New Order – Get Ready

After eight long years of compilations and oddities, New Order came back in 2001 with Crystal. Reinvigorated by their recent side projects with ElectronicMonaco, and The Other Two (all of whom had managed exactly one very good album since 1993; two had also thrown out a less good one too), now they were back together to show the indie music scene how it was done.

Admittedly, they were a little late – they missed the bulk of the indie explosion by a comfortable margin – but they were just in time to turn up, show anyone else who was hanging around that they were largely recording dirges, and then disappear back into whatever hole it is that New Order hide in whenever they’re not releasing things. Well, except of course that the following year actually brought us the brilliant 24 Hour Party People and Here to Stay, but let’s leave that for that another time.

Get Ready is, though, like most of New Order‘s albums, a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Crystal is great, and accessible to many, and 60 Miles an Hour is a competent second track and second single too. Unlike the first, it was probably never going to find them too many new fans, but it kept plenty of people coming back for more.

However, it really is hard to imagine the collaboration with The Smashing Pumpkins‘s Billy Corgan really making too many people happy – it mainly seems to mean that New Order have gained another guitar line and another slightly questionable singing talent. Neither of which was exactly lacking anyway.

New Order being back together was really more than enough of a novelty, and the four-piece proved their brilliance with such understated works of genius as Vicious Streak, which, while not unexpectedly long, somehow seems as though it’s going to last forever. Primitive Notion is good too – much more of a rock piece than New Order ever used to present their fans with, but let’s just agree to see that as another string to their bow.

Admittedly, by Slow Jam you might find yourself dreaming of the beats of Blue Monday. There’s nothing wrong with this one, or Rock the Shack, the collaboration with The Jesus and Mary Chain‘s Bobby Gillespie, but New Order‘s sound was always so unique, whereas on Get Ready they just seem to be trying to find their feet again by trying to imitate what all the indie acts had been doing for the preceding five or six years. It’s not the most comfortable place for New Order to sit.

Get Ready does feel as though they were trying to practice what they preached – the instruction in the title is less for us, and more for them, as they learnt again what they were meant to sound like. When they get it right, as on Someone Like You, they’re absolutely brilliant, but a lot of this album falls a little short. For now, just enjoy how great they are when all the ingredients are right.

Close Range is good – but far from perfect. There are moments on here when it seems as though they’re just dialling it in. Bernard Sumner‘s lyrics are distinctly average (at the low end of the spectrum, it has been pointed out before that Crystal‘s somewhat confusing wording about buying honey with money could have done with a little more work, and there’s nothing on this whole CD that really grabs you and makes you think he’s pushing himself. Peter Hook‘s bass “hooks” seem a bit lacklustre here too.

So it’s really no major disappointment that Run Wild is the last track on here, closing things off with an unusually religious, Midwest American piece. It’s not great, but neither is it too bad either. Like the entirety of Get Ready, really. After Crystal, pretty much the best thing you can say about it is this: we had New Order back.

You can still find the original release of Get Ready at all major retailers.

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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.

Chart for stowaways – 4 July 2015

It will take a couple of weeks to catch up, but here’s the first of the new rejigged albums charts:

  1. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
  2. Leftfield – Alternative Light Source
  3. Camouflage – Greyscale
  4. MG – MG
  5. Röyksopp – The Inevitable End
  6. The Other Two – The Other Two & You
  7. Visage – Visage
  8. Röyksopp & Robyn – Do It Again
  9. Various Artists – Gri Balkon – I Had a Dream
  10. The All Seeing I – Pickled Eggs & Sherbet

Chart for stowaways – 20 June 2015

It’s still number two, it’s still the Chart for stowaways! Here are this week’s albums:

  1. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
  2. Camouflage – Greyscale
  3. MG – MG
  4. Erlend Øye – Legao
  5. The Other Two – The Other Two & You
  6. Visage – Visage
  7. Sparks – Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat
  8. The All Seeing I – Pickled Eggs & Sherbet
  9. Alpinestars – BASIC
  10. Various Artists – Gri Balkon – I Had a Dream