Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Albums Of Our Lives: New Order's Substance

Welcome to part two of Albums Of Our Lives, a new series in this blog about safe-for-work topics. We now jump to the 1980s to another greatest-hits album. Some of my favorite albums are "best-of," although that's not a very hip thing to say.

Substance was a singles-y "greatest hits" album in the sense that it was all radio songs (as opposed to the "best-of" albums that have their fans' favorites). However, Substance included a second disc with the 12 best B-sides from those singles. As such, it was more like the Beatles' Past Masters albums from the same year: you got the A and B sides from the singles on the same disc, so you got all the songs that you didn't have already. I'm just going to go through the first disc, with the hits, although disc 2 is excellent as well.

1. Ceremony: This is a Joy Division song. So, after Joy Division's lead singer (Ian) offed himself, the new lead singer (Bernard) of the new Order tried to sound like him at first. He must have bottomed out his vocal chords. They got better, though.

2. Everything's Gone Green: I resisted electro-sounding music in high school, so I didn't even listen to New Order until college. And I didn't buy this CD until grad school. It's embarrassing, but we all make mistakes. I've caught up by listening to this CD a lot a lot in the last three years. This song was totally re-hashed for "Blue Monday" a couple years later, and I'm totally OK with both songs.

3. Temptation: OK, I lied. I listened to one (1) CD in high school that had electropoppy music on it, and that was the Trainspotting soundtrack. And I loved this song. It's funny that I never checked out the rest of their material, although I was clearly scared of music that sounds like a computer wrote it. Too bad I held this bias for so long. Temptation has a warm, familiar feel to me though, and I think it's because it's the song I listened to the most before I heard anything else.

4. Blue Monday: The first song on the CD that, when played in the car, your friends will sing along with. The chorus of "Temptation" can be sung, but "Blue Monday" begs to be belted out. Everyone wants to know, "How does it feel to treat me like you do?" Indeed. The instrumental music in this song is just depraved. If you haven't heard it, you don't know, but if you have, you know it just feels dirty somehow. I like that.

5. Confusion: I never remember the name for this song, and yet I always sing it. New Order is, of all groups I can readily think of, the one that tries the hardest to give their songs names that sound nothing like the songs. I think "State of the Nation" is the only song of theirs from this CD (and, of all time, "World In Motion" is the only other one), that actually uses the words of the hook in the title of the song. So tricky.

6. Thieves Like Us: Listening to this song is like breathing in the 1980s. To think that a complex melody (that sounds like it's supposed to sound like a violin but greatly missed the mark) could be played on a synthesizer. Ahh, but we were so much older then; we're younger than that now. This song could be the background to Beverly Hills Cop; it's not that off of Axel F, which came out three years later. At least New Order helped create this sound. Thieves Like Us is about love, and how it belongs to everyone but us. That's sad.

7. Perfect Kiss: One good thing about New Order is that they don't sing till they're damn well ready for it. And well, hell, Bernard Sumner might just stop for awhile too if he damn well feels like it. And let those synth-y things make some cool noises. (I'm a little dumb when it comes to describing electronic music)

8. Subculture: Close your eyes and imagine: what if J.S. Bach came back to life in the post-disco, post-jazz, post-punk 1980s? I think he definitely would have either written this song, or killed the guy from Skid Row who stole his name. Maybe both. Anyway, New Order was the first band since the Doors to really get baroque music. Fuck all those 1970s progressive rock bands: New Order made Bach rock as opposed to making rock Bach. OK, well, honestly, the only thing really Bach-y is the synth organ that starts the song strongly and then returns throughout to make the song cool. It's not really that stylistically old school. But I like to think so.

9. Shellshock: Love to sing along to this one. Fast beat, makes you want to dance to it. And that can't really happen much, except at U St. clubs, which is why I go places where I can dance to this shit.

10. State of the Nation: this has a maddeningly (in a good way, if that contradiction is possible) mid-tempo pace. It's not a fast song and it's not a slow song. And these songs are all long - most are between 4-1/2 and 8 minutes long. Yet they all remain compelling the whole way through. That's the sign of some good fuckin' musicianship.

11. Bizarre Love Triangle: This is another song that I will sometimes tell people is my favorite song. It's up there with "The Boxer" on the short list. This was the second New Order song I listened to, as it was on the soundtrack for (and this is really funny) - my favorite movie in high school, which happened to be Threesome with Lara Flynn Boyle, Stephen Baldwin, and Josh Eddy. The media was corrupting, corrupting, corrupting me from a young age. I take no part of the blame for my own decadence.

12. True Faith: There is a reason why gay dudes love indie music. All the whiny boys who end up being straight men write music that expresses the same whiny childhood neuroses as those held by the whiny boys who ended up being gay men. "When I was a very small boy, very small boys talked to me / Now that we've grown up together, they're afraid of what they see." How could I not relate to this song? "My morning sun is the drug that brings me here / to a childhood I lost, replaced by fear." The best song possible to have ended the CD with.

...and that's two albums. Is this at all interesting? Should the exercise continue, or go away?

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