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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Artist of the Week – New Order

My radio show Music for the Masses ran for a couple of years in total around fifteen years ago, and in its second incarnation I ran an Artist of the week section, which I’ve been trying to digitise recently just so we’ve got it as a vaguely interesting archive of where our favourite artists were back then. It’s full of errors and hyperbole, so once again, please accept my apologies for that.

This week’s artist of the week doesn’t need any introduction – in fact, I hardly need to say anything about them at all, as the story is already very widely known. They are New Order.

They formed in 1980 out of the remains of Joy Division, and initially continued in much the same vein. The debut album Movement was in many ways overshadowed by Ian Curtis‘s death, and was not especially successful.

The second album Power, Corruption and Lies followed in 1983, and was the first to see them experimenting with industrial electronic sounds, it was the first of many classic albums, and followed hot on the heels of the best selling 12″ single ever, Blue Monday, which sold well over a million copies.

They were always best known for their refusal to accept standard music industry practices, such as playing Top of the Pops and releasing singles that appeared on albums. The following albums Low-Life and Brotherhood are still some of their best, containing many groundbreaking tracks, and their almost universal compilation Substance added True Faith to their astonishing list of hit singles.

At the end of the 1980s they released Technique; which is arguably their finest album to date, which was followed by their first and only number one with the football hit World in Motion.

In 1993 they made their return with Republic. These days most fans regard it as a mistake, and it’s true that the album tracks have lost the exploratory feel of earlier albums – however, the hits Regret and World in Motion [sic.] are more of New Order‘s best tracks to date, so it should not be forgotten.

Against all odds, after spending most of the 1990s concentrating on other projects, they returned once more with 2001 ‘s Get Ready album, a much harder and darker offering which is still entirely listenable, and now, four years on, they are back again with a new album Waiting for the Sirens’ Call, due next week. Judging by the first single Krafty, it sees them return to their electronic roots, and looks extremely promising.

Well, of course as I mentioned at the beginning, their roots weren’t really electronic, but hey, I’ve already apologised for the errors in here – of which there are definitely many – so I won’t repeat myself again.

Artist of the Week – The Beloved

Many moons ago, there was a radio show called Music for the Masses, which I presented on and off between 1999 and 2005. I’ve talked about it here plenty of times. One of the features was the Artist of the Week, and contained various errors, incorrect opinions, and the following information:

Jon Marsh originally formed a band called The Journey Through in 1984 with fellow Cambridge students Guy Gausden, Tim Havard, and Steve Waddington. After some demos, they evolved into The Beloved, and started making music not a million miles away from the style of Joy Division, early New Order, or even, occasionally, The Smiths.

After a number of minor singles, they released their debut album Where it Is, but following little success and disagreements with the record company, they left, dropped two members, and reappeared in 1988 with their first commercial release Loving Feeling.

It was at the end of 1989 that they saw their first major hit, with the release of The Sun Rising. Further singles from the first successful album Happiness were also hits, including Hello and Your Love Takes Me Higher. A remixed album Blissed Out also saw some success.

The third album Conscience followed in 1993, including the smash hit Sweet Harmony, and saw them starting to explore deeper dance territory with more house-based tracks and remixes. The fourth album in 1996 was in many ways a transitional piece, with the tracks starting to show great signs of depth.

Since then, they’ve done naff all… (that is genuinely what it says here!)

Peel Sessions – Joy Division, 26 November 1979

Joy Division had recorded the first of two John Peel sessions at the start of 1979, and the second followed ten months later, towards the end of the year.

It opens with a fantastically raw version of Love Will Tear Us Apart, the non-album single which would see release seven months later, just after Ian Curtis‘s untimely death. It’s definitely an early version of the song, but it’s not hard to hear just how good it is.

Twenty Four Hours comes next, also half a year from its full release on Closer (1980). This is more similar to its final album version, but Colony, also to be seen on the next album, is noticeably more raw and less polished.

Honestly the charm that Joy Division had when they were at their best is somewhat lacking from this second half of the session – this is the darker, more tortured and less accessible sound that they drifted into at times. Finally, The Sound of Music, which was never fully released until the Still compilation two years later, which sees Curtis in more poetic form, and has a glorious rhythm but does seem to be lacking the melody which is necessary to make a strong song.

Unlike the first one, this session finds Joy Division in darker and more introspective territory. It’s still fascinating and entirely listenable, but perhaps not quite as remarkable as its predecessor.

We covered the first session previously. You can read more about Joy Division‘s relationship with John Peel‘s radio show here. This session is available on the CD The Complete BBC Recordings or as the second disc of The Best Of, which you can find here.

Peel Sessions – New Order, 1 June 1982

New Order recorded four John Peel sessions, but the most famous are the two from the very early days, recorded in 1981 and 1982 respectively. By this time they just had one album and a handful of singles under their belts, and were still spending a lot of time sounding a bit like Joy Division, as you might expect.

The session opens with the never-released Turn the Heater On, which you might justifiably expect to be dreadful, but surprisingly it turns out to be a pleasant dub reggae-inspired piece, with the huge amounts of reverb and sound effects that it deserves. The lyrics are a bit wet, but it’s actually pretty good otherwise – and it’s definitely a shame that it never saw a proper release.

In fact, at the time of the session, nothing on here had seen a release, which is definitely admirable. We All Stand would later turn up on the next album Power, Corruption and Lies, but with a lot more production. I think I actually prefer the Peel Session version – it’s a lot more chilled out, and seems somehow to have the atmosphere that the song deserves.

Too Late was never released at all, and this one is probably a little more justified, as it does seem to be the weakest track on here. It bobs along nicely, but it’s pretty bland.

As is 5 8 6, actually – one of the better tracks from Power, Corruption and Lies, they clearly hadn’t quite figured out what it was going to be yet when they recorded this session. It’s nice to hear a bit of experimentation in the recording, but it does sound as though it needs quite a lot of work still. But that’s alright – nobody said the Peel Sessions had to be particularly polished.

We previously covered the first session here, and you can read more about New Order‘s relationship with John Peel‘s radio show here. This session is available on the CD The Peel Sessions, which is no longer widely available.

Greatest Hits – Vol. 8

Every so often I like to take a little downtime and remind you about some of the posts that you might have missed recently. Here are a few…