New Order Goes Kaputt

In its February 2012 issue, MOJO has enclosed a CD of covers by different bands of New Order’s Power, Corruption, & Lies (1983). The timing is bittersweet, as the tension between Peter Hook (who has been touring Joy Division’s back catalogue) and the two other original members of the band, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris, has recently escalated in public spheres. The chance of a full reunion is rather slim.

My first link with New Order was forged by my brother, who, like many others, had a soft spot for “Bizarre Love Triangle”. My first serious listen of their catalogue occurred in 2008, when I dived into PC&L and their first collection, SubstancePC&L was a summer 45-minute running companion, its manic (“Age of Consent”, “The Village”), downtempo (“We All Stand”, the beginning of “5 8 6”), and steady (the last half of the album) parts together furnishing a mix of pacesettings. The album still sounds novel and innovative – one can detect the band’s growing confidence with its technique (six-minute tracks with lots of repetition), its aesthetic (Peter Saville’s iconic cover image and colour coding), and its existence as an entity separate from its previous incarnation. Even when sandwiched between the releases of the now-legendary “Temptation” and “Blue Monday” (which are featured back-to-back as tracks 3 and 4 on Substance), PC&L holds its own, worthy of consideration as the band’s pioneering statement.

A great quantity of music of the past decade bears the fingerprint of New Order’s influence – the synth is now ubiquitous in many genres of pop, and a listen to some of its original marriages with the guitar, with Hooky’s bass as minister and Stephen Morris’ kit as witness, is didactic. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys give an excellent summary of New Order’s place in the history of pop music at the NME Awards in 2005 (take note of the bit about students, football hooligans, and dancefloor ecstasy):

The cover of the final track of the original album, “Leave Me Alone”, was tasