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.

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