Wednesday, 16 August 2017
I've Been Waiting To Hear Your Voice For Too Long Now
By 1985 New Order were well into their stride, the faltering, unsure, step-by-step progress of the early years well in the past. 1983's album Power, Corruption And Lies more or less invented electronic indie and contained at least two career high points (Age Of Consent and Your Silent Face) as well as the blueprint for Blue Monday. The run of singles from 1982 to 1985 takes in Temptation, Blue Monday, Confusion, the peerless Thieves Like Us plus its B-side Lonesome Tonight. Then they put out another album, recorded in 1984 and released in May '85- Lowlife.
Lowlife only has eight songs on it but almost every one is a winner, disco and rock seamlessly intertwined. The sound combines full on synths and sequencers with Hooky's distorted bass providing the rock ballast. Stephen's drumming, with plenty of digital delay, is crisp and loud. The guitars are trebly and choppy, like Velvets era Lou Reed on acid. Lowlife is the first New Order album to contain singles and the first to feature band photographs on the cover (which Peter Saville then obscured by wrapping in tracing paper). From opener the Salford country & western of Love Vigilantes with Barney's enigmatic Vietnam War lyric to the magnificent closer Face Up this is a record I never get bored of. Face Up is huge, a glorious synth and bass intro, sampled choral voices, synth drum pads and then ... whoosh, we bounce along in NO disco heaven. The lyrics contain the usual mix of clunkers and the perfect skewering of life (see 'your hair was blonde, your eyes were blue, guess what I'm gonna do to you' and 'we were young and we were pure and life was just an open door'). Up until 1989 the lyrics were usually a group effort. For Technique Barney took over lyrics and vocals completely, something else Hooky rues as a nail in the coffin.
Sub-culture is here too, another disco-rock peak, Barney's vocals sounding like a guide vocal that he never bothered to redo (and all the better for it). That one fingered synth intro, followed by the drum machine and then the dark lyrics about walking in the park late at night and shafting on your own. Sub-culture is a close cousin of The Perfect Kiss and builds similarly, synth drums and bass riffs piling on top of each other. It was later released as a single in remixed form (by John Robie, an inferior version really with backing vox and synth stabs. Peter Saville was so disappointed he refused to design a sleeve for it). Hooky points to Robie's influence as being one of the turning points that ruined the group. Before Robie they didn't write songs following any rules- after Robie Bernard insisted on all the songs being in his key and eventually they became verse-chorus- middle eight formulaic. But let's leave the blame game aside and stick to the songs. Elegia is their intense instrumental tribute to their former, deceased frontman. I posted the unedited fifteen minute version last autumn and if you haven't heard it you should seek it out. The Perfect Kiss is inserted as track two, a peak among peaks (although it's an edited version on Lowlife. You need the full-on 12" version, a single for which the 12" format might have been invented). The Perfect Kiss has peaks and troughs, bass playing that is something else entirely, and several climaxes. This Time Of Night and Sooner Than You Think are both good album tracks. If pushed I could live without Sooner.... I suppose. But today's song is this one, closing side one, Sunrise. Possibly the rockiest song on Lowlife it opens with descending synth chords before being joined by a superb bass riff -then the whole band join in, pronto. The guitars rattle, bottle tops on the strings to get a Morricone sound and Bernard's vocal is straining, at the top of his register. The synths continue to wash away. The guitar, bass and drums drive away. At the end Bernard thrashes the toggle switch on his guitar. Done.