New Order – 1988 Demos

This week’s collection of demos is from a band I haven’t written about nearly as much as I should have to date, New Order. In 1988 they were reworking Blue Monday and at the very beginning of the recording process for what would eventually become one of their strongest albums Technique.

Most of the tracks here are less than a minute long, so it’s going to be pretty difficult to write this review, but let’s see how we get on.

Firstly Loveless is pleasant, although a little chaotic, and then comes Mr. Disco, which is a strong one-minute instrumental. Given some of the dirges that New Order had released prior to this point, it’s a very strong start for one of the better tracks on Technique. This isn’t true for Don’t Do It, which is dreadful.

The original demo of Run is a total surprise, as despite becoming a decent track on Technique there is literally nothing to it. Unknown #1 is pretty good, as is the initial demo of Best & Marsh, which would ultimately become the b-side to Round and RoundMTO is a bit of drumming and synth chirping, and not a lot else, but it’s pretty pleasant.

Unknown #2 is more of a jam than anything, and is nice enough, but feels a little bit empty. Then there’s more jamming on the Guitar and Bass Checks. Finally, now, having dealt with ten tracks flying thick and fast towards us, we get a bit of a breather with the demo of Dream Attack, clocking in at nearly six minutes. Finally, I can type something before the next track starts!

Dream Attack is actually my favourite track on Technique, but in its demo form it’s rather dull – Peter Hook does his normal bass thing and there isn’t an awful lot of melody otherwise. This bootleg presents snippets of another three versions, but somehow none really take it to the levels of the final album version. It actually sounds as though they spent most of their studio time just jamming until they found something that worked, which is admirable, but would go some way towards explaining why their albums are so variable. In particular, some of Hooky’s attempts to come up with a bass line were pretty awful, it would seem.

A more advanced version of Mr. Disco comes next, now with a vocal, but no Hooky bass line, so he’s there doing the dun-dada-dun bass thing again over the top, trying to find something that works. The next three tracks – Low-fi Hooky Riffing, Hi-fi Hooky Riffing, and More Hi-fi Hooky Riffing are more of the same, but without any obvious backing track this time, and Hooky Bass (All the Way) is… well, another Peter Hook bass line.

We then get a 21-minute recording, completely out of the blue: Low-volume Ambient Recording (Blue Monday Playback Plus Bass Synth to “Much Too Old”). Quite why the people who compiled the bootleg decided to include this is beyond me, and if you can make it through more than a minute without wanting to succumb to a fatal dose of wow and flutter then you’re a stronger person than me.

After this a couple more Hooky Bass tracks fail to regain the right sort of momentum, but Blue Monday ’88 (No Samples) (Cut) is a lot better. As you will know, New Order decided to reissue Blue Monday five years on, sped up, and with a load of silly samples added to spoil the moody nature of the original as much as possible. Without the samples, it’s still a bit too fast, but it’s a lot better than the finished version.

The totally chaotic ‘rehearsal takes’ of Guilty PartnerDon’t Do It and Unknown #2 follow, just about toeing the line between listenable and dreadful, and then the final four tracks are all progressions of Blue Monday ’88 – without samples or the intro; without samples; with some samples; and then with some different samples.

Whoever compiled this collection really ruined it with the twenty-minute studio recording in the middle, but there’s some good stuff on here, and it’s good to hear the works-in-progress which New Order were working on just a year or two before Factory Records collapsed.

Retro chart for stowaways – 29 November 2003

Here’s an exciting retro chart from ten years ago this week, featuring a whole slew of new entries straight into the top ten singles:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Miracles
  2. Goldfrapp – Twist
  3. Martin L. Gore – Loverman EP2
  4. Girls Aloud – Jump
  5. Kylie Minogue – Slow
  6. Dave Gahan – Bottle Living
  7. Sugababes – Hole in the Head
  8. Dido – White Flag
  9. Erasure – Oh l’Amour
  10. Conjure One – Centre of the Sun

Goldfrapp‘s Strict Machine slipped to number 11, while Dave Gahan fell out of the top ten to number 13 with I Need You. On the albums meanwhile, Goldfrapp hopped up to the top spot for the first time with Black Cherry after thirty weeks on the chart (in a tight battle Madonna had fought them off with American Life‘s second week at the top in early May).

