New Order – Western Works

Another set of early New Order demos is Western Works, recorded in 1980. These are great quality recordings, taken directly from studio masters dating to September of that year, less than six months after Ian Curtis‘s suicide and the untimely end of Joy Division. The full story of the demos is related here.

The first two tracks are demo versions of Dreams Never End, one of the better tracks on New Order‘s debut album Movement (1981). While probably not among the band’s finest moments, both versions (with a quieter and then louder guitar part) are entirely listenable, and unlike some of the demos we’ve listened to previously, do show some promise.

Homage was, the last time we heard it, pretty awful, and the studio version isn’t an awful lot better either. It never got released officially, and perhaps that’s for the best – the chanted “in this room,” vocal is perhaps the track’s most redeeming factor, although the lyrics in general, when heard properly, turn out to be rather poignant and beautiful.

Ceremony didn’t make it onto an album either, but became a single in its own right in 1981. This demo version isn’t anywhere as good as the final release, but it is clearly one of the strongest on this collection. It started life as a Joy Division track, and is among the best of New Order‘s first couple of years, and it stands out even on this tape.

Next comes Truth, which would later appear on 1981’s Movement, and in this form starred what I can only assume is an early drum machine, and not a huge amount else. It’s raw, and it has promise, and it’s almost entirely unlike Joy Division, which was probably a good thing at the time.

The final track seems to be entitled Are You Ready Are You Ready Are You Ready for This? to which the obvious answer would be, “Sorry, could I have the question again?” Again, it mainly consists of some drum machine hi-hats, a PA-style vocal, and a few experimental electronic noises, and it’s every bit as bad as that sounds. And yet, for a band in the aftermath of their lead singer’s suicide, it’s also fascinatingly experimental, and really quite intriguing. Realistically it was never going to be released anywhere, but it’s also a truly fascinating listen – perhaps the most fascinating on this entire collection.

Depeche Mode – Composition of Sound Demos

Depeche Mode, or Composition of Sound as they were called back in 1980, must have been an interesting bunch. They had a little twenty minute package of plinky plonky synth-based tracks to share with us, and they were really rather good.

First up is The Price of Love, with synth sounds borrowed from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. I’m not clear who’s singing here – it sounds as though it might be Vince Clarke. Either way, why did this never get released? In a way it sounds more like Yazoo than Depeche Mode, but that’s no bad thing.

Let’s Get Together reveals that they were listening to The Human League too, and I think has a very unconfident (but still pretty good) vocal from Dave Gahan. Again, it wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Yazoo album.

Early live favourite Television Set comes next, featuring a vocal line lifted straight from Gary Numan, and clearly taking heavy influence from The Normal‘s T.V.O.D. Again, this is strong enough that you have to wonder slightly why record companies weren’t falling over one another to sign them. I suppose in 1980, they were still a little ahead of their time.

Reason Man is less strong, although you can still see some promise, and also the odd hint of New Life, while Dance of Modern Time is perhaps a good idea lacking somewhat in execution. The electro-swing of Tomorrow’s Dance does come as a bit of a surprise, and might have even lifted debut album Speak and Spell when it starts to get a little dull in places. Another great track.

The last in the collection is I Like It, which I can only assume was an attempt at bubblegum pop, and it actually almost works. It’s good to hear them experimenting with different ideas, and although this one may not be their finest hour, it’s still kind of fun.

There’s a separate set of demos floating around called Vince Clarke Demos, including an alternative version of Television Set, alongside two unreleased and seemingly untitled tracks. While it might have been tempting to write about those as a separate post, the entire collection comes to less than three minutes, so it probably isn’t really worth it. The vocal unreleased track doesn’t really work, although it has some nice elements here and there, while the final instrumental wouldn’t have sounded out of place at the end of an early Human League album.

As always, it’s a fascinating experience listening to any demos, particularly the ones that an enormous act were using to try and get signed. But it must have been an easy decision for Daniel Miller back in 1981 when he offered them a deal with Mute Records – the Composition of Sound Demos are totally brilliant. And for the record, Composition of Sound is a really good name for a band.

The Beloved – Early Demos

Before The Beloved were called that, they were known as The Journey Through, and put together a handful of demos in 1983 and 1984 under each of those names.

