New Order – Power, Corruption and Lies

Thirty years ago today, it was the early 1980s. Something about hair and shoulder pads – you can pick whatever stereotypes you need to transport yourself back there. And New Order had just come back with their second album Power, Corruption and Lies.

By 1983, they had pretty much shaken the shadows of Joy Division, and were much more clearly a band in their own right. They hadn’t actually managed any hits yet – the debut album only reached number 30, and the biggest single to date had been the previous year’s Temptation. But things very much changed with this album.

While much of its predecessor Movement was tempered by the tragic end of Joy Division, their second album saw New Order taking a much more electronic, and at times even more experimental direction. They may not have quite been up to, say, hits of Blue Monday‘s calibre, but they were clearly starting to work out what it was they were doing.

The first track is Age of Consent – rhythmic and throbbing, if perhaps a little dull and overlong. Bernard Sumner‘s vocal is, as it so often is, a little weak, and his lyrics somewhat poor, but it’s still rather charming. We All Stand follows, and again you wonder if Sumner’s early attempts at vocal acrobatics might have been better saved for their live performances, which I’m sure were particularly captivating at this stage.

As with their debut, the album has an unusual gimmick, in that none of the tracks were singles – until the 1997 CD release of Video 586 at least. The Village might have been one of the more appropriate standalone releases, although it does contain one of Sumner’s worst lyrics on record (“Our love is like the flowers / The rain and the sea and the hours” – you have to wonder slightly how he ever thought that was an acceptable rhyme).

The experimental semi-instrumental 5 8 6 follows, bringing Side A to a close, and sounding not unlike a partly finished version of Blue Monday, and clearly using many of the same sounds, but lacking the general moodiness and atmosphere.

As with every one of New Order‘s releases, the artwork is worthy of a special mention – Peter Saville‘s flower imagery was so iconic that it was picked by the Royal Mail in the UK for a 2010 stamp.

The best track on the album is Your Silent Face, somewhat slower and more plodding than some of the other tracks, but also rather more powerful and full of atmosphere. The rest of the album is pleasant but generally unremarkable – Ultraviolence has a bit of oomph but fails to blow you away. Ecstasy has a fun bluesy synth riff to back it up but is largely instrumental and a little lacking in the melody department. Finally Leave Me Alone is a little more meaningful, but really lacks a strong vocal hook. I want to believe that the reason for the lack of singles was artistic, but you have to wonder slightly whether there just weren’t any candidates on there.

But others have disagreed – Slant Magazine in 2012 named it as the 23rd best album of the 1980s, a couple of places higher even than the eternally perfect Computer World, so maybe I really am missing something fundamental here. Or maybe not.

Whatever you feel about it, Power, Corruption and Lies is very clearly an early New Order album, a world away from even the next album Low-Life (1985). It shows a lot of promise, but is also very naïve at times. Of course, it was a matter of months later that Blue Monday was released, and things would never be the same again.

Buy Power, Corruption and Lies on iTunes (or the collector’s edition from elsewhere) and you’ll also get a whole package of extra tracks from the singles of the era, including Blue Monday and others. See here. And whether you agree or disagree with this week’s review, I suspect you’ll also be interested in next week’s.

Preview – Phoenix

Everybody’s favourite Versailles-based French electro-rock outfit Phoenix are back with a new album entitled Bankrupt!

The track which they chose to launch the album is called Entertainment, and admittedly it does sound a little bit like Kung Fu Fighting in places, but I’m not sure that’s entirely a bad thing. Here it is:

Chart for stowaways – 20 April 2013

Here are the singles for this week:

  1. Depeche Mode – Heaven
  2. Depeche Mode – Happens All the Time
  3. Pet Shop Boys – Winner
  4. Röyksopp – Running to the Sea
  5. Karl Bartos – Atomium
  6. Vanessa Paradis – Love Song
  7. Little Boots – Motorway
  8. Phildel – Storm Song
  9. Saint Etienne – When I Was Seventeen
  10. Depeche Mode – Welcome to My World

As predicted, the Depeche Mode takeover is in full force, as they hold onto the top spot for a fourth week in the album chart with Delta Machine and also re-enter at number 8 with Violator. They’ve also grabbed number 18 on the singles with Secret to the End and the number 1 breaker with Soft Touch/Raw Nerve, and are also firmly placed at the top of the artists chart this week.

