Saturday, November 6, 2010

361. Substance. A title just dripping with irony.

Album: Substance
Artist: New Order
Year: 1987
Genre: Electronica


  1. Ceremony
  2. Everything's Gone Green
  3. Temptation
  4. Blue Monday
  5. Confusion
  6. Thieves Like Us
  7. The Perfect Kiss
  8. Sub-culture
  9. Shellshock
  10. State of the Nation
  11. Bizarre Love Triangle
  12. True Faith
  13. In a Lonely Place
  14. Procession
  15. Cries and Whispers
  16. Hurt
  17. The Beach
  18. Confusion Instrumental
  19. Lonesome Tonight
  20. Murder
  21. Thieves Like Us Instrumental
  22. The Kiss of Death
  23. Shame of the Nation
  24. 1963

I didn't realise this until I came to research them but New Order are actually Joy Division without their lead singer. I'm fully aware of Joy Division but mainly because I'm a huge fan of Lets dance to Joy Division by the Wombats, a song I can't recommend highly enough. Just as Joy Division were about to conquer America, lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide and left the rest of the band without a frontman. They decided to forge onwards only without the name or their back catalog. They settled on New Order as a name, moved the band further towards the synthesized electro sound their previous band had been slowly creeping towards. They augmented their line-up with a friend and a new band was born.

An amazing thing happened when I put this album on- my wife started to sing along. She doesn't normally do this. Traditionally when I put top 500 albums on she closes the door and leaves me too it. But when she heard Bizarre Love Triangle she broke out in song. And unusually for her she actually got the words right. She's sung along before but traditionally using a set of phrases almost entirely of her own devising. Her amazing ability to rewrite pop classics on the fly has dazzled me in the past but she started at the: "Everytime I see you falling, I get down on my knees and pray" bit and kept going getting all the words correct. There's no accounting for this bizarre behaviour since she's never owned a New Order album or single and didn't even know the name when I told her. Some things just get stuck in her head.

New Order are from that shady genre of music that I tend to avoid- synth based 80's pop, often called electro. There are those who worship this genre with a dedicated passion. Many of these people are English. Many of them feel that the only kind of music worth listening to can be produced entirely by men standing behind keyboards. Drums aren't necessary and guitars just get in the way. Substance is a compilation. And not just a collection it's a two disc collection. And it's not just a two disc collection of songs it includes all their best 12" mixes. Which means it's two discs of electro songs most of which go for around six minutes. That's a lot of simulated drum beats. Far too many for the likes of me. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the spectacularly annoying The Beach which goes for 7:19 and manages to plod through this extended run time without a single redeeming feature. It sounds like a remixed 80's video game soundtrack with a repetitive rhythm that you can imagine pacman chomping his way through. Thumping behind it are some really tragic drum noises and that terrible hand-clap effect that thankfully we grew out of in the early nineties. The vocals are synthesised to sound like a computer villain in a kids tv series crica 1983. Did people really dance to this twenty years ago? And if so what moves did they make? I can only imagine them looking like complete dickheads in a nightclub somewhere as they manipulated their body to the sounds of machines competing to see who could make the most annoying noise.

I've listened to the entire of Substance four times and I can honestly say there is a lot more to love in one song by The Wombats than this entire collection. Once the people who grew up subjected to this die off it will be perish with them and be forgotten about forever.

Highlight: Bizarre Love Triangle
Lowlight: The Beach

Influenced by: Computer games and a colleagues death.
Influenced: Johnny two hats.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Anyone who says this is not one of the best CD's ever is an idiot."

-I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree

So do you think this album has substance or are you an idiot like me?


  1. Now, for some reason I get the feeling you're biased. That's not a bad thing -- everyone's biased just a little, no matter how hard we try.

    Are there any reasons for your dislike towards 80s synth pop?

  2. Ryan,

    Thanks for your comments and insights. Always appreciated.

    My problem with synth pop is mainly that it just doesn't move me at all because I can't feel any emotion or heart behind it. It's cold and barren and not expressive at all. It feels to me as if the creation of a synth pop album is more an intellectual process than anything else. John Bonham, Keith Moon and Terry Bozzio could push artists to places they didn't expect to go by playing the drum like an instrument. Has anyone ever been inspired by processed beats from a drum machine?