The first track is The Flame, an early version of their 1989 single Loving Feeling, with different and altogether less meaningful lyrics, and a much darker feel. The synth and drum sounds are very confident through, and it really sounds nothing like the demos that we’ve listened to on this blog in the last few weeks. It’s slow, and it does drag a little, but it’s also much better than most demos really deserve to be.

The b-side, as it probably would have been, is A Search, which has all the elements of a good track, but ends up sounding a little chaotic unfortunately. It’s just a little dull.

They would have been listening to a lot of The Cure at this time, but it’s difficult to hear what else might have been influencing them – and at times they were a little dreary.

The next pair are both credited to The Beloved. The Last Detail is better, and does show promise, but it’s lacking a little on the melody front unfortunately. And the final track Privacy (Sometimes) isn’t bad either, but doesn’t quite seem to have that special something. Although the weird flanged vocal/guitar effect near the end is worth hearing.

They may not sound anything like The Beloved that you know, with their gentle synth/dance tracks about love, but as the sounds that would shape their first album Where it Is, eventually released in 1987 and 1988, the early demos are definitely worth a listen.

Joy Division / New Order – The Jon Savage Tape

… or, more correctly, that should probably say Warsaw / Joy Division / New Order, because the first track on this tape is from the earliest incarnation of Joy Division.

And is pretty awful, too. Inside the Line is a mess of almost punk-inspired shouting and drum hitting. A rehearsal, apparently dating from 1977, it shows none of the poetic lyrical finesse of Joy Division – admittedly mainly because you can’t really hear the lyrics, but there’s very little positive to say about it.

These are all rehearsals, and the next, In a Lonely Place, opens with a chaotic shout of, “Does it fucking matter? Play the drumkit!” The track would become the b-side to New Order‘s Ceremony in 1981, but a year or so earlier Ian Curtis was still the troubled genius fronting the band. The demo claims therefore to be a Joy Division recording, although apparently it is in fact an early New Order rehearsal. Either way, it’s not a bad version of a reasonable track. It has been suggested that this could have been their first recording without Ian Curtis.

Homage, on the other hand, also from 1980, is pretty awful, featuring a pretty awful vocal performance. These demos apparently surfaced for the first time in 2009, and while they’re not entirely unlistenable, they certainly lack the charmthat either Joy Division or New Order had during their finest hours.

Procession is marginally less bad, but it’s still easy to see why New Order‘s first album remains such a difficult release to enjoy. Perhaps early New Order are best treated with caution.

Depeche Mode – Some Great Reward (Demos)

A large amount of discordant banging and thwacking opens this collection of demos from late 1983 or early 1984. First up is Master and Servant, which apart from the slightly unnecessarily explosive introduction is actually not unlike the version which would make it onto the album a few months later. It’s admittedly not one of my personal favourites (actually, apart from Blasphemous Rumours I’ve always been a little unsure about Some Great Reward), but it kicks things off in a very lively way.

Rather unpredictably the second track is a Casio-inspired version of Shake the Disease, which wouldn’t even make it onto the album – instead kicking off the compilation The Singles 81-85 as its lead single the following year. In its demo form it does sound very unfinished – perhaps it had only just been written, as Dave Gahan does seem a little unsure of the melody, and the backing gets a bit lost in places too. There’s a little extra bit in the middle which even got rewritten somewhere down the line, as Dave sings “That’s not what I mean / That’s not for us, we want a different scene.”

Lie to Me is next, which did make it onto the album but I think is perhaps one of the weaker tracks on there. The demo has a fun jaunty quality which was lacking in the completed album version. It’s very listenable, but also somewhat out of place.

Then comes another version of Shake the Disease, apparently “Martin’s Demo Version”, as Martin L. Gore delivers a wonderfully cheesy instrumental rendition on his Yamaha Portasound keyboard. It’s actually rather good – definitely a lot better than the presumably later vocal version which turned up a few moments ago.

Next up is a fairly advanced version of Stories of Old. On this collection it’s called the “First Mix,” but since it’s clearly more than just a demo, this presumably means the first of the studio mixes. Although it’s not one of my favourite tracks on the album, the demo is pretty good. If you want to listen to the evolution of a Depeche Mode album, this collection is a good way to do it.

The final track is something of a surprise, Joe South‘s Down in the Boondocks. I can’t help but feel it’s been included among these demos by mistake, as Wikipedia tells me it was recorded by Martin L. Gore for his original Counterfeit EP but never released. This seems a lot more likely than it having been recorded for Some Great Reward. Either way, it’s a decent performance of a frankly fairly ropey song.

