The Null Device
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There's a strangely cheery energy to the album as well. This is something that would be a hallmark of the intertwined dance that New Order and The Cure would perform over the next couple of years. This was to the extent that it sometimes seemed the distinguishing factor of a song wouldn't emerge fully until it was clear if the singer was Bernard Sumner or Robert Smith. However The Cure always possessed the sense of a singular voice going through eternal moods of structure and collapse in equal measure, wooziness and queasy pirouetting. Whereas by this point the rigorous structure of what was New Order remained crucial, especially that sense of being something not too far removed from Can, Kraftwerk and other Teutonic proponents of total focus. And now this sound was more openly underscored by the electronic disco rigour that continued to flourish worldwide.
Sumner (or his narrative voice) opened the album confessing that he doesn't necessarily want to have to say what his desires are. This is an apt statement from the singer for a band who hadn't even wanted the job. But then he has to spend an entire album - for the first time ever - teasing a lot of things out song for song, however guardedly, however flippantly, however metaphorically. So why not write a song revolving around an image of lonely souls on deserted islands, except avoiding the kind of approach that the Police had dealt with a few years previously on 'Message In A Bottle' say. So Sumner, who heard so much desire for connection from Ian Curtis, came up with a much better lyric than Sting ever could. And he did it in a less mannered fashion, in a way that actually didn't want to resolve into easy romantic sentiment, on 'Leave Me Alone'.Power, Corruption and Lies is an album I have listened to a lot, mostly in the 1990s; first to a dodgy Indonesian cassette copy, adorned with a cut-out photograph of the album cover and padded out with tracks from other albums, which I picked up at a flea market, and then to the official Australian CD release, padded out with Blue Monday/The Beach. I lived in the outer suburbs of Melbourne then and thus spent a lot of time driving, and a cassette of Power, Corruption and Lies would often spend time in the car stereo. I haven't listened to it as much over the past decade or so (taking it out occasionally, but that's it), but I still know the lie of the album like the back of my hand. (Though, the Power, Corruption and Lies I was familiar with segued from 5-8-6 into the 12" mix of Blue Monday, before easing back into the more languid, resigned Your Silent Face, a flow which, despite its historical and authorial inauthenticity, made perfect sense to me.) Anyway, Power, Corruption and Lies remains my favourite New Order album (though in my opinion, they drop off a bit after Low-Life, a close follower), and Leave Me Alone is probably my favourite of their songs.
An interview with Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris, in which they talk about, among other things, their reactions to Ian Curtis' suicide, Joy Division's metamorphosis into New Order, the (legendary though financially disastrous) Hacienda, and the origin and meaning of Blue Monday (capsule summary: it was inspired musically by an Italo-disco record and the famously enigmatic lyrics are rooted in the band's annoyance with the press, though is also about whatever the listener wishes to read into it):
James: Like retrospectively, you don’t even remember what they were about?
Bernard: I think I do. They weren’t literally about this but we were getting a lot of shit in the press at the time. The press has turned on us after Joy Division who could do no wrong. They were all against us and I felt a bit beleaguered and it was a kind of fuck you to the press really. That’s kind of what was in my head when I wrote it, it was a kind of a fuck you we can do it without you and we did, with that song.
James: When I was on the NME Len Brown wrote a great piece that is presumably wrong. He read it to be about the Falklands, he wrote a great piece about his brother committing suicide or was it about Blue Monday.
Bernard: Well we also have an attitude that we never explain what a song is about because people have their own interpretations, that’s equally valid. So I wouldn’t say that’s not wrong, it’s how you interpret a song and what it means to you and that’s why we never. Whenever I write lyrics it’s never a literal thing it’s just what’s on my mind at the time.
Recycle: Joy Division & New Order; a record collector by the name of DJ £50 Note and a friend of his who specialises in sound restoration have set out to do what Rob Gretton was planning to do before he died, i.e., put out definitive editions of New Order's entire Factory-period output, sounding exactly as the originals did (and not "remastered", i.e., compressed for extra attention-catching loudness, as is the standard commercial practice now). He is doing this as a MP3 (well, .m4a) blog, with each release accompanied by meticulously restored artwork (with elements redrawn and reset as needed), and comprehensive notes, in which, for example, we learn that the choir sound in Blue Monday was sampled from a Kraftwerk track and comes from an extremely obscure instrument called the Vako Orchestron, and that a number of New Order/Joy Division song titles are film references derived from old posters in a rehearsal space, as well as details of how far back they had to look to find a copy in which the dynamics hadn't been crushed to hell.
