Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New Order

A Collection and A New Order Story

Let's start with Joy Division.... no wait, let's not. Too painful. Let's instead start with the main feature, "New Order Story," a film about the history of New Order (Steven Morris, Peter Hook, Gillian Gilbert and Bernard Sumner) that was prodcued in the mid 90s by Kevin Hewitt and journalist/raconteur Paul Morley.

What I like:

It's a history of New Order, what the hell is there not to like? Seriously, it filled in a lot of holes for me about the musical genesis of the band and illustrated those points with generous clippage from live performances and videos. I was particularly enthralled by this clip of them on some meaningless chat show in Englad playing "Blue Monday" with both Gillian Gilbert (looking awesomely secretarial/mod) and Steven Morris playing synths! If only they had the infamous clip (now on Youtube) of New Order playing "Temptation" with Bernard Sumner wearing the shortest, tightest tennis shorts on the planet. Give it a million stars! The clips from Montreaux Jazz Festival were pretty keen too. Judiciously chosen interview subjects: It's heartening to see Peter Saville, Rob Gretton and the dark prince Tony Wilson given equal face time as the band, as Wilson always has something inflammatory to say, while it's just fun to watch Gretton mumble nervously. For surprise interviews, check out Neil Tennant, who talked about how gutted he was when "Blue Monday" came out because the Pet Shop Boys were working on a song that had the same bassline, and Quincy Jones, who wears a sweater decorated with piano keys and pulls it off. Full interview access granted by all four band members is a good thing too. Peter Hook - besides having the most stunning visual transformation - from middle-manager looking type in fussy slacks and tie, to long-haired, leather-pants wearing, crotch thrusting ROKKER by the end of the film - steals the show by filming his bits in a tranvestite bar, wearing one of Don Johnson's old suits. Plus they don't shy away from the Joy Division, with some great, crisp live footage.

And it's just an important document, man. A very important document.

What I don't like:

The framing devices. Good god, they're painful to watch and hear. The female narrator, spouting all sorts of artful nonsense about the band and their non-strategies for pop stardom, purrs and coos her way through her lines, seeming for all the world like a housewife trying to seduce a window cleaner - fair game, a job's a job, but it's funny to hear her spin their more sluggish later years (how can you possibly claim that it was a masterstroke for New Order to be on Baywatch? Fuuuuuck!) as on a par with their early, unforgiving, sleek modernism. The other framing device is this Keith Allen bunch of balder-fucking-dash where it's like a mock gameshow set-up and they (drunkenly) answer trivia questions about their history. Too chummy. Too crap. The only good bit is where they go into the audience and ask Rob Gretton a question. He unsteadily adjusts his glasses and whispers, "Can't. Too pissed." Also, they don't treat "World In Motion" like the true, crushing, Superbowl Shuffle-esque abortion that it is (more on that later). Finally, and this is very tough for me to admit - because after all, last Christmas, I gave most of my friends copies of New Order 316 because the '81 show is so fucking awesome and iconic -  in interviews, most of New Order (except for Peter Hook, I've always had a soft spot for his schtick) come off as kind of cold and dismissive and especially Bernard Sumner, really disagreeable. Now I'm sure that 9/10s of that is due to the fact that they've been questioned endlessly about the towering emotions that Joy Division conjures up for the better part of three decades - and you can't help but turn into a human callous after being in the pop biz for that long.... but still. I mean, they had a perfect forum to discuss their falling out with Factory and why they abandoned the label and signed with a major but intead they just fucking sulked and said little snipey shitty things about Tony Wilson. Lame. God. It's jarring, how can these be the same four fresh-faced naifs who banged out the Perfect Kiss? COGNITIVE DISSONANCE. And why the fuck did they have to interview Bono? Goddamn, give all of his camera time to Tony Wilson and be done with it.

On to the videos!

New Order
A Collection

Okay, where do I even start. First off, this is a superior artifact, compiling every single one of New Order's promo clips through their long and checkered history, peppered with generous performance extras and remixes. It's essential for the fan and student of electronic music. Sometimes, watching this is like having your own feed to old episodes of MTV's 120 Minutes. That said, let's be frank, most of New Order's videos veered dangerously close to pretentious rubbish - how many times could you watch painted dudes slapping one another - and I wouldn't even recommend that you go past Regret, because after that the song quality itself takes a nosedive. Gah. Oh there're some terrible moments in here. But let's not dwell. It's unhealthy.

When they're good, no one else was better and the video for "Confusion" is goddamn good. It's like a verite love letter to the New York cityscape that rejuvenated their creativity, complete with copious shots of club life, the long-gone dirty streets of midtown and even a cameo by producer Arthur Baker. Watch and then watch again. The true blockbuster though (and I'm on my twentieth viewing) is Jonathan "Silence of the Lambs" Demme's masterwork on "The Perfect Kiss." It's a straightforward performance clip (finally) of the band in a spartan studio, composed of lingering closeups of their various faces and hands playing instruments. It's revelatory. They never looked better. Brows furrow in concentration. Lips try not to smile. Electric drums are battered. Sampled frog calls are triggered. Gillian Gilbert looks immaculate. Peter Hook looks like a metal dj. And let's not forget the epic metal pastiche "Touched by the Hand of God" with the band decked out like cock rock royalty, headbanging all over the place in slow motion. It sort of trails off after that for me. I mean, I still like the video for Regret - god I loved that song back in high school - the bad news is, the clip from them "playing" the song on an episode of Baywatch (Hasslehoff stops by near the end to nod along, solemnly) killed any love I have for that song. The vidoes just become impenetrably messy (like the one with the dog) and the band's formerly crisp appearnce fades into a blur of sensible shoes and baggy shorts - although, again, perversely Peter Hook turns into Lemmy. To close, I need to say a few words about soccer/football anthem World in Motion. Ahem. What the fuck did they put that on there for? God! I can't believe people haven't burned every single copy of that tape. If you thought the Super Bowl Shuffle was bad, get a load of this nonsense. New Order kills their reputation, Gillian Gilbert looks confused, Keith Allen acts like a fool, the rest of the band wear ill-fitting jerseys and a bunch of England's finest bootballers act, sing and rap more weoodenly than a mountain made of log cabins. Argh.  Terrible. How dare they? What a waste. The only thing that cleanses that from my palette is a moody clip of the band running through Temptation from their perfect 1981 performance on 316. All bands should look this good.

The Peter Saville packaging is cutting-edge as you'd except. It jlooks pretty even sitting there on the endtable, waiting to be played. And that's the whole point, isn't it?

- Matthew Moyer

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