Heaven 17 – Naked As Advertised

Five years ago this week, Heaven 17 came back to perform another tour. Never having really toured in their heyday, they came to the idea of playing live relatively late, but have in recent years taken to it with gusto.

In 2008, in the process of reworking old tunes for their latest tour, they decided to revisit some of their tracks – and some by other artists – for a mini-album-come-compilation with the odd title Naked As Advertised – Versions ’08. It’s far from perfect – some of the tracks are worse than the originals, but others are better, and thanks to this it’s definitely worth hearing.

The first track is a sadly rather cheesy take on The Human League‘s brilliant debut single Being BoiledGlenn Gregory is, as always, an excellent vocalist, and delivers it perfectly, but the backing suffers from Martyn Ware‘s sometimes perfect, sometimes totally misjudged touch. The backing vocals are also rather over-the-top.

Next up comes a brilliant take of Geisha Boys and Temple Girls. As with much of their debut album Penthouse and Pavement, this was poorly realised in its original form, but this time around it’s close to perfect. Gregory’s vocal is stronger and more confident, and the backing vocals are better judged, but more importantly the synth sounds hit the tones on the nose.

The new take of Temptation featuring Billie Godfrey is typically flamboyant and strong too, but inevitably it doesn’t even come close to Brothers in Rhythm‘s charged 1992 versions, let alone the original.

A new version of Penthouse and Pavement follows, again better than the original, proving that it was a good song in the first place, but lacking the sheer “shock power” of Geisha Boys and Temple Girls. This is followed by a powerful piano cover version of Party Fears Two, and another cover, Don’t Fall, comes next, and turns out to be very strong indeed, perhaps one of the best tracks on this album.

The dance versions of (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang which have been popping up over the last couple of decades are largely awful, and this one is no exception. You can just about see that there might be a decent song hidden in there somewhere, but the dreadful synth riff and corny sound effects really don’t help you hear it.

The new version of We Live So Fast is a little better, and is perhaps even on a par with the original from The Luxury Gap (1983). The new backing doesn’t really help it much, but neither does it entirely hinder matters.

The final track is another Human League original, Empire State Human, and as one of the finest tracks from Reproduction and Travelogue you might think this an opportunity to bring out some of its better points. Unfortunately they didn’t take the opportunity – instead they manage to ruin it by creating a silly and pointless spoken word version.

So Naked As Advertised is every bit as much of a mixed bag as its rather daft title and cheap artwork might suggest. In a couple of cases the new versions are better than the originals; in a couple they’re worse. But all in all it’s good to know that Heaven 17 are still capable of putting together a decent album – and fortunately, the tour which followed was considerably better than this little compilation might have suggested.

Naked As Advertised is still available through stores such as Amazon

Where are they now?

We’ve covered eight unsigned acts to date, and since I’ve heard more good things from a couple of them recently, let’s take a quick look at what they’ve been up to!

The first act we covered last year was Jonteknik, who has just released another album The Satellites of Substance. It sounds a bit like Kraftwerk, and is really, really good. Check it out on his official website.

Movement Ten have just done another album too, entitled Build Them and They Will Come. A couple of tracks on Movement Ten were very good indeed, as I said when we listened to them together previously. More information at their website.

And finally – for now – Devin Tait is still touring in the Los Angeles region – read what we learnt about him before here, and visit his website there.

Do you want to be covered on this blog? Take a look at the guidelines in the Are you unsigned? section.

Depeche Mode – Delta Machine

A new Depeche Mode album is upon us! Time to get very excited. For a new Mode album is a very special thing indeed, chock full of fascinating new songs with intriguing lyrics and harsh aural experimentation.