(via Mr. Frogworth)
The Graun has a piece on Control, Anton Corbijn's soon-to-be-released film about Ian Curtis and Joy Division, along with interviews with the surviving members of the band:
"I couldn't believe how well it goes with the film," [Peter Hook] says. "It captures the Manchester of the 1970s so well. Control doesn't feel like the end of the story; the documentary closes things off perfectly. But Anton's film is more chilling. Towards the end, it felt like someone had ripped out my heart and was stamping on it. To be honest, when Atmosphere came on, I thought I was going to throw up."
"This sounds awful but it was only after Ian died that we sat down and listened to the lyrics," says Morris. "You'd find yourself thinking, 'Oh my God, I missed this one.' Because I'd look at Ian's lyrics and think how clever he was putting himself in the position of someone else. I never believed he was writing about himself. Looking back, how could I have been so bleedin' stupid? Of course he was writing about himself. But I didn't go in and grab him and ask, 'What's up?' I have to live with that. Watching the film, there were moments when I wished I could have stepped into the film. Unfortunately, you can't."
All three members agree, more or less, on Joy Division/New Order's position in the scheme of things. "When I listen to Nirvana, I hear [New Order's] Ceremony bass line on quite a few of those songs. So I'd have to say, yes, we are the missing link between the Beatles and Nirvana," says Hook.The article concludes to say that "enhanced versions" of Joy Division's albums are being released soon. I hope that "enhanced" doesn't mean "remastered with lots of compression for extra loudness".
In the Observer, Sean O'Hagan has a piece about the history and legacy of The Smiths:
No other group carried such a weight of expectation — and tradition — as the Smiths. Had they not risen to the occasion, it is not overstating the case to say that the entire trajectory of recent British rock music as we now know it — that's the line from the Smiths to the Stone Roses to Oasis and on to the Libertines and today's indie darlings, Arctic Monkeys — would not have been traced.Mind you, it seems that much of the influence The Smiths had over today's commercially ubiquitous white-guys-with-guitars ("indie") bands was to legitimise being an anachronism.
'Who would have thought,' as Will Self puts it, 'that over 20 years after the Smiths' demise we would be listening to so much music that, in the main, is simply an atrophied form of the Smith's rock classicism?'In other news about Mancunian bands: apparently New Order have broken up, this time permanently.
The BBC is running a poll of British design icons. On the current page are 25 candidates; there are the usual design classics (Jan Tschichold's distinctive Penguin paperback covers, red phone boxes, Routemaster buses, the Mini (and the miniskirt!), and Harry Beck's Tube map), and also some more recent entries, including Peter Saville's cover for New Order's Power, Corruption and Lies, Neville Brody's design of The Face magazine, the Dyson vacuum cleaner (what about the Henry?), Lara Croft and Grand Theft Auto. Oh, and the World Wide Web, because the first form of it was developed by an English bloke.
Not to mention a few things I didn't know were British, such as the Chopper bicycle now ironically popular with SugaRAPE-reading hipsters (apparently it's not Californian, just a knockoff of Californian designs) and Microsoft's Verdana typeface (designed by British-born type designer Mathew Carter). In that case, I wonder why they didn't include the iMac or iPod (whose appearance was designed by Englishman Jonathan Ive).
And it's interesting to read that Britain's current system of road signage was (re-)designed in the 1960s. Which probably explains why Australia has entirely different (US-style?) signs.
The Age reviews New Order's new album, drawing attention to Bernard Sumner's uniquely leaden songwriting:
Guilt Is a Useless Emotion provides the classic dodgy lines: "Real love can't be bought/It is wild and it can't be caught."
And below that, it accuses New Order of having been "the whitest - that is, most blindingly uptight - disco band in the world" (not that that's a bad thing; one doesn't listen to New Order for the same reason one listens to, say, Prince).
Was True Faith about falling in love with a person or falling in love with your sequencer?
Neither, actually -- it was about heroin.
