New Order, Regret (1993)

NORegret

Artist: New Order
Title: Regret
Description: single; album track, Republic
Label: London
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.

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The Rakes, We Are All Animals (2005)

TheRakesCapture

Artist: The Rakes
Title: We Are All Animals
Description: album track, from Capture/Release
Label: V2
Release date: 2005
First heard: 2005

My abiding memory of The Rakes is of telling someone off at Alexandra Palace. The London four-piece were supporting Franz Ferdinand – whose jerky art-rock style they shared – at the cavernous barn, and the gig seemed to epitomise what was suddenly right about British guitar music, as the gloomier Editors were also on the bill. I’ve looked it up and it was December 1, so something valedictory about a better year was in the air.

The Rakes had caught my ear with 22 Grand Job the year before, a calling-card song if ever I’d heard one, singer Alan Donohoe’s lyrics almost impenetrable but you got the idea (“22 grand job, in the City, it’s alright”), and you sensed something very local, very contemporary, very British, and keenly if dissentingly observed. Their debut album, Capture/Release, chimed with the post-punk revival being felt from Franz and Editors to all those New York bands we had to beat. You sense that a lot of angular young men were signed up in Franz Ferdinand’s refreshing, strident wake, especially after their Mercury in 2004 for the triple-platinum debut. The Rakes never quite rode the wave, although I still rate Capture/Release. It was as characterful as Donohoe’s Ian Curtis-like dancing.

We went “down the front” to experience his stagecraft close-up, and it was there that much younger, drunker consumers starting bashing into us. It was not a mosh pit, but an element wished to start one, and having been almost knocked off my feet more than once by the same youngsters, I felt the need to have a word. It was probably inappropriate of me, but it was my fortieth year, and I really, really wanted to enjoy The Rakes.

We Are All Animals remains a defining song: built around a bass/drum skeleton that recalls a marginally funkier She’s Lost Control, Donohoe’s staccato, near-spoken vocal invokes Darwinian theory (“We – are – all – ani-mals – who have lost our hair/Re-tained – some of our teeth and gained – a – choice”), the God delusion and the Pandora’s Box of self-actualisation. All this academia fuzzed-up by guitar that crawls over the chorus like tuneful interference, abetted by a brazen use of the keyboard’s “choral” effect adding cheeky portent. This last conceit recalls the theme tune to quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire as much as Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.

This is catchy stuff, with witty lines that stay in the mind, but you can’t walk off into the night chanting its riff like an anthem by Kasabian (or, for that matter, Editors), as it sort of doesn’t have one. It might have been a hit otherwise. It wasn’t even a single, and that’s worth stating, as V2 pulled five off the album, Thriller style, in search of a breakthrough – if you count All Too Human, which was added later. The Rakes never even cracked the Top 20, while Editors reissued everything until they went Top 10.

As fiery as the Fire Engines or Josef K, but with the added oomph we might credit to the crisp, modulated production of future Adele genius Paul Epworth, something told me that The Rakes were into something good on this album, and particularly on this track, where lines like that have no place in a pop song, like, “biologists and chemists reducing our souls to four letters” and “we’re like a masterpiece that’s glimpsed the artist,” play with your brain while messing with your feet.

If the passing brilliance of The Rakes can be reduced down to a single instance, it’s the way Donohoe pronounces “gorillas” in the line, “chimps or gorillas” as “grillers.” I loved him for for it.

After that, it would be frustrating to follow The Rakes’ progress. But they made their mark on me at a vital moment and I love them for that, too. Within a year, I’d be back down the front at Arctic Monkeys gigs at home and abroad, this time facing up to my mid-life crisis by pushing into other people, young and old. We were all animals, after all.