|New Order - A Collection|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 20 September 2005|
If you just want to learn New Order’s history, or if you’re merely seeking a set of its music videos, this combined package successfully satisfies either need. These two DVDs are broken down into two sections: The first part, titled “NEW order A COLLECTION,” is simply a gathering of various New Order videos. The second, “New Order Story,” is a two-hour-plus documentary on the band. Together, it adds up to all the visual/auditory New Order anybody likely needs.
To completely tell the New Order story, a little history is in order. Before there was New Order, there was the iconic Gothic band Joy Division. Although Joy Division only made two proper studio albums, this act helped start – whether it chooses to admit it or not – the whole Gothic rock movement. Even Bono of U2, who is interviewed on screen here, sings the praises of Joy Division. Sadly, Joy Division’s career was cut short by the suicide of its singer, Ian Curtis. The first three “chapters” of this “New Order Story” are appropriately dedicated to Curtis and the band, and named after Joy Division songs.
If you listen to Joy Division and New Order CDs back to back, it sounds like these acts adhered/adhere to entirely different musical values. While Joy Division’s music was many times slow, gloomy, and guitar-centered, New Order is contrastingly upbeat, at least musically, and synthesizer-based. Interestingly, however, vocalist/lyricist Bernard Sumner explains here what a big Kraftwerk fan Curtis was. (Kraftfwerk, by the way, is a pioneering synth-rock group.) Although much has been made of Curtis’ love of rocker Iggy Pop, his equal love for electronic music may have foretold New Order’s ultimate musical direction. Would Joy Division have gone the synth-rock route, had Curtis decided to live? We’ll never know for sure, but this documentary sure opens up a fascinating debate on that topic.
One big part of New Order’s appeal is that this band, much like the Human League and only a few others, knows how to make synthesizer music sound unusually warm. And just like the Human League, New Order is all about songs rather than beats-per-minute. It may be perpetually hip, groove-wise, but it’s also continually true to its core musical value of making songwriting its foundation.
It should be noted that New Order is by no means a happy feet outfit. It may not have continued Curtis’ down-in-the-mouth musical and lyrical approach, but Sumner’s oftentimes confusingly enigmatic lyrics have never been any sort of picnic, either. Instead of telling stories or writing about subjects in a logical, linear fashion, Sumner prefers to spout out bits and pieces of possibly related information instead. He doesn’t usually sound depressed, but he’s at least confused or bitter much of the time.
This band from Manchester, England makes alternative dance music, which is an odd category when you stop to think about it. When one normally considers dance music, a picture of nightclubs that bring people together out on the dance floor comes immediately to mind. New Order is probably more of an alternative act in the way it approaches the music business, however, instead of its chosen sound. From the very beginning, for instance, this group released singles that didn’t even have the band’s name written on the sleeves. Still, this odd behavior didn’t prevent “Blue Monday” from becoming a massive club hit.
This act has been shrouded in mystery almost from the get-go. Such a reputation might be related to the fact that when the group first rose from Joy Division’s ashes, it didn’t grant many press interviews. Its members didn’t want to answer a whole bunch of questions about Curtis’ death, and rightfully so. This silence was misperceived, however, resulting in the group being wrongly labeled as intentionally enigmatic. Nevertheless, when you see the members speaking out on camera here, they appear to be shy and reserved individuals. Sure, bassist Peter Hook looks the rock and roll part, but the others could just as easily pass for school teachers or accountants. Why is the media so suspicious of musicians who are not natural extroverts? It’s just not fair.
Adding to its alternative-ness, if you will, this band is forever playing with fan expectations of it. One of the first times they came out to Southern California, for instance, the band played a concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Even though the audience was mostly made up of stereotypically black-clad Goths, the band itself came on stage wearing shorts, t-shirts and bright colors. To further confuse the faithful, their video for the song “Regret” finds them on what looks like the set of the TV show “Baywatch.” Goths aren’t supposed to have a sense of humor, right? In the video for “Touched By The Hand Of God,” they’re dressed as heavy metal musicians. Here, it’s hilarious just to see these musicians garbed in tough-looking jackets (Sumner’s has the word “Ace” written on the back of his), yet the music being played is primarily synthesizer-based. In this particular clip, sound and vision are beautifully mismatched.
Although the group’s career hasn’t been all that eventful, at least not by “Behind The Music” standards, it has had its share of ups and downs along the way. For example, the band opened its own nightclub, The Hacienda, which – while a popular nightspot for a while – ended up losing the group a lot of money. The act also stayed with the independent label Factory Records far past the call of indie duty, when they could have been pulling in far more bucks with a major label instead. For a while there, the band was even signed to Quest Records, a label owned by Quincy Jones in the States. What on earth was this British act doing on the label of Michael Jackson’s producer? In a few awkward on screen moments, Jones speaks about his business relationship with the band. Even now, however, he appears to be clueless about New Order’s appeal.
Some of this group’s career moves might be difficult for American audiences to fully comprehend. For example, the makers of this documentary try their best to bring out why it was so shocking for the band to record “World In Motion” as the 1990 British World Cup football (soccer to Americans) anthem. Apparently, this is something no self-respecting indie band would ever do. Football is so essential to British life – whether you’re “in with the in crowd” or out with the underground – that it’s hard for yours truly to pick up on the shock value of New Order’s soccer association with the song. It’s hard to see why the World Cup goes against the indie spirit.
On both the documentary and the video collection, the sound of this music is excellent. New Order creates precise, clean and percussive dance music, and its sound is perfectly captured here.
One must give New Order props for lasting as long as it has. It lived past the Goth era, rode the synth pop wave of the ‘80s, even survived the ‘90s hard rock grunge days and it’s still going strong today. Even though it continues to rack up dance club hits, it’s still respected as a legitimate rock band. How many other rock bands get that kind of dual respect? Indeed, the New Order Story is one of a kind.