Moby (yes, the purveyor of bland wallpaper music for the upwardly mobile and darling of advertising agencies everywhere) has a cover of New Order's Temptation; and it's actually not bad. Somewhat slower and sparser than the original, and almost jumping on the glitchgazer bandwagon (i.e., he's found the Bitcrusher plug-in). It's better than most New Order covers I've heard (though a lot of them are shockingly bad), and not too unlike his take on OMD's Souvenir.
After being dumped by Warner, Stereolab have announced a new deal with their old label, Beggars Banquet imprint Too Pure. The deal is a worldwide licensing deal for their Duophonic label (which did UK releases, with overseas territories being Warner's), and also includes the new release from Lætitia's side project Monade. It will be followed, in late April or early May, with a 3-CD/1-DVD box set of Stereolab EP/single tracks titled, characteristically, Oscillons From The Anti-Sun.
Meanwhile in Pitchfork, details of the new New Order album, which will be titled Waiting For The Sirens' Call, and supposedly be more electronic than the last one (though there were also rumours that it was going to be in a dirty-blues-rock direction like Primal Scream after the Ecstasy wore off). One of the tracks is titled I Told You So; I wonder whether this is a nod to former Factory labelmates The Wake, who had a very New Orderesque song by that title on their last album.
The Smiths are the latest band to have had a musical written about their songs; it'll be titled Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others, and said to be like "film without a text". It is scheduled to open in London in July 2005.
Meanwhile, the next New Order album, titled Sugarcane, is due out in February.
(found in the archives of the ABC's DIG News)
I'm listening to The Wake's Harmony and Singles (the LTM repackaging of the stuff they recorded for Factory/Factory Benelux in the early 1980s). They sound very much like New Order circa Movement, down to the drumming sounding identical in places, with similar digital reverb, the same keyboard sound, and angsty, ambiguous lyrics delivered with Caesar's Bernard-Sumner-imitating-Ian-Curtis-esque vocals. It's much in the way that early In The Nursery sounds like Joy Division, only more so.
It's funny to think that they're the same band who released Tidal Wave of Hype, an album of Blueboy/Field Mice-style jangle-pop with baggy and indie-dance influences and songs about provincial discos, obnoxious people, masturbation and John Major, on Sarah Records. Though, come to think about it, probably not much odder than New Order having done a football anthem and a Balearic acid album.
Anyway, if you're ever disappointed that New Order didn't record enough albums in the early 1980s, this CD is for you.
(Come to think of it, one could do a compilation of "songs/albums/artists that sound like New Order but aren't". I'll volunteer this CD, The Bodines' Heard It All and The Field Mice's Missing The Moon.)
With the '70s rock revival in full swing, it's not surprising that The New York Dolls are reforming, with members of Guns'n'Roses and The Libertines standing in for dead members. The glam-rock band, formerly managed by Malcolm Maclaren (before he went on to bring us the Sex Pistols and failed experiments in pirate-pop and opera-rap and such) went on to inspire everything from hair-metal to Morrissey; in fact, it was Moz himself who prompted them to get together, for the Meltdown Festival he is curating in London.
Meanwhile, in the same issue of Pitchfork, there's a new New Order Peel Sessions compilation, with two performances from the late 1990s, including reworked versions of old Joy Division numbers. And the Interpol website has a downloadable MP3 remix of Untitled (which apparently was sent to them, quite unsolicited, by the fan who did it).
I've been unusually disciplined so far this year, with regards to CD buying. I'm trying to keep my habit under some measure of control (for reasons which will become apparent later), and not to grow my collection too rapidly. So far, the total number of CDs I have has only increased by two.
Over the past two weeks I picked up Flunk's For Sleepyheads Only, an OK piece of chill-out electronica from Norway. It hasn't really grabbed me; the version of Blue Monday there, incidentally, is a bit irritating IMHO. (Aside: why is it that every cover of that song ends up sounding disappointing; we had Orgy's whiny mall-goth take on it, Pee Wee Ferris' cheesy commercial-dance cover (don't ask), and Flunk's, while not dire in the way that they were, is still disappointing.)
Last night, I picked up local spoken-word artist Klare Lanson's Every Third Breath; which is mostly ambiguous cyberbabble over glitchy, vaguely Björkish electronic beats and bleeps (proviced by Cornel Wilczek, aka Qua), replete with lyrics written in cod-XML. It's technically quite good, though whether it'll have lasting appeal remains to be determined.
