25 Albums – New Order – Substance 1987

For the first of my 25 Albums, I chose New Order’s 1987 12″ singles and B-sides compilation, Substance 1987. Strictly speaking, it’s not really an “album” per se, but seeing as New Order always messed around with stuff like that, singles not appearing on albums, titles not being mentioned and so on, I’m not too concerned.

New Order had always been in my consciousness, with Blue Monday on Top Of The Pops in 1983 in front of Lenny Henry in an Easter Bunny suit, but it was 1987-1989 that really switched me on. True Faith is my favourite song, of all time, by any band, no question. It charted, it had a great video. Then the remix of Blue Monday came out, with the extra chipmunk voices in the background extorting me to “Wake up!” and “Get down! Get Down!”. My close friend at the time, Paul, the only person to whom I have been able legitimately to say, “I thought you were dead”, was dabbling with electronic music, and was very pleased to be able to recreate the classic inhuman drum riff. We’ll be hearing a lot more from Paul in this series of articles.

In early 1989, I went on a school skiing trip with Paul and many others to Valmorel Piancavallo in Italy. Everyone brought their walkmen, and I brought a little pair of unpowered speakers, which furnished our dorm room with choons. Over the course of the week, the speakers became covered in stickers obtained from Kinder Eggs, but that’s another story. I don’t think they compromised the otherwise perfect tone the speakers gave.

Someone in the room brought the chunky, beautifully packaged double cassette version of Substance. I must have bought 5 sets of batteries over the week, so the guy in the shop must have wondered about this English twit buying Kinder Eggs and batteries. At first I always wanted to hear True Faith– that background synth line in the chorus, the teenage angsty lyrics about a lost childhood (it resonated with my experiences with bullying), the thunderous (even over 1″ cones) bass drum and bass line. But as the days passed, I found myself listening to the other tracks, the other sides.

I loved the way the final flourish at the end of Bizarre Love Triangle gave a couple of seconds of peace before the pounding of True Faith. Then I loved the frog noises in The Perfect Kiss. Then Subculture grabbed me. Then Shellshock. Mind you, by this time I was back in the UK with my own version. I had it taped for walkman play while cycling, so that the swirling lead-out on True Faith faded into the drone and toms of In A Lonely Place.

It was the B-sides that got me into melancholic staring-into-the-middle distance stuff. Grainy black-and-white. You know the deal. Add a funeral march drumbeat to a soaring synth line, and I’m hooked. Working back through the early post-Joy Division tracks, hearing the influence of the electronics (and the party drugs) creep in, coming back to the start with the simple niceness of Ceremony, then again through to the awesome chiming “brang” guitars in Temptation, and back round to the disco hits. I could (and did) listen to this album repeatedly.

After Substance 1987, I bought Technique, the Ibiza album. Shortly after that World In Motion, the 1990 England football song, was ubiquitous and slightly embarrassing. But then Bernard Albrecht Sumner did say in an interview later that they always wanted to be more for pubgoing football types rather than spotty students. I definitely fell into the latter camp.

For a period in the early 90’s, Friend Robin and I had a stupid little game where we would drop New Order song titles into normal conversation. I know, I know. We were young.

Later, based on the solemn B-sides, I got some Joy Division stuff. I should probably drop the phrase “glacial beauty” in here somewhere. In 1992 I bought Republic, and was underwhelmed. The single Regret is great, but it hangs heavy on me because of events of that time. Plus the video made huge use of that flashing over-exposure trick that later became a huge cliche. I saw New Order live in 1993 at the Reading Festival. The video New Order Story is very interesting, and has some cool imagery in it, and some funny banter. But the egos of the group, and to a much greater extent those around them, take the shine off it, and worst of all Bono (he of the offshore tax haven) is in it.

But then, they’re only human. Despite the synths, drum machines and stark fragments of lyric which attracted me in the first place, it’s the human face and the ecstatic melancholy of this album which keeps me coming back.