At least, they used to be. DM albums have sadly, in recent years, become considerably less exciting. You’ve always needed to take a bit of time to get used to them, to let them bed in, and their recent albums are no exception to this. But whereas they used to grow into something glorious, the last couple seem to have failed on this front.

This new album is, we are told, the last in a trilogy of recordings produced by Ben Hillier, so let’s regard them as such. Playing the Angel (2005) was the first, and was largely excellent, flanked by great singles such as Precious and John the Revelator, and also hiding excellent album tracks including Nothing’s Impossible and The Darkest Star. Then came Sounds of the Universe (2009), with more excellent singles in the shape of WrongPeace and Perfect. Unfortunately, the album tracks were less exciting this time around, leaving an album that was acceptable at best.

Which brings us to the oddly named Delta Machine, their latest album. From the very start, it’s clearly much more experimental than anything they’ve done in recent years. Welcome to My World is the opening track, kicking off with some crunchy electronic noises, and building into a pleasant but relatively standard Depeche Mode track.

Second track Angel still falls entirely as flat as it did six months or so earlier when it was anonymously unveiled as the first taster for the album. The drums are interesting, and the vocal is powerful, but there just isn’t a lot of melody. Delta Machine does, sadly, seem to be lacking some of the songwriting which made its predecessors so great.

The third track and opening single Heaven is far and away the best track on the album. You do have to ditch your preconceptions about what Depeche Mode “ought” to sound like, but if you accept it as it is, you will hear something rather beautiful and powerful, a song which belongs up there among DM’s finest moments.

It does herald the coming of a rather long and dull middle section though – Dave Gahan‘s Secret to the End is, despite an exceptional vocal performance from Gahan, rather unsatisfactory, perhaps because of the slightly daft backing vocals from Martin L. Gore. Then none of My Little UniverseSlow and Broken really grab you as a listener in the way you feel you ought to be grabbed by a Depeche Mode album. All are strong – particularly Broken – but all seem to let themselves down in some way.

Then right in the middle, there’s a trio of classic Mode songs, every bit as great as they should be. The Child Inside is, as is often the case with Martin L. Gore vocals, poetic and dreamy, and the brilliantly named Soft Touch/Raw Nerve doesn’t disappoint. And the third single Should Be Higher is another classic Mode track.

But there are elements of Delta Machine which fall completely flat for me. Alone is good, but nothing special, and the gospel-style backing vocals on Soothe My Soul really bring down what is otherwise a good track. So when Goodbye finally turns up to close the album I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the whole thing.

Don’t get me wrong, Delta Machine is far from a bad album, but there does seem to be a bit of a pattern with Depeche Mode in recent years where each release is slightly less good than its predecessor. The next album won’t be for a few more years, but let’s hope it bucks the trend.

There’s a nice hardback version of the album which comes with a second disc, including what would have been another of the best tracks on the album if they had included it, Happens All the Time. Unfortunately, in another slightly misguided moment, it was allowed to slip off the main album and onto the bonus CD.

You can still find the limited edition version of Delta Machine through all the regular retailers, including via this link at Amazon.co.uk.

The Doctor Who chart

Here are the official (according to me, at least) top ten versions of the Doctor Who theme music:

  1. Delia Derbyshire – Doctor Who Theme (Third Version*, 1971)
  2. Peter Howell – Doctor Who Theme (1980)
  3. Orbital – Doctor? (2001)
  4. Delia Derbyshire – Doctor Who Theme (Original Version, 1963)
  5. Murray Gold – Doctor Who Theme (Tenth Doctor Versions, 2005)
  6. Murray Gold – Doctor Who Theme (Eleventh Doctor Versions, 2010)
  7. Dominic Glynn – Doctor Who Theme (1986)
  8. Keff McCulloch – Doctor Who Theme (1987)
  9. Delia Derbyshire – Doctor Who Theme (Delaware Version, 1972)
  10. David Arnold – Doctor Who Theme (2001)

* technically, the 1967 and 1970 versions should probably be near the top of this list too, but since they’re so similar to the 1971 version I’ve omitted them from this list.

