The use of electronic instruments in music has been around longer than people may realize. The first successful electronic organ was developed in 1928 in France by Edouard Coupleux and Armand Givelet. Fast forward forty years or so and electronic instruments like the mellotron and rudimentary synthesizers were being experimented by many pop acts such as; The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Roxy Music, to name but a few. Many would argue, however, that the electronic explosion in popular music came in the form of the new-wave movement during the late 70s early 80s. New Order, a Manchester-based alternative rock group, was at the forefront of this movement. After a strenuous period for the group having to re-assemble after the death of former frontman, Ian Curtis in 1980, (originally named Joy Division), the band began incorporating electronic dance music fused with rock music becoming one of the most influential acts of this generation.
Gillian Gilbert. (n.d.). [Photograph]. Gillian Gilbert. https://www.discogs.com/artist/156003-Gillian-Gilbert
During the subsequent years, New Order would become prolific songwriters and record and produce several albums and singles most notably; Blue Monday, (1983) which became the biggest selling 12 inch single of all time. The track was composed on a prototype synthesizer "step-time" sequencer in binary code. It was originally written in the key of D minor and contains a basic chord progression of Dm–F–C–Dm–G–C. The song has been labelled a “synth-pop classic” Other popular singles that followed were, ’Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘True Faith’, ‘World in Motion’ and ‘Regret’. What informed New Order’s love of electronic dance music was the disco sounds emanating from American clubs, Italian discos, and the cold industrial-like sounds coming from electronic acts like, Kraftwerk. Since the release of Republic in 1993, New Order concentrated on a more guitar-centric sound, not totally leaving behind the group's electronic roots, just not making it a focal point of the work.
New Order Music Complete. (n.d.). [Photograph]. New Order Music Complete. https://bleep.com/release/61776-new-order-music-complete
The release of New Order's tenth studio album, Music Complete, 2015 sees the Mancunian's return to the beautifully polished electronic pop-based sound. Again, not wanting to completely leave aside the group's rock influences, there is something for everyone on this record. The album opens with ‘Restless’, a semi-acoustic, semi-electronic track which is lead singer’s, Bernard Sumner’s nihilistic view of the current world. The intro glides into a carillon arpeggio over the top of a warm synth sound which then bursts into life with Stephen Morris’s drum-roll intro that effortlessly and perfectly offsets Sumner’s downbeat melancholic lyric, ‘What can you buy that lifts a heavy heart up to the sky?’
By the time we get to 'Plastic', the listener is immediately transported back to the hedonistic days of 90s Ibiza. With its Italian-disco arpeggiator running through the heart of the song. Its polished chic sound is reminiscent of 'Technique' the band's fifth, and arguably, most celebrated studio album released in 1989. As with the opening track 'Restless', 'Plastic' is Sumner's take on the superficiality of a world concerned with materialism and consumerism. T.Cole Rachel from Pitchfork News, analysis of the record is hard to refute: "Plastic" is the most inspired bit of dance music the band has recorded in years—a sprawling seven-minute bit of Moroder-ish synesthesia..."
Continuing with the italo-disco dance theme, Tutti Frutti, the third track on the album, New Order collaborates with friend and artist, Elly Jackson in a thumping uplifting disco track. It begins with Gillian Gilbert's understated synths brought to the fore while an Italian vocal, "Tutti frutti Amore Mio Tutti frutti No non è ancora il momento di entrare. Non è ancora il momento di"- translates - Tutti Frutti My love Tutti Frutti, No it is not yet time to enter. It is not yet time to" The song is essentially about being besotted with being in love. It is rich in sound with its wonderful beguiling layers of bells, synths, and strings which is the perfect backdrop for Sumner's croaky vocal and Elly Jackson's dulcet tones.
Elly Jackson stays around a little longer for the subsequent track, 'People On The High Line' which is like the baby brother of 'Tutti Frutti', and both tracks sit magnificently alongside one another. Similar in vein, albeit with a funkier Chic-Esque (Chic in this instance, referring to the 70s disco group, Chic) guitar and piano vibe, it is yet another reminder of how technically and musically astute this band is and has been over the last thirty years. There are several more stompers too, such as: 'Academic', 'Unlearn This Hatred', and a brilliant collaboration with Brandon Flowers (The Killers) on the final track, 'Superheated'. The record is simply a celebration of all things electronic and a much-needed antidote to the current bleak times we are now living through. It is also a sharp reminder that the pioneers of this genre can still produce great pop records that, in my mind, will, no doubt, stand the test of time.
Electronic Organ. (n.d.). Brittanica. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/art/electronic-organNew Order’s Blue Monday. (n.d.). Post-Punk.Com. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://post-punk.com/35-years-new-order-blue-monday/Image 1. New Order’s Robotic ‘Blue Monday’ Was Realized Through ‘Hours Recording Farts’. (n.d.). [Photograph]. New Order’s Robotic ‘Blue Monday’ Was Realized Through ‘Hours Recording Farts’. https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/new-orders-robotic-blue-monday-was-realized-through-hours-recording-farts.html/
Nicolson, B. (2015, January 22). New Order - How we wrote Blue Monday. NME. https://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/new-order-how-we-wrote-blue-monday-762505Rachel, T. C. (n.d.). New Order Music Complete. Pitchfork News. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/21036-music-complete/
Wikipedia. (n.d.). New Order - Band. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Order_(band)