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Friday 18 August 2017

I Used To Think About You Night And Day

Technique is my favourite New Order album. Released in January 1989 I was 18 years old and I bought it the day it came out and then played it endlessly. I had a poster of the beautiful Peter Saville cover, fly-poster size, abut 6' by 5', on my wall for ages. Technique is the sound of summer, nine songs infused with the spirit of sunshine, warm seas, blue skies and summer holidays but shot through with a sense of sadness and loss.

The single that preceded it was Fine Time and it opens Technique. New Order had gone to record the album in Ibiza, at Hooky's insistence, and spent three months there ('an expensive way to have a holiday' Tony Wilson). The story has it that they recorded a few drum tracks and a guitar solo and that most of the work recording it was done at Real World in Bath. This was down to two things- firstly, the studio was shit. Secondly the group and entourage were easily distracted by what Ibiza had to offer. So while the album wasn't really recorded in Ibiza ('about 20% done there' according to Barney) it is inspired by the adventures the group had in Ibiza's nightclubs, on Ibiza's drugs, with Ibiza's people (and the Happy Mondays who turned up to join in the fun). Fine Time is a full on electronic dance record, inspired by a tune Barney heard in Amnesia but couldn't remember the day after. A throbbing sequenced bassline, bleeps and staccato stabs, and that 'sexy', slowed down vocal. This Top Of The Pops performance is legendary, as Barney introduced the viewers to the Bez dance. Playing live too.

Fine Time came out on 7", 12" and a remix 12" with this version by Steve 'Silk' Hurley complete with sheep noises and the full Barry White vocal 'You got style, you got class, but most of all... you got love technique'.

Fine Time (Steve 'Silk' Hurley Remix)

Fine Time is a blast, a proper dance record. The rest of the album is eight slices of perfect Mancunian dance pop, effortlessly combining acoustic guitars, real drums, drum machines, some of Hooky's most melodic bass runs, gorgeous synth lines, frazzled guitar solos and Barney's best vocals. Lyrically the songs were all Bernard's work and most seem to reflect on love and life gone wrong and the lessons learned. To pick four examples from four different songs relatively randomly...

'My life ain't no holiday
I've been to the point of no return'

'It takes years to find the nerve
To be apart from what you've done
To find the truth inside yourself
And not depend on anyone'

'I spent a lifetime working on you
And you won't even talk to me'

'I'm not some kind of foolish lover
I couldn't take this from no other
You're not being cool with me
Cause I always know that you'll come back to me'

Run (which was also a single, released in a slightly remixed form by Scott Litt as Run 2) is allegedly about Factory and Tony Wilson and the Hacienda's financial problems. John Denver sued the band because of similarities between Run and his Leaving On A Jet Plane. I struggle to hear the similarities but I wasn't the judge and Denver was awarded a writing credit for the song.

I can't choose between any of the songs on Technique- some are more guitar based, some more singalong, some more dancey, some all out pop, but all hit that sweet spot musically, vocally, lyrically and spiritually. Recently Vanishing Point and Mr Disco have been the ones really doing it for me. Mr Disco has a stuttering keyboard part and then guitar/bass backing. The drum machine sends this squarely to the open air dancefloors of Ibiza's clubs. Bernard sings of 'the holiday we spent together, lives with me now and forever' and the gorgeous hook 'I can't find my piece of mind, because I think about you all of the time'. After the chorus there are crashing synth stabs and instrumental breaks, a synth clarinet maybe, and then verse and chorus again. The dropout at 2.39 with synth bass and drum machine is heart-stopping. Then there are more wonderful synths before the chorus comes back a minute later and a whispered bit leading towards the pile up at the end and the sound of hitting all the keys on the synth at once. One of their very best.

Mr Disco

As a bonus, here's the sublime Vanishing Point played live on Channel 4's Big World Cafe

and Round And Round from the same show...

So there you have it, a magnificent album containing none of the songs they're best known for, a number one hit on the UK album charts, a record that is getting on for thirty years old and, I'm afraid, the last time they were truly great. After this they splintered into the various side projects, came back together for the World In Motion single, splintered again, re-united to make an album in a doomed attempt to save Factory from bankrupcy and then split again and then there's all of that leading up to the very bitter position they're in today. I've read all three of Hooky's books and very entertaining they are too. I've read Bernard's book. I've read other books about Factory and New Order. I've read countless articles about them and interviews with them. And what have I learned? That they made some my favourite records and that in the end, despite the fact that the story of New Order, the mythology, is hugely important, what really matters is the tunes.