Various Artists – Electric Dreams

For the final release in this set I’m going to break the trend slightly and concentrate more on the movie than its soundtrack. Partly this is because I’ve not actually heard the soundtrack to this one, but partly it’s also because the music is entirely key to the movie itself, which I think is quite a good justification.

Until very recently, to my immense shame, I’d never seen the film Electric Dreams before. Then I was watching something else on a well-known online video sharing website and noticed that the film was there to watch in its entirety.

Here’s the thing: the film is absolutely lousy. Totally awful, in almost every conceivable way. But for someone who enjoys the kinds of music that I do, it’s essential viewing. And since you’re reading this, I think it’s fair to say that this applies to you too.

With Richard Branson as its executive producer and Giorgio Moroder coordinating the music, so many of the ingredients were right. In fairness actually, one of its main failings was that it was made in 1984. Oh yes, and the general absurdity of the plot. Perhaps, as with all the best music films, the important thing is the music, and not any of the typical cinematic aspects. But there’s also a large element of praise for technology, and some fun to be had with that too. Throw in a few clumsy hints at gay rights, and you have a fun, if horrifically dated film.

Let me give you my interpretation of what happened in the movie. I wasn’t entirely sure, but I think it was meant to be a comedy. Anyway, this is what happens…

At the start of the film, our protagonist Miles Harding, later thanks to a typo forever dubbed Moles by his computer, finds himself leaving Los Angeles surrounded by technology. He checks into his flight on a computerised check-in system (how absurd!) and sits down to wait for his flight as, around him, children play with computers and fatties try to fool themselves that they’re not fat using computerised devices.

Turning up to work in San Francisco the next day, Miles, strangely a total geek but somebody who has never owned a computer before, is scolded for his lateness, so he goes into a computer shop to try and buy an iPhone some kind of personal organiser device. They have sold out already, so he’s persuaded to buy a full-sized computer instead. Proper geeks will find this shop rather charming, filled not just with the anonymous PCs that we see today, but also with early Apples, and a surprising amount of Acorn equipment (the BBC microcomputers of yesteryear). Either revealing the British influence on this transatlantic co-production or harking back to a day when Britain was still a viable technological power, this makes for a rather sweet moment thirty years later.

Miles leaves with a Pinecone computer, and quickly wires his entire house into it. Living in the famously earthquake-prone city, his pet project is trying to design a brick which will hold together in a seismic event, rather than split apart. Of course, any engineer should have known even then that this is entirely the wrong strategy, but then, the hero of this film is an architect, so he’s allowed to be a little batty. He’s also allowed to live on his own in what must be a phenomenally expensive apartment, with beautiful cellists for his neighbours. And apparently old people too, who are an extremely rare site in modern day SF.

Anyway, for reasons which weren’t entirely obvious to me, he decides to hack into his work computer network; the computer overloads with data; he tries to stop it by pouring champagne on the computer, and this somehow gives the machine a life of its own and enables it to think by itself.

The rest of the film is pretty much incidental after this build-up, and so largely it goes along these lines: girl meets computer but thinks it’s actually boy; girl falls in love with boy; computer falls in love with girl; computer and boy fight over girl; computer sacrifices itself in the name of love. All pretty pedestrian stuff.

While all of this is going on, you get the monumental score by Giorgio Moroder. Having only just created his interesting version of Metropolis a year or two earlier, it could have all gone horribly wrong, but this time he managed to hold it together.

The score has some great moments, such as the cello piece The Duel. The soundtrack album also brings you hits and exclusive tracks from the likes of Jeff LynneCulture Club, and Heaven 17.

