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.