belong, almost an electro-country track with its slide guitar and melancholic vocal. Imagine the rhythmic chugging percolated by the occasional train horn as the miles go past, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of why this song means so much to me.

As with the version of Love Will Tear Us Apart on the first album, the cover of A Change is Gonna Come here is very brave. It’s a song with a lot of meaning for a lot of people, and it would be very easy to dilute or disrespect that, but I think this pulls it off, as a soft and beautiful piano piece.

Drifter is a sweet gospel-piano pop song, and then People Say is a glorious, simple pop track. By the middle of this album, its form is holding up well, although Every Single Day is probably the one moment on here that I think doesn’t stand up quite as well as the rest.

Then comes Waves, a beautiful pop song, with more rippling pads and acoustic-inspired sounds, as well as an enormous grumbly bass sound. Freeway is another great instrumental.

But the best has definitely been saved till the end – my favourite track on here is the adorable, lullaby-like The Stars, full of cascading arpeggios and huge reverb. If there’s a better album closing track then I would very much like to know what it is. Indeed, The Sun WIll Come surely must be one of the best albums of its era. If only anybody had heard it – their only foray into the charts was a minor scrape at the bottom end of the singles with Love Will Tear Us Apart.

Unfortunately the Honeyroot project was not destined to last much longer. A one-off single It’s All Good followed in 2008, and then Heaven 17 started doing stuff again, and its time was through. Which is a very great shame – I do like Heaven 17 a lot, but I’m not convinced they ever created anything quite as beautiful as The Sun Will Come.

You can still find The Sun Will Come at their own Bandcamp page for just a fiver.