Today I went to Dixon's Recycled and picked up three more CDs, though sold three which I wasn't likely to listen to anymore. One of my new acquisitions were plunderphonic art piece Deconstructing Beck (on a classy unprinted CD that just screams "copyright violation"). Another was an equally (if not more) choice find; one of the Least Essential Albums Of The '90s. That's right, dear readers; I'm now the proud (but only in an ironic sense) owner of The Adventures Of MC Skat Kat & The Stray Mob. It'll sit proudly in the bulldada section of my record collection, next to Acid Brass, my Wesley Willis CDs and Spaced Out: The Very Best of Nimoy/Shatner.
4 1/2 hours remaining: Favourite CDs of 2002:
- Club 8, Spring Came Rain Fell. Very nice indie-pop from Sweden, with just enough electronica.
- Victor Lancaster, Mr. Mention Yes, the guy who plays the plastic bucket drums in Melbourne. And, with the attention of local remixers, this disc is better than you'd expect.
- New Order, Here To Stay (single). New Order back in fine form.
- Ninetynine, The Process. Their best album so far; quirky, sophisticated and with all the energy of their live sets.
- Parsley Sound, Platonic Rate (single). Very laid-back and mellow.
- Stereolab, Sound-Dust. It's Stereolab. Naught More Terrific Than Man is probably my favourite cut.
- Various Artists, Can't Stop It! Australian Post-Punk 1978-1982. Contains a wealth of stuff from proto-synthpop to Dadaist noise to jangly guitar-pop.
Honourable mentions: Sigur Rós, (), Letraset, Snowy Room, Architecture in Helsinki, Like a Call (single) (especially Jeremy Dower's remix), Qua, Forgetabout (the title track is great, though much of the rest is a bit too generically laptop for my tastes), Season, 2,551,446 seconds, Pipas, A Cat Escaped, The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
CDs I meant to get but didn't manage in time for this list: Happy Supply, Crucial Cuts, GY!BE, Yanqui U.X.O., Ivy, Guestroom, some local spoken-word/electronica thing titled Every Third Breath.
Older CDs I listened to a lot in 2002:
- Belle & Sebastian, The Boy With The Arab Strap
- The Field Mice, Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way (yes, again; I just can't leave it alone, honestly I cannot...)
- FourPlay, The Joy Of
- Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions, Bavarian Fruit Bread. Very nice.
- Lush, Split.
- Mogwai, My Father My King. Intense, immersive noise.
- Radiohead, OK Computer, and I Could Be Wrong
- Slowdive, Pygmalion. I travelled a bit, and it made excellent music for journeys.
- The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead. This is becoming my favourite Smiths album.
Well, tonight I saw 24 Hour Party People. It was quite good; perhaps a bit too cleverly self-referential for its own good in places (with all of "Tony Wilson"'s asides to the audience, for example, and the scene with the real Howard Devoto in the bathroom), though that's forgivable. Some good scenes there, though not as much Joy Division/New Order as I expected, and a bit too much focus on the Happy Mondays. Still, I'd recommend it to anyone who's into New Order or Joy Division, or who grew up listening to punk, new wave or Madchester baggycore. If that kind of thing means nothing to you, you probably won't get much out of this film though.
I was in the vicinity of Heartland this afternoon, so I stepped in and picked up the imported DVD single of New Order's Here To Stay. It comes with four clips from the upcoming film 24 Hour Party People; it looks like it's going to be a very interesting film.
Though I wonder whether that's really Bernard Sumner in the Here To Stay video; he looks a bit younger and perhaps thinner.
(My verdict on DVD singles: they're a good medium for videos and such (the resolution is much better than Quicktime on CD-ROM), but they probably won't replace standard CD singles for audio, precisely because of the custom interface. When I put on music, I don't want to have to navigate flashy custom menus to hear it (let alone sit through the mandatory copyright warning message). It is precisely the CD's generic, no-frills interface which gives it an advantage over the DVD as a music medium.)
3RRR just played the new New Order single, Here To Stay; it's quite good. It has captured that classic cold feeling of New Order circa Power, Corruption and Lies, and (at first listen) the lyrics aren't annoying. Apparently it's on the 24 Hour Party People soundtrack.
