Artist: New Order
Description: single; album track, Republic
Release date: 1993
First heard: 1993
Look at me, I’m not you
In the immediate aftermath of Ian Curtis’s untimely death, for Joy Division to not just carry on but fundamentally reinvent themselves under a new banner and ultimately alter the face of British alternative pop, seemed, in that cruel summer of 1980, a mission impossible. The term “regroup” doesn’t cover it. As New Order (the name itself a manifesto), they shuffled Bernard Sumner to the front, added Gillian Gilbert at the back, recorded two existing Joy Division songs in the new formation, Ceremony and In A Lonely Place, and produced an LP that looked and sounded and felt like Joy Division minus Curtis and plus extra synth. As relieved as the discerning were to have them back in business, and so soon, Movement was robbed of sunlight by the Joy Division memorial Still, and it all felt a bit like a holding pattern. Then they went to New York, and the next ten years were about bringing it all back home.
Between the rule-rewriting Temptation in 1982 and the final long-player before the band’s first split, Republic, in 1993, New Order really did bestride the twin worlds of pop and dance like four blushing Colossi. They even outlived Factory. Regret, the majestic lead-off single and a hit all over the shop, was number one in Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play charts and Modern Rock Tracks, which just about says all that you need to know about New Order. Is it dance? Is it rock? Does it – to deploy the cliché – sound better in a club? Or in a barn? Or in a field? The answer is that it sounds better anywhere and everywhere. (I listened to it a lot, alone, in a one-room studio flat in Streatham in South London and it worked for me.) If New Order started out as three young men and one young woman with “weight on their shoulders”, they ended their first ten-year stretch on top of the world, looking down – you might say – on Creation.
That osmotic blend of guitar and synth which falteringly paints in the sky before it starts, as if touching up one of Peter Saville’s oddly sincere stock library photographs on the packaging, can surely, mathematically, never be bettered. Building on a fine repertoire of previous New Order and Pet Shop Boys hits, Stephen Hague sets a template of sleek, slick vistas and bevelled sophistication. It’s oysters without grit, a city skyline without TV aerials, a billboard panorama without imperfections, a sound so deep and wide and tall it bleeds off the edges of most pop music’s expectations and resets the aspect ratio. Barney’s guitar still maintains its trademark melancholy but the overriding theme is celebration. (Hey, it’s a song called Regret that speaks of wounded hearts, complete strangers and being upset, you see, almost all the time. That kind of celebration.)
Blue Monday may have history on its side, True Faith the video, Fine Time the Balaeric cool, and World In Motion a rare sense of fun, but Regret is the crowning achievement of a little band who could. A good deal of Joy Division’s eternal appeal lies in the struggle – the quest to hew magic out of limited virtuosity – but mastering their instruments did not rob them of their personality. It is found not just in Barney’s non-classical voice, distanced and chorused in the mix, but in the idiomatic nature of his lyrics: “Maybe I’ve forgotten the name and the address of everyone I’ve ever known … I would like a place I could call my own, have a conversation on the telephone … I was upset you see, almost all the time”. It’s amazing how much soul there is in his childlike delivery and in these storybook couplets. (This is a man who, on Every Little Counts, on Brotherhood, actually sang, “Every second counts/When I am with you/I think you are a pig/You should be in a zoo.”)
The whole of Republic is a showpiece. But Regret is pure cinema. I saw New Order on a boiling hot afternoon at Reading that year and entered a higher state of consciousness when I heard the riff to Regret, one I am physically unable to resist miming. I cannot play the guitar. This is important.
6 thoughts on “New Order, Regret (1993)”
“Looking down on Creation” – neat and chronologically accurate. Creation had probably crested the peak of artistic credibility by 93 but were just about to mint it with Oasis. As for New Order, they seemed to go into steady decline from the mid 90s onwards, but we’ll always have what went before.
My wife says that this song always reminds her of me and it’s one of my favourite New Order songs (how *do* you pick just one?). Hence it’ll be played at my funeral. I played that album over and over again when it came out.
“Blue Monday may have history on its side, True Faith the video, Fine Time the Balaeric cool, and World In Motion a rare sense of fun, but Regret is the crowning achievement” – absolutely perfect encapsulation of this song’s merits and its place in the New Order canon.
What about the TOTP performance from the LA beach / Baywatch set? Kitsch, ironic, post-modern and all that, maybe, but wonderful above all else.
Another great choice although, for me, “True Faith” might just nick it.
I seem to remember Regret (& Republic) being damned with faint praise at the time and I could never understand why. For me Regret is a high point in New Order’s career; polished, poignant, perfect. I wonder if time has blunted some of those harsher critics’ opinions? Lovely review, Andrew. Really enjoy this site.
I am loving this site Andrew and am using it as a treat read at the end of a long day.
Regret was the first New Order single I fell in love with enough to buy, and felt duty bound to do so on 12″. I was truly devastated to discover that none of the four mixes therein was the radio version with that gleaming guitar riff I had so fallen for. You had to buy the 7″ for that, or wait for the album. I’ve got a feeling I ended up with both. Makes no odds, Regret is still a towering track.