Monaco – Music for Pleasure

Sha la la la la la la. Yes, What Do You Want from Me? is an extremely good song. Peter Hook is on great form, the lyrics are better than many of New Order‘s and singer and guitarist David Potts was on fine vocal form too.

Music for Pleasure, released twenty years ago this week, was Peter Hook‘s second attempt at a solo project after 1990’s largely forgotten Revenge project. Monaco, though, were pretty successful for a while, and of course What Do You Want from Me? is the single you remember, with its enormous bass guitar part and all the sha la la-ing.

The album followed reasonably quickly after the single though, and third single Shine comes next, still sounding a lot like New Order, or even Electronic during this period. It’s a bit more rocky, and Potts can’t quite reach the high notes, but it’s still a great song.

Getting the singles out of the way right at the start, we then jump to Sweet Lips, which came out just before the album, and was also a pretty sizeable hit. It’s much more dancey than either of the other singles, and it’s another fantastically catchy song. The album version is a slightly extended mix, which works well too.

1997 was, of course, just a couple of years after Oasis had turned up and persuaded everyone to dig out their 1960s record collections, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Monaco wanted some of the action as well. Buzz Gum is a pretty respectable imitation of all the other indie stuff that was going on in the mid-1990s.

It’s tempting to wonder whether loading all the singles at the front of the album was the best idea – it started off so promisingly, but Blue is pretty dreary, although it’s also mercifully short. Then comes Junk, a nine minute dance piece, which actually sounds as dated as the indie tracks now, but it’s pretty good.

Billy Bones is a slightly trippy slow-rock piece, which is pretty pleasant, then Happy Jack is another low-grade indie track, this time with a particularly average vocal as well. Tender is better – if you’ve forgotten the album, this is the one with the catchy “in my mind I live in California” line.

Sedona (which is in Arizona, not California) is the last track, and is the best thing we’ve had on here since the singles at the start. It’s a huge, and epic piece, bobbing along at a fairly leisurely tempo, and with some slightly naff synth reed sounds, but it’s a clever exploration of sounds, and makes for a great instrumental closing piece. After a minute of silence at the end, someone turns up to add “Oi! You can turn it off now!”

Strictly speaking, I could have done that three quarters of an hour ago, but I didn’t. Music for Pleasure is a mixed bag, but when it’s good, it is very good indeed. And it clearly must have had some kind of impact on me – I would never have suspected it when the album came out twenty years ago, but now I do live in California. Thanks, Monaco!

You should still be able to find copies of Music for Pleasure floating around, but I’m not sure I would pay that much for them…

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Vinyl Moments – New Order

There’s something almost spiritual about listening to Blue Monday on vinyl. This is a format being used at its best, and it’s absolutely the way it was meant to be heard. In the first of a new series of Vinyl Moments, it’s only right that New Order come first.

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Listening to Blue Monday always transports you to Manchester in 1983 anyway, regardless of the part of the world you grew up in and whether you have ever even visited the rainy northern city. There’s something particularly evocative about it. It’s so good, in fact, that I had to play Side B, The Beach, as well.

The Beach is, essentially, an alternative version of Blue Monday with ideas above its station. As part of the 12″ single, it’s a key piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and is always worth a listen in its own right.

The next 12″ single I own is equally important, the brilliant True Faith. Originally released to promote the first singles album Substance in 1987 and subsequently reissued in less good form in 1994, this is really New Order at their best – a huge, catchy song with a clever lyric and an appropriately big Peter Hook bass line.

On Side B, you get 1963. More melancholic but every bit as good as the A-side, this really makes for another great single. The vinyl may be less essential this time around, but it still sounds very good indeed.

By the way, I know the image above shows The Perfect Kiss as well, but to my intense disappointment, when I bought that a number of years ago, it turned out to have a record by someone else inside the sleeve. There’s a lesson there about checking what you’ve picked up before you buy it.

