I can think of few musical acts that have made me feel like more of an outsider over the years than New Order, legends of British synth-pop and perhaps the most un-photogenic band of its time. Depeche Mode’s David Gahan once told me that DM never appeared on its album covers until 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion because someone told the guys it was the only way to avoid cringing at their appearance years later, which must have been exactly why New Order never did it!
But getting back to New Order and my own misfit feelings, it’s wasn’t because I was New Order when New Order wasn’t cool, but for the opposite reason. Everybody has always seemed to love them except for me.
I can still remember going to MFP, Gainesville’s only alternative-music club, on weekends back when I was a freshman at the University of Florida and hearing New Order’s “Blue Monday” every single time. Tracy and Suzanne, the two girls I usually went with, and pretty much everyone else in My Friend’s Place would go crazy on the dance floor, while I shuffled back and forth, pretending to be into it, too, but secretly thinking, So what?
So what? It was 1987, and at the time, “True Faith” was the U.S. Top 40 hit. Still, everyone was going on and on about “Blue Monday,” a 4-year-old (at the time) single that never made it past No. 68 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in the U.S., but seemed to reemerge as a UK hit every few years. Neither one moved me — on or off the dance floor. (It wasn’t until Donna Summer‘s recent death that I found out her 1979 Bad Girls track “Our Love” inspired “Blue Monday,” which I refuse to hold against the late Summer or her fabulous song.)
I always preferred Joy Division, the post-punk band from which New Order sprung, because its angst was rougher, real, not synthetic and perfectly manicured like New Order’s. And this is coming from someone who has nothing against synthesizers. As Alison Moyet proved with Yazoo in the early ’80s, synths and soul need not be mutually exclusive.
Perhaps at the end of the day, though, I’ve got a rock & roll heart. It’s one that beats a little bit faster every time I hear Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and think that Ian Curtis, the guy singing it, died so young (in 1980, at age 23), after hanging himself. “Blue Monday” sounds like candy pop in comparison. When the surviving members of Joy Division reformed as New Order, it was like a chunk of their soul had died with Curtis. Give me the messy emotions of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Warsaw” or “She’s Lost Control” over the orderly Teutonic pomp of “Blue Monday,” “True Faith” or “Bizarre Love Triangle” every day of the week.
Joy Division “She’s Lost Control”
Yet New Order’s been on my mind more than Joy Division lately. It’s partly because a friend of mine recently interviewed Peter Hook, ex-bassist for both groups, for a book she’s writing on ’80 new-wave music (I can’t believe what he had to say about Bernard Sumner — juicy!), and partly because I keep seeing commercials for New Order’s upcoming Singapore concert on TV. (I can’t believe how old Bernard Sumner looks, like grandpa not even trying to seem hip!)
What hasn’t been on my mind much is New Order’s music. In fact, with the exception of a few songs that I’ll occasionally let play all the way through on my iPod — “Confusion,” “Fine Time,” “Thieves Like Us” and sometimes “Regret” — I’ve always respected (at times grudgingly) New Order more than I’ve loved them. And now that I’m privy to some of Sumner’s diva antics, I have even less interest in his band. The show in Singapore will be going on without me, as the New Order bandwagon has been doing from day one.
5 New Order-Related Songs That I Like Better Than Most of the Band’s Music
Revenge “Pineapple Face’s Big Day” A single from Hook’s side project (which I bought on 12 inch back in 1990) that was a more suitable companion piece to “Fine Time” on my college personal playlist than the rest of Technique, the 1989 New Order album I once owned on cassette (remember those?).
808 State Featuring Bernard Sumner “Spanish Heart” From 808 State’s ex:el, the 1991 album that provided much of the soundtrack to my first year in New York City and included two 808/Bjork collaborations (“Qmart” and “Ooops”) that had me prematurely wishing for her break from Sugarcubes two years before Debut.
Electronic “The Patience of a Saint” The Smiths’ Johnny Marr + Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant + Sumner! That those two divas (plus Marr) were able to stand and sing united long enough to record two tracks (both of which appeared on 1991’s Electronic and sounded more like Pet Shop Boys than the Smiths or New Order, although Tennant wasn’t a full-time Electronic member) is one of the great mysteries of British synth pop.
Electronic “Get The Message” Just Sumner and Marr this time, but still, along with “The Patience of a Saint,” “Idiot Country” and “Feel Every Beat,” one of the reasons why Electronic remains a high point of early ’90s Britpop. Got it?
Kylie Minogue “The One” The opening is pure New Order and the song the highlight of 2007’s X, Minogue’s first post-cancer album. Love me, love me, love me…