Tonight New Order played in Melbourne, and I went along with a friend to see them. We lined up outside the Metro (a former theatre, which is now a teeny-bopper nightclub of some sort) with other fans; one contingent had an English flag (that's the red-and-white Cross of St. George, not the Union Jack) with "NEW ORDER" inscribed upon it.
Once inside, we made it to one of the tables in the "corporate box" area above the dance floor. This afforded a good view of the stage (considerably better than my seat at the Cure concert in 2000); however, as I later found out, the sound in the glassed-off balcony was a bit muffled (not to mention people there talking through the set, as if it was background music in a shopping centre or something).
The support band was local outfit Underground Lovers, who played a set, mostly of rock numbers; they weren't bad. Then came a DJ set from Arthur Baker (who worked with New Order in the 80s).
Finally New Order came on. (Their line-up had changed slightly, with Gillian staying home to take care of a sick child, and some young bloke (either the guy from Smashing Pumpkins or the one from Primal Scream, I think) taking over her duties on guitar and keyboards. They played for just over an hour, and played mostly old songs (doing a spirited rendition of Temptation at one point). They played a number of Joy Division numbers, and quite well (though Barney did mix up the lyrics to Transmission a little), and various New Order classics (including True Faith, which they did with the true lyrics that don't appear on the recordings). Barney (who, strangely enough, looked like a middle-aged version of the Bernard Sumner in the old videos, his hair either bleached or greying) made comments between the songs, showing his sense of humour; at one stage, he said that he thought that the lyrics of Joy Division's Atmosphere were about golf.
And they played with much energy. Peter Hook almost stole the show with his bass-playing, crouching to play the instrument at ankle-level, and leaping onto a podium at various stages in a heroic pose. (If someday the city of Manchester commissions a statue of Peter Hook with bass in hand, it will probably look like he did during the show.) Barney played a guitar, mostly strumming chords, and sang; when he wasn't doing either he bounced around the stage, doing funny little dances.
(One thing to notice about the music of New Order: most of the melody comes from the bass; the guitars typically just play chords.)
Towards the end, they gave the audience a choice between one of the new songs and Joy Division's Isolation; everybody chose the latter, which they performed with a more dance/drum & bass-style beat; it was interesting to see them reinterpret the old standards as they did. And just after they finished and left the stage, just as people were asking themselves "where is Blue Monday?", they came back on, the lights turned blue, and they performed a version of their classic single. (Parts of it were pre-sequenced or prerecorded, of course, but the bass and various keyboard lines (not sure about the squelchy one at the start) were live, and so were various of the drum sounds, triggered from pads.) The crowd went wild.
All in all, it was a great show. Their recent songwriting may not be up there with the classics, but they can still rock and tear the roof off a venue.
NME has a track-by-track preview of the long-awaited upcoming New Order album, Get Ready, due on August 27. Interesting; some of the descriptions (the Smashing Pumpkins and Oasis influences, for example) sound a bit off-putting, other parts look potentially interesting (though it's hard to tell).
Former member of 90s heroin-pop band Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan joins New Order. Temporarily, mind you; he's filling in for Gillian while she takes care of her ill daughter. And in other news, the next New Order album has been announced: the title is "Get Ready", and it's due out on August 27.
(OK, so "Get Ready" it's not quite as enigmatic as "Movement" or "Low-Life"; let's hope it's not all e'd up dance anthems and Top 40 fodder. Actually, that thought reminds me of the worst version of Blue Monday I ever heard; yes, even worse than Orgy's kiddie-goth take on it. It was by an outfit named Exposed, and was pure commercial dance. The vocals were done in the usual commercial-dance girly-house style, with lots of "whooh!"s interpolated: "How, does it feeel, when you treeat me lahk you do. when you've laid your hands upon me, and told me who you are, whoo-ooh-ooh!". I believe Sydney wideboy Pee Wee Ferris was behind this cultural atrocity.)
According to Q magazine, the best album cover of all time is the one from God Save The Queen, by the Sex Pistols. #2 is Joy Division's Closer, and #7 is New Order's Blue Monday (hang on--wasn't that a 12" single? Or do they mean Power, Corruption & Lies?), also designed by Peter Saville.