The one truly beautiful moment in the film is at the end, when the couple leave San Francisco in typically heavy rain (although this has symbolically and miraculously stopped by the time they reach the Golden Gate Bridge) and Edgar hacks into the radio to play them the wonderful Together in Electric Dreams, apparently self-composed, but of course in reality written and performed by Moroder with Phil Oakey out of The Human League.

Apparat – The Devil’s Walk

Sometimes it’s very easy to write these reviews, as I know the artists extremely well, and the words just seem to flow. Other times require a little more research. This one falls into the latter category. I know literally nothing about Apparat beyond the fact that they’re on Mute Records (good enough for starters) and I think I might have come across one of the tracks for free prior to buying the album.

Then, to my surprise, I found the album in the bargain bin of my local record store, and decided it would be rude not to, and that’s how I ended up with The Devil’s Walk in my hands.

The album opens with the pleasant almost choral and orchestral sound of Sweet Unrest, before launching into Song of Los, one of the stronger tracks on the album. With its throbbing synth bass and slightly dubby drums, it’s really rather charming, although it does seem to be approaching electronic music from slightly more of a rock angle than I’m normally accustomed to.

Black Water is wonderfully atmospheric and rippling. I’ve no idea what the singer is banging on about, but it’s a great track, which might fit beautifully somewhere in the middle of some epic rock album just as well as it does here. It ends with the steady sound of rain trickling down roofs.

Goodbye has a similarly epic quality, with a piano chord every couple of seconds, shimmering strings, and bizarre atmospherics. The vocal is a little more discernable, making this a stronger track for me. Candil de la Calle follows, an absolutely beautiful track with manic percussion and more shimmering backing. You can picture this track hiding somewhere on a film soundtrack, while something very emotional happens on screen – Apparat clearly have a talent for deep and dark atmospherics.

On closer inspection, Apparat turns out to be a he rather than a theySascha Ring released his debut album Multifunktionsebene in 2001, and ten years on The Devil’s Walk is, as far as I can make out, his sixth, and also his first release on Mute.

The Soft Voices Die, largely an instrumental, is curiously one of the most “pop” tracks on the album, powered by an upbeat string section. Escape is a return to the softer, more atmospheric sound of earlier tracks. With often ambiguous or indecipherable lyrics, it’s difficult to put some of this album into words, but there’s not a single unpleasant track on here.

The curiously titled Ash/Black Veil is next up, opening with a strangely powerful arpeggiated sound, and gently mixing in piano and strings. It builds gradually into an extremely strong and affecting track with a waily vocal, and is really rather beautiful. A Bang in the Void is a more repetitive, rhythmic track, bringing us gently towards the end of the album.

Finally, Your House is My World turns up to close the album in similarly atmospheric means, with its acoustic guitars, strings, and curious percussion. Rather sweetly, it ends with one of the few discernable lyrics on the whole album – “Will you house my world within yours?” All in all, even if I may have struggled to find words to express it, listening to The Devil’s Walk was a fascinating learning experience, but one which I would heartily recommend.

You can find The Devil’s Walk on iTunes and all the other usual places.

Live – April 2013

Dubstar

Unfortunately this post got pushed back a couple of weeks due to bad planning on my part, so if you didn’t know that Dubstar were back for a one-off gig in London then I’m sorry you’ve missed it already. Keep an eye out for more!

Pet Shop Boys

They’re back after a break of nearly 10 months to promote their new album Electric, touring across Europe over the summer. Catch them in Russia, Denmark, France, Spain, the UK, Germany and Japan, with more dates no doubt to follow.

Full list of dates at Songkick

Goldfrapp

Back with a new album which they’re previewing in Manchester in July before heading onto London and who knows where else.

Full list of date at Songkick

Massive Attack

I’m not sure if Massive Attack actually ever stop touring, but in the next few months you can catch them in Manchester before they take a summer break and then head to the USA in the “fall”.

Full list of dates at Songkick

Alabama 3

Having recovered from the 1990s, they’re back, kicking off their tour next month in Guildford before moving onto locations as curious as Southampton, Inverness, Holmfirth, and Dublin.

Full list of dates at Songkick