Substance (Factory ’87) Rating: A
After the sad suicide of Ian Curtis the remnants of Joy Division recruited keyboardist (and the future Mrs. Stephen Morris) Gillian Gilbert, let Bernard Sumner sing and assume the role of frontman, and continued as New Order, appropriately named as they were in fact a brand new band who would end up sounding little like Joy Division and who would prove to be an immensely influential band in their own right. Actually, the first song here, "Ceremony," was written back in the Joy Division days and it sounds a bit like them only with Bernard imitating Ian and with a brighter, more upbeat overall sound (then again it's almost impossible not to be more upbeat than Joy Division!). It's probably my favorite New Order song, but thereafter they changed considerably, embracing chilly electronics and accentuating danceable rhythms on atmospheric tracks such as "Everything's Gone Green" and the immortal "Blue Monday," which only became the best-selling 12-inch single of all-time. Another classic track included on this chronologically sequenced 2-CD compilation is "Temptation," later included on the popular Trainspotting soundtrack and highlighted by its delectably poppy "ooh" vocals. By the time of "Confusion" Sumner's vocals were higher pitched and more feminine, but their singles were always catchy and danceable, such as sumptuously poppy and groovy numbers like "Thieves Like Us" and "The Perfect Kiss." Often it is that unexpected something that makes a song stand out, such as the female backing vocals on "Sub-culture" or the cool clicking noises on "Shellshock" (which will likely have you checking your speakers!). "State Of The Nation" reminds us that these guys (and gal) can still do guitar-based rock when the mood so moves them, but their bread and butter was definitive dance club classics such as "Bizarre Love Triangle" and "True Faith," the latter recorded specifically for this collection. So there you have it, the first disc which is comprised of the band's 12-inch A-sides and which to me is THE New Order album, because it has all of their most famous songs (up to that point, anyway) in what I consider to be their best versions, or at least they're the versions I'm most comfortable with (several songs here are re-recordings or are expertly edited down from their original 12-inch recordings). Any complaints that I have are minor, such as the trapped in the '80s sound (which you can say about the vast majority of '80s albums it seems), Sumner's sometimes less than stellar vocals (which still fit the material), and the overall repetitiveness and over-length of most of these songs (again that's a complaint you could level against almost all dance oriented music), plus Morris is such a great real live drummer that sometimes it seems a shame to use electronic rhythms instead. But again these are mere nitpicks, because this disc is worthy of comparison to the great Joy Division compilation of the same name, and though New Order have released many good proper albums as well, whenever I need my New Order fix this disc is the one I almost always listen to. As for disc two, the B-sides disc (also sequenced chronologically like disc one), I almost never listen to it because most of them were B-sides for a reason and in fact some of them are simply inferior versions of A-side songs. That said, there are some standouts, such as the sparse, atmospheric, Joy Division-esque "In A Lonely Place," the more up-tempo "Procession" which is all about its jangly guitars, "Lonesome Tonight," a cool "chill out" track that delivers more straightforward rock than usual, and "Murder," which delivers edgy, industrial-ized post-punk. Still, I tend to think of disc two as simply a bonus disc, or dessert so to speak after stuffing myself with a full meal, for the real meat of this collection is on the often-spectacular first disc, which features a hard to beat mix of alternative rock and danceable electro-pop.