Instead, as a side-step, The Other Two & You comes next, the one-off album by the two members of New Order who weren’t at the time part of Electronic or Revenge, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert. Since it’s all I own, it was the LP that I was listening to when I reviewed the album last year, and since it’s not a particular favourite of mine, I won’t put it on again.

Instead, let’s close with the fantastic Regret. After the collapse of Factory Records, it wouldn’t have been too surprising if New Order had collapsed as well, but instead they reappeared with Republic, containing four superlative new singles and some other highlights besides. It would take something much more fundamental to make New Order collapse – as far as I can make out, primarily in-fighting and egotism – and even then they bounced back.

Whatever the circumstances, Regret is truly exceptional – every bit as good as True Faith and all the other classics. Unfortunately my 7″ single must have a slight warp in it, as it seemed to wobble a bit a couple of times. I couldn’t make my mind up whether to play New Order‘s own remix from Side B, but it’s a good version, so I decided to go with it anyway, rounding off the trio of singles in fine fashion.

Next time, we’ll stick with the works of Bernard Sumner, and move on to his side-project with Johnny Marr, Electronic.

The Other Two – The Other Two & You

The New Order side-project The Other Two is unusual in having been born of two other side projects – in the early 1990s, Bernard Sumner was off having enormous hits with Electronic, and Peter Hook was, well, doing whatever it was he did in Revenge. So the other two, then called Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris, were left to form The Other Two.

Having grown out of such forced circumstances, it’s not, unfortunately but not entirely unexpectedly, a particularly good album. Having spent a couple of years in gestation, it actually appeared the same year as the rather better RepublicIt opens with Tasty Fish, a nice enough Stephen Hague-produced song, which has a pretty catchy chorus, although you would be hard pushed to define exactly what it’s about. It was a minor hit, landing just outside the top forty in 1991.

The Greatest Thing is a surprising second track, and does stand out somewhat. A couple of tracks in, and you realise that between them, Morris and Gilbert are every bit as good at writing lyrics as Sumner, and Gilbert’s vocal delivery is possibly technically better than that of her bandmate. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to hear very New Order-like songs delivered with a female vocalist.

But none of them are entirely memorable, as second single Selfish demonstrates. Also a minor hit, it had some impact in the US, but has been largely forgotten by most people, and when you listen to it this is understandable. It’s nice – probably largely due to Hague’s production – but ask me in a few hours how the melody line went, and I’ll have totally forgotten.

The fourth track is Movin’ On, and even while listening to it, you’re hard pushed to find anything to say about it. Great production, good lyrics, and an entirely forgettable melody. If this was the first album you had ever owned, it might mean something to you, but I’m afraid I’m lost for words here.

Side A closes with the nice instrumental Ninth Configuration, which might actually be the best track yet. There’s a nice driving bass part, which does remind you of the lack of Peter Hook on this release. That’s not entirely a bad thing, especially if it leaves him with one less thing to be bitter about, but it is notable just how much this sounds like New Order otherwise.

If the rule of albums says that Side B is always less good than Side A, that could mean some interesting diversions here. But actually things start to look up a bit with the opening track Feel This Love. This is much closer to what you might expect The Other Two to be. Next is the slightly acid-inspired but very much late 1980s sounding Spirit Level, largely instrumental with some weird vocal samples. Despite having absolutely no melody, it’s strangely compelling.

Then comes the soft and gentle Night Voice, another short instrumental, but this time a pleasantly atmospheric one, in the style of film music. Finally, a more rhythmic introduction brings us to Innocence, the last track, and one of the more catchy. It’s every bit as unmemorable as anything else on this album, but it’s nice enough while it lasts. Which isn’t especially long – this is a very short release.

So The Other Two & You is good – sometimes even up to the standard of New Order. It’s just very forgettable – so maybe it’s one best left for the fans. If you have one of the CD versions (I don’t) you also get the earlier promotional single Loved It, and optionally a pile of remixes by the brilliant Pascal Gabriel and Moby.

The special edition of The Other Two & You is still available here.