Anto said...

Excellent. Some shit that needed to be said was said this week. And I agree with all of it

TheRobster said...

Another brilliant peice, Adam. I was initially disappointed by Fine Time. I, too, was 18 and the indie kid in me didn't want New Order to succumb to the dance music 'fad'. Ridiculous I know - New Order practically invented UK dance music - but Fine Time didn't feel like a 'proper song' to me. It's grown on me over time, but it's far from my favourite NO track. I always smile at thet TOTP footage. Barney is so cringeworthy in it.

Round & Round is a big fave of mine though, and Run 2 was a cracking single. I associate Vanishing Point with Margi Clarke who was in some TV drama at the time which used an instrumental version as its theme tune. Good tune.

You're probably right about Technique being "the last time they were truly great". There have been flashes of the old brilliance since then, but they've been all too brief. The last record was very good IMO, but even at its best, it's not quite up there with Technique or Lowlife.

Michael Doherty said...

All The Way is the one I have the real soft spot for, those keyboard strings. It also sounds like The Cure at their prettiest, perhaps Just Like Heaven. I was amazed years ago to hear Robert Smith say that on one of their albums (I can't remember which one) they were really trying to channel the New Order sound.

Michael Doherty said...

Fine Time didn't feel like a song to me either in much the same way as Sound & Vision by Bowie didn't. Took me a bit with both.

Brian said...

After reading that great piece, all I can think is, hmm, I wonder what happened to your poster?!? This is my favorite NO album as well, and we heard it at the same age. I say that because there is a possibility that could have something to do with it. Not only do I agree that this was the band's last great album, but if you looked through my music room, you wouldn't even find another LP after Technique.

Swiss Adam said...

I don't know what happened to the poster Brian but I wish I still had it.

Jake Sniper said...

With the albums they released in the 80s and into the 90s my appreciation for NO just kept growing. Technique is such good album with some great songs on, although Regret will always be my favourite song, which considering the effect their earlier albums had on me and my passion for them is really saying something. Excellent write up again Swiss, I've really enjoyed your NO week. The family may have had enough of me playing NO this week, but until they psychically stop me, i'm going to carry on conditioning the children into what great music is.

Echorich said...

I fell into the same line with The Robster with regard to Fine Time...it took more than a few listens to get my opinion straight on the song and it was the Steve Hurley remix that finally convinced me of it's brilliance. The album was a tough listen at first, it has always more uneven to my ears than most reviews have notes. Vanishing Point is the song I most admire on the album and Round + Round is the track that ties Technique to the band's more recent past - in fact it is miles better than State Of The Nation and Shellshock to my ears.
In recent years I can't seem to do without Mr. Disco, which feels like it's an outline for what would come from Barney's Electronic debut album.
Technique ranks a firm 4 in my NO album ladder and that is up a few spots from where I might have put it just a few years ago.

Unknown said...

New order played Dublin in Jan 1986. I was so excited, I was 15. I went on the first night, they were playing 2 gigs, friday and Saturday. We waited with 2nd hand jackets on and barney came on stage and announced ' someone should complain to the promoter about the heating in this place, fuckin freezin!'. That was all he said for the night apart from singing the songs. They played a bunch of b sides and lesser favoured tunes. Everyone was fucked off. I was in awe. The next night (I wasn't there, my pals were) the played temptation/dick monday etc and everyone was happy. I sourced the bootlegs after and was happy with my choices. New Order were always a band that demanded you to think even tho there lyrics were simple. They said here you are, think. They grabbed me from the first time I heard them and still do. What a week of music. Thanks Adam

Swiss Adam said...

Thanks Anthony- sounds like a good gig. New Order spent a lot of time in Dublin recording there often in the 80s.

Anonymous said...

fantastic set of posts. that is all.

drew said...

Technique as the last NO I bought also. When this album was released I had already fallen head over heels for House music for a couple of years and Fine Time just fit perfectly, especially the remix 12" with the Silk and Messed Up mixes.

Artog said...

What does happen to posters? My gut reaction is to suspect my mother - but she hardly throws anything out. It's a mystery.