The Some Great Reward demos are, as always, a fascinating collection of tracks, even if somebody down the line has made some slightly eccentric compilation decisions.

Pet Shop Boys – Closer to Heaven (Demos 1999-2001)

A few weeks back, we looked at the early demos for the Pet Shop Boys musical Closer to Heaven. Those demos would continue over the next couple of years until it finally opened to the public in mid-2001.

Each disc has a slightly different track listing, building on the previous one, but by mid-1999 they had also started replacing songs with versions recorded for the then forthcoming album Nightlife. The previous post covered the first two discs, and now we can jump forward to disc four (2000).

The opening track is the much improved studio version of Tall Thin Men, now transformed into a wonderful cabaret piece which seems well deserving of a proper release somewhere. Then we get a version of For Your Own Good which is very nearly the original album version (it has a bit more on the end after the fade), and is entirely excellent too.

There are then two tracks recycled from the original disc, the rough versions of Something Special and A Little Black Dress, followed by the Nightlife version of In Denial, featuring a guest appearance from Kylie Minogue.

The next new track is the “slow version” of Nine Out of Ten. Transformed from the rather chaotic demo which turned up on disc two,

The original demo of Call Me Old Fashioned turns up again, followed by the original version of Shameless and the b-side recording of Friendly FireIn Denial Part 2, the album versions of Vampires, and The Only One, the studio versions of Night Life and For All of Us, and finally the completed version of Closer to Heaven.

Disc five adds a number of new tracks into the mix, starting with the wonderfully flamboyant This is Just My Little Tribute to Caligula, Darling (subsequently titled It’s Just…). Neil Tennant‘s vocal performance is quite astonishingly camp, and it makes for a fun recording all round. The Destiny’s Child-flavoured Out of My System is a new track too, although sadly Tennant doesn’t do quite as much justice to it on the demo as the vocalist does on the original cast recording version (released in 2001).

With Nightlife and its accompanying tour out of the way, Pet Shop Boys really seem to have knuckled down to working on the musical at this point, as there are actually five new recordings on this disc. Next is a new instrumental entitled K-Hole, which is a little longer than the completed version which would follow the next year. It’s not a particularly special track either, just a fairly unexciting instrumental which no doubt worked a lot better in the context of the musical.

A new studio version of For All of Us follows, sounding stronger and more confident, and then after the album version of Closer to Heaven we get a new track to close the album, a demo version of subsequent b-side and almost-album-track Positive Role Model. This is a pretty advanced demo, but as with many of the better tracks, even in its demo form it’s rather excellent, and proves the benefit of editorial control during the early stages of the album recording process.

By this stage the contents of the musical must have been fairly well formed, as the four discs of demos from 2001 only contain four or five tracks each. The first focuses mainly on the new show opener My Night, in both edited and full length eight minute form. Never having been fortunate enough to see the musical myself, I can’t really comment, but I suspect this song works better as part of the actual show – the long version starts to get a bit silly after a while as the entire cast crops up and sings “this is my night,” each in a different key. It’s a nice enough song though – classic Pet Shop Boys in many ways.

The third track is a lovely surprise, Something Special, which we heard earlier, now coupled in a rather uncomfortable medley with Home, which would ultimately become Here, far and away the best track on the 2002 album Release. Obviously it’s only half of the track here, but you can still hear how brilliant it’s going to be, although there are a few odd dropouts, so Neil was obviously having some problem with his microphone (well, either that or he was using a lot of naughty words).

The third 2001 disc adds two new tracks – firstly a version of Closer to Heaven entitled Act 1, scene 16, which is essentially a demo of the Slow Version from the free Daily Telegraph CD released at the time of the musical. It works really well, and would have made a good alternative version for the single that never was. The new piano version of For All of Us makes for another serene moment too.

The final disc adds an edited demo of K-Hole, which trims a minute off and turns out to be just a little less dull, and then finally not included on any of these many discs of demos but subsequently unleashed via the official Pet Shop Boys website is a demo version of Run, Girl, Run, recorded by Frances Barber from the cast for a special limited CD available at the merchandise stall. This version is rather lovely, and again would have made for a good PSB track somewhere if they had decided to finish it off for themselves.

As before, I’m not going to tell you where to get these demos – you can collect the original discs if you want, or track down the digital recordings one by one if that’s your preference. There’s more details on the discs here.

