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New Order - Get Ready (London)

In pop music, the attachments we make during our adolescence endure. In my mind, New Order are the sound of under-age drinking, the early days of a teenage crush, driving with mates through the sodium-lit city at night, and it only takes the sound of Barney singing Perfect Kiss to take me back there. I think Temptation a better single than Heartbreak Hotel; I think Bizarre Love Triangle outclasses Hey Jude. Proust had his Madeleine; I have Hooky’s bass.

New Order split in ‘93 after the disappointing Republic album. The magic was fading by this time: the closure of the Hacienda and Factory Records’ bankruptcy distracted from the important matter of making records. Worse, rumours flew about financial irregularities: Hooky maintains to this day that Barney owes him a tenner. Such disputes cast long shadows in Manchester.

The comeback was, as comebacks are, inevitable, but there were legitimate artistic doubts surrounding New Order in the 21st Century. Their best music had always been a celebration: uplifting and with Barney’s voice capturing a exuberant youthfulness. It seemed unlikely that these qualities could survive with the band in their mid-forties. Crystal was released as lead single.

I first heard Crystal on the car radio: the intro guitar riff had me idly tapping the steering wheel; the chorus caught my attention and something familiar about the voice nagged at the brain. Then Hooky’s bass stormed into the mix and recognition came flooding back: “Christ! It’s New Order!”. Crystal duly went Top Ten in Europe and is making progress in the US charts. The album Get Ready was released on August Bank Holiday. I got up early (on a day off, mark you) and was at HMV by 9:30. I didn’t get the full sweaty-palmed, electric shock feel when I picked up the plastic, but there was a quiet excitement.

We open up with some gentle, melodic piano and female “Hey”s and “Ooh”s that could come from a tax-loss Ibiza chill-out compilation. Hopes sink. But it’s a sucker punch, and the pounding guitar riff from Crystal soon rips in. Gloriously, the song has been extended with extra bridges, choruses and riffs in the way that 12”s used to be in the days before low-value dance remixes. There is a downright filthy snare sound to the track and a driving bass: the track has bags of energy. Steve Osborne’s production successfully weaves a path between a modern, digital feel while avoiding any dance wankery. Barney’s lyrics are angry: “I don’t know what to say/You don’t care anyway/You shook me to the core/You shook me to the core”.

60 mph is less impressive, let down by a clichéd chorus “In the dead of night it’ll be alright, cos I’ll be there for you when you want me to”. But there is a classic New Order moment two-thirds of the way through when the synths cut in far too loud and give the song a huge lift: you can’t help but grin. This band in full flow is quite something.

Turn My Way features guest vocals from former-Smashing Pumpkin, Billy Corgan that work surprisingly well. The lyrics are wistful and heroic: “I wanted to be free/I wanted to be true”. That doesn’t look half as good on paper as it sounds on the record. Beautiful song.

Primitive Notion is simply magnificent, a beast of a song. The layered guitars create a rough edge, Steve Morris seems to be drumming with four hands, the synths have an epic, cinematic sweep, the bass is up and running and Barney is on peak form: “It’s been winter for a whole year/but you couldn’t hurt me if you tried ... How can it be that we’re so far apart/I want it to be like it was at the start”, all set to an optimistic, uplifting melody.

The first half of the album has been characterised by positive melodies offset by melancholy lyrics. This is a deft but powerful trick: one of my favourite bands, The Popguns, mastered it to devastating effect. Slow Jam changes tack by having a positive melody augmented by a positive lyric:

I don't want the world to change
I like the way it is
Just give me one more wish
I can't get enough of this
What it is to be alive
And not just to survive
To hit and not to miss
I can't get enough of this

There’s that youthful exuberance we were looking for.

Someone Like You and Close Range move towards dance territory that the rest of the album has, perhaps surprisingly, steered clear of. Run Wild, the album’s closing song, starts out as an acoustic ballad before the synths do the big-grin thing again, and is heartwarming: “But if Jesus comes to take your hand/ I won't let it go ... I won't let go”.

This album is way better than I had dreamt it would be. It’s difficult to compare to previous New Order albums - maybe Brotherhood is its closest relation, and in terms of production and song quality it matches the peaks attained by Technique. It certainly outclasses Republic and it pisses all over everything else that has been released by a chart band this year. So, one of our favourite bands back, operating close to peak form and having hit records. We'll have some of that, thank you very much.

CS, September 2001



Back to off-topic.
Picture from 1987. Note Hooky's unique knee-height bass playing stance.