Notably absent from this list are the bloody awful 1996 version by John DebneyThe Timelords (The KLF‘s) Doctorin’ the TARDIS, and a good number of other failures…

Doctor Who and The Pirates

I’ve never tried to review an audiobook before. This could be a total unmitigated disaster, but we’ll see. It’s the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who today, so I thought we could have a go at something a little bit special.

Doctor Who, as you may remember, was shelved by the BBC at the end of 1989, and apart from a brief revival in the mid-nineties, stayed off the air until 2005. But from 1999 onwards, Big Finish Productions started recording audio adventures. Some are awful, particularly the very early ones, but for a few years from 2001 onwards, the quality was pretty consistently high. Doctor Who and The Pirates was released in 2003, at the height of this period, and is definitely one of their stronger stories.

The story opens with the Doctor’s companion, cuddly grandma and university lecturer Dr. Evelyn Smythe (Maggie Stables), turning up at the door of one of her students, and, for as-yet-unknown reasons, starting to tell her a tale of the high seas. This framing device continues all the way through the story, and generally works well – you learn more about Evelyn and her student Sally, at the same time as the entirely daft pirate story unfolds.

The general theme is – initially, at least – somewhat comedic, which does sometimes fall a little flat, particularly as some of the actors do ham it up a little. Bill Oddie, though, as the pirate captain Red Jasper, is utterly brilliant. The plot holes identified by Sally are quite fun too, as Evelyn goes a little bit over the top with the story telling.

For much of the story, The Doctor, played here by Colin Baker, doesn’t have a huge amount to do – this is Evelyn’s moment really. He has a role within Evelyn’s story, and eventually he does turn up in Sally’s flat, but this is not fundamentally about him.

Famously, Baker, who originally played The Doctor between 1983 and 1986, was regularly voted the fans’ least (or second least) actor to play The Doctor throughout the 1990s. Whether it was his gaudy costume, bad scripts and production values, his own acting talents, or other reasons, is for the viewer to judge, but it’s certainly fair to say that this era of the series is less popular than many others. But he experienced something of a renaissance with the audio adventures. The scripts were strong; the characters well drawn; the costumes entirely imaginary; and the acting largely spot on.

This story is no exception – Colin Baker has made the part his own, and is largely immune from the overacting that hounds some of the other crew members, such as Captain Emmanuel Swan, played in extremely camp fashion by Nicholas Pegg. “It can’t possibly get any worse,” says Sally towards the end of part one, and then with delicious irony an episode or so later, the first song appears. The story was devised as a musical episode, which is why I’ve picked it as my review here, and the songs, adapted from Gilbert and Sullivan, are a lot of fun.

Where they’re let down somewhat is the backing music, which couldn’t really be any cheesier. The production values were largely high on Big Finish releases by this period, with just occasional lapses, but for the music here they appear to have picked preset sounds from the cheapest possible portable keyboards. Even the 1980s Doctor Who theme sounds a little incongruous among those surroundings.

The story is hiding something of a dark side, which I won’t spoil for you, and it does (if you’ll pardon the expression) change tack as it goes on – the Sally part of the story stops interrupting the flow of the pirate story quite so much. But it doesn’t drag at any point really. Yes, it has a few minor failings, but by and large, Doctor Who and The Pirates really is a lot of fun.

You can find Doctor Who and The Pirates  on iTunes here, or on Big Finish’s website for rather less money here.

Delia Derbyshire – Doctor Who Theme

Normally on Fridays I like to drop in a music video, and at the moment the mini-series is looking at animated ones, but since this is the week of Doctor Who, I thought we should do things very slightly differently.

Let’s step back no less than fifty years for the original theme, recorded by the legendary Delia Derbyshire. The video and remastering was completed in 2009 by Mark Ayres and the Doctor Who Restoration Team.