Sunday, 23 March 2014

The incessant noise of drum machines… Technique (1989) - New Order

As some of you will remember from my previous posts, 1989 has never been my favourite year for music. That melting pot of sound punctuating by a declining Stock, Aitken & Waterman and Jive Bunny. But there were a few glimmers of hope, particularly in the growing rave and dance music scene. Acts like Inner City, Adventures of Stevie V and Steve 'Silk' Hurley were making a big impact with their synth-laden singles, proving big hits in the UK clubs. 

Augmenting this was the fast-rising 'Madchester' scene, casting Manchester as the epicentre of late 80's/Early 90's indie music. Started by bands like The Smiths and record labels like Factory in the early 80's, it had grown into a behemoth with exiting new records coming out of awesome bands like The Stone Roses, Happy Monday, The LAs and The Charlatans. However, by far and away the leader of the pack was electronic/rock group New Order. 

Having formed from the fallout of Joy Division following Ian Curtis's suicide in 1980, the band had grown exponentially by 1989, carving a niche for themselves as one of the most musically exciting acts of the decade, coupling melodic riffs with razor-sharp production and a signature use of the latest synthesisers and drum machines.

Over the years records like Blue Monday, Thieves Like Us, Perfect Kiss and Bizarre Love Triangle had become airwaves staples cementing the group as one of the top-draw acts of the era. Coupled with this was the Northern dance scene they were fostering through their infamous 'pills, thrills and bellyaches' club 'The Hacienda' (a combination of acid house sensibilities and Factory Records' vision). It was a Mecca for all things of Manchester music scene. 

Come 1989 New order had not released a full album of new material for three years (the last being the patchy 'Brotherhood' in 1986). Buoyed, I'm sure, by the massive success of True Faith and Quincy Jones's prolific remake of Blue Monday ('88) the band embarked on a new set of material with incredible results.

Technique, is one of the best albums of the 80s and a great way to cap the decade. Combining thundering dance tracks with sombre indie rock it is a dark but danceable album showing a group at its zenith - hey, they were even asked to provide the World Cup anthem a year later! 

The album opens with, in my view, the best track of the set ‘Fine Time’ (also the first single off the album). The hypnotic beat of the drum machine and the catchy rhythm of the synth bass collapses into a weird and wonderful club track overlaid by Bernard Sumner’s idiosyncratic vocals. Clever effects and a liberal use of production combine to make this a memorable song that perfectly captures the flavour of the UK music scene during this period... others might disagree with this sweeping statement but I am sure they will not find fault with this track. 

This quickly descends into a slice of New Order stock fodder, will familiar production and a good melody ‘All The Way’ is a solid but unremarkable tune and weirdly fits alongside the previous, seemingly incongruous cut. Much the same can be said for ‘Love Less’ at no.3 which masterfully plays to Graham Hook’s signature bassline technique.

This slight, melancholy air is then obliterated by the next tune, ‘Round And Round’ the albums second single taken from the album. It’s a frantic and claustrophobic number, incorporating - dare I say it - a similar keyboard sound to that found on Phil Collin’s 1985 smash ‘Take Me Home’ (I am sure there are indie fans everywhere groaning at that comment). ‘Round and Round’ musically is New Order through and one might be forgiven for thinking that is structurally resembles ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ - although I am sure devotees of the band will disagree. Whatever, it is a standout track. 

Suddenly we are transported back to the incarnations of group for ‘Guilty Partner’, an atmospheric mid album number full of melancholy, not a favourite but not unlistenable as is the third single from the album ‘Run’, which marches on at a steady pace, made up for by it’s slow pace with some great work on the rhythm guitar. 

‘Mr. Disco’ is another dance orientated number with industrial sounds, heavy use of sythesizers, perfect for the pilled-out clubber of the day, zapped out of their mind on the shores of Ibiza (or more likely Bolton). Again, not one of the best, but pleasing. Luckily, this is followed by a top tune, ‘Vanishing Point’. Perhaps I like this because it is so of the New Order sound I prefer sharing the same name as one of my all-time greatest films. The echoey vocals and clever arrangement create a track that can be listened to over and over. 

The final number is another melodic, indie track and I think a unbefitting close to a brilliantly constructed album. ‘Dream Attack’ with its use of acoustic piano and spare production is good but I rather feel that it should have been scheduled earlier in Technique. Still, no matter. A great album and one that I thoroughly recommend to anyone looking for something to belt out loudly across South London as the sun shines and the beer and BBQs flow! 

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