New Order – Technique

Thirty years ago this week, New Order released their fifth studio album, Technique. This was the album where they famously disappeared to Ibiza to record, and, intentionally or otherwise, returned with something that wasn’t entirely complete yet.

It opens with Fine Time, full of huge late 1980s bass and snare sounds. It must have already sounded a little outdated, actually – a lot of these are the sorts of sounds that were turning up on New Order‘s own remix 12″ singles a couple of years earlier, and the times were moving fast by the late 1980s. Of course, the previous album Brotherhood (1986) predated a lot of that, so maybe what we witness here is a band who knew this had been done already, and just wanted to enjoy themselves. The goat samples are, of course, a welcome addition.

But Technique is interesting in that regard – famously none of the first four New Order albums contained any singles, and so prior to this point, there was a clear division to the New Order you find on modern compilations versus the band who could be found on LP. Fine Time was the first single from this album, actually released in late 1988, and was one of their more successful releases, peaking at number 11.

All the Way is much closer to what I would now regard as classic New Order, although offhand I’m not sure how much material like this they had actually recorded prior to 1989, It’s less electronic, and more guitar-based, and offers Peter Hook a good chance to shine with his lively bass lines. Love Less is similar, with some of Bernard Sumner‘s typically awkward lyric writing, but a catchy chorus and some gentle rhythmic elements. For the first time on this album, I think you can understand what they’re trying to do here, although for a band as adventurous as New Order, that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Then you get the second single Round & Round, which peaked at number 21 shortly after the release of the album. If you struggle as much as I do with New Order song titles, it might help if you think of this as the one that’s built around loads of orchestral hits. The single was remixed slightly, and frames the song a little better than the album version, but it’s definitely the best song of the album so far.

Side A closes with Guilty Partner, a catchy but somewhat directionless piece with a particularly huge bass part. With New Order, it’s rarely worth thinking too hard about what they were trying to do, best instead just to enjoy their songs for what they are – that guitar solo at the halfway point is beautiful, and that’s really all that matters here.

We get the singles out of the way with the original version of Run at the start of Side B. In its single form (Run 2) it’s a great song that underperformed disappointingly on its release, crashing out from number 49 on the charts. Based on the album version, its poor performance would be a little more understandable – the catchier moments and the unusually insightful lyrics are actually there, but the production is just a little dreary and flat.

Mr. Disco is interesting – a lot of the classic New Order elements are there, and again, it’s good to hear them exploring some of the ground that had been limited to 12″ singles previously. At the same time, there are elements that are absolutely awful – mainly the lyrics and vocal delivery (such as rhyming “letter” with “met you”) – but there are other things that don’t quite seem to fit together. It’s a mess, but it’s a nice enough mess.

Vanishing Point is next, and is probably the best track on here. For the first time, we get many of the traditional New Order elements and a great song at the same time. Ninety second introductions had long been typical of the band’s singles in the 1980s, and dreary, dark, and introspective lyrics were very traditional too. Why wasn’t this one of the singles? Even the production seems to have stepped things up a level. Pure brilliance.

But it’s with Dream Attack that they really shine. They had never used honky tonk piano as a lead line before, and surprisingly it fits extremely well. Peter Hook‘s unchanging rhythmic bass is complemented by a wonderfully punchy synth bass part, and again, the lyrics actually sound sincere. This is New Order at their best, without a doubt.

For all of its patchier moments, Technique is indisputably one of New Order‘s finest albums. By the time Republic came out four years later, they had decisively moved from their elegantly dreary and experimental roots to a commercially successful indie pop-rock crossover. So Technique shows a band in transition, and demonstrates all the conflict and brilliance that you might expect from that.

The double CD special edition of Technique is still widely available, but as always, keep an eye out for the versions with dodgy sound quality.

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