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.

Depeche Mode – Construction Time Again (Demos)

I don’t even know when, how, or where I got whole piles of Depeche Mode demos from – they must be floating around somewhere. This set is rather special, because – as may not have been entirely clear from the review I wrote a couple of months back – Construction Time Again is one of my favourite DM albums.

As is often the case, I’m not sure what order these are in, or even whether I’ve got a complete set. First up here is And Then…, sung by Martin L. Gore in a really sweet broken down form. It’s tempting to suggest this should have been released somewhere as an alternative version – it really is that good. Perhaps not up to the standard of the original, but pretty special nevertheless.

Second is the entirely questionable Cliché (Until You Sow the Seeds), which consists mainly of a very bouncy bass line and some very silly lyrics (“we’re about as similar as cheese and chalk,”) delivered – I think – by Dave Gahan and Martin L. Gore in a dreary monotone. It’s perhaps not quite as bad as I make it sound, but it certainly would have stood out on Construction Time Again like a sore thumb.

Eventually that comes to an end, and we get an early rendition of album opener Love, in Itself. It’s charming, laid back, and sounds ever so slightly as though it’s played on a Casio keyboard circa 1983. Well, in fairness it could well have been. Martin’s vocal doesn’t quite do it justice, but it still sounds like the beginnings of a good song. If they spent the next couple of months banging pots and pans against railway tracks and sampled the resulting sounds to replace the naff keyboards, they might have something rather special here. Oh, they already did.

Next up a completely unexpected synth riff announces an early version of Told You So, which also shows a bit of experimental promise with massive thwacking hand-claps and occasional added noises. It’s not the strongest song ever, but it’s one of which I’m rather fond, and even in demo form you can here something in it. The tempo gets rather confused in the middle section, but even that is forgivable.

The last of this set is Pipeline. In its completed album form, this is a spooky track brought to life by real-world ambient sampling and hitting things, so I was almost hesitant to listen to the demo version in case it somehow spoilt the track. In reality it’s another great alternative version, with a bit of Casio keyboard backing over a great warping bass line. In spite of the cheesier elements it’s actually rather brilliant.

It’s actually rather disappointing that these weren’t released alongside the deluxe version of the album – they’re a great accompaniment to the final tracks. Highly recommended.

Pet Shop Boys – The Musical (Demos 1998-1999)

Between 1998 and 2000, Pet Shop Boys did something very unusual, and effectively broke the fourth wall. Working on their forthcoming musical Closer to Heaven they put together a number of CD-R compilations of demos and half-finished versions. Many of them would ultimately work their way onto Nightlife (1999), and so they offer a fascinating insight into the recording of a later-period PSB album.

The first disc is dated July 1998, and opens with an early version of For Your Own Good. Although it contains many similar aspects to the finished version which would open Nightlife the following year, it’s much more bare and unpolished. The bass line in particular is uncharacteristically simple for Pet Shop Boys.

Next up is Something Special, which would never appear on a formal release under PSB’s own name. It’s a good song, even in this very stripped down early version. It’s perhaps easy to see why it never made it onto a Pet Shop Boys release though – it’s definitely been written especially for the music.

The next track exhibits similar qualities. A Little Black Dress is something of an oddity, but it’s a strong song. Then In Denial Part 1 is an early version of the Kylie Minogue duet from Nightlife, in which Neil Tennant does all of the vocals for himself. And says a naughty word.

Each of the fifteen tracks on this first disc is worth hearing, but some are particularly interesting, as you get to hear what Pet Shop Boys sound like when they’re not taking themselves too seriously. The demo of title track Closer to Heaven is a particularly good example, this time with the original Babylon Zoo-inspired “take me high” section.

A couple of rather corny tracks follow – a rather cheesy early version of Drunk (missing its You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re) and a track which never got a PSB version of its own called Call Me Old Fashioned. Both are good songs, and show a lot of potential, but would definitely benefit from a spit and polish.

Next comes the instrumental Hedonism, which like many of these tracks would ultimately appear on the original cast recording album Closer to Heaven in 2001. It’s a great traditional PSB instrumental b-side, and it almost feels a shame that it got hidden away on that album rather than a “proper” release.

This is also true of Friendly Fire, first performed live at the Somewhere Concerts in mid-1997, and ultimately thrown out as a b-side to I Get Along (hidden on the DVD version) it finally got a prominent release on Format last year. It’s a great track, full of classic Tennant/Lowe chord changes and witty lyrics, and really deserved better.

Next up is the second half of In Denial, and then a spectacularly poor version of a rather silly track Tall Thin Man. The silliness works rather well on the later studio version, but not so much on this take, which barely features any instrumentation whatsoever.

Then comes the best of the bunch, Vampires, in a version which isn’t entirely removed from its final completed form. It’s still not entirely finished, but much of the haunting nature of the track can be heard, which makes it very listenable. Unlike The Only One, which follows it – one of the weakest moments on the very weak tail end of the Nightlife album, this demo proves that it never really had a lot going for it.

The penultimate track is For All of Us, and although it’s a little out of Tennant’s vocal range, it definitely deserved an outing as a proper Pet Shop Boys track. Similarly, the closing piece Night Life, the not-so-subtle Bee Gees tribute, deserved more than just a DVD b-side release several years down the line.

The second volume of demos is pretty similar to this one, but moves some of the tracks around, moving Tall Thin Men to the opening and closing with Closer to Heaven. This also adds a new track, Nine Out of Ten, after In Denial, which must have been recorded immediately after having been written, as Tennant doesn’t seem to have entirely figured out how to fit the lyrics to the music.

The second addition was never to be heard of again, but is a fun tribute to The Shamen entitled You’ve Got to Start Somewhere. It’s almost a shame that this track got forgotten, as it’s actually pretty excellent.

As with all the demos we’ve listened to before in this series, the Closer to Heaven demos are a fun educational experience – you really get a feel for the Pet Shop Boys writing and recording process, as they worked their way through the album Nightlife and the subsequent Closer to Heaven musical.

As with all the collections featured in the ‘demo’ series I’ll leave you to track these down for yourself. More information is available at psb-discography.com.

Client – The Rotherham Sessions

Client,” they told us on their first album, “Satisfaction guaranteed.”

Not guaranteed for them, it wasn’t. In 2006, after two low-key but excellent albums Client and City for Andy Fletcher‘s Toast Hawaii label, Client, dissatisfied with their label’s performance, decided to go and find themselves a new record label.

In so doing, they did what most acts in a similar situation do, and went rubbish. Somehow the pressures of having no editorial controls, and having to do everything for themselves, really got to them, and they instantly forgot everything that had made their first two albums so exceptional.

But that was all in the future. The album Heartland (2007) was another year away, and for the loyal fans who had stayed with them over the first few years, they had a special present – The Rotherham Sessions, and eight-track collection of recent unfinished recordings. Not a present in the strictest sense, as you had to buy it from them, but I suppose they had to make some money somehow.

The first track is the dreary Monkey on My Back. There’s really very little to say about this one – it’s not unpleasant, but there’s really nothing special about it. The vocal is a monotone, the music is dull and repetitive, and the lyrics are unexciting. Sadly, it was about as good as the next album would get.

Dirty Girl, later 6 in the Morning is better, and is a worthwhile reminder of how important the production is to a track – this is only a demo. Of course, as we now know, the album which followed wasn’t a lot better. Similarly, Someone to Hurt also shows some promise, and could have been turned into a truly excellent album track.

Next up is Leave the Man to Me! which, although never released elsewhere in quite this form, is actually one of the best tracks on this collection. It’s almost an early version of the first single from their next single Lights Go Out, which actually turned out to be an exceptionally good track in the end.

Loosetalking is nothing special, another dreary dark synth track which would turn up subsequently as the b-side to their excellent single Zerox Machine early in 2007. Can’t Resist You would later become single Drive, and shows more promise than a lot of its neighbours. It’s discordant and pretty awful, but somehow you can hear something in it.

D.I.S.C.O. would later become Northern Soul, the b-side to subsequent single Lights Go Out. Strangely really, because at least in demo form it’s not bad – it’s a lot better than a lot of the tracks we’ve listened to here. But finally, the best of the bunch is the last one Heartland, the first and title track from their third album. Even in demo form, it has a certain dark melancholy which would be brought out even more on the completed version a year or so later.

Unfortunately, as we now know, this rather dull set of demos would become the backbone of Client‘s third album Heartland, which was, on the whole, nothing special either. Proof, were it needed, that we all need a bit of editorial control here and there if we want to call ourselves professional.

(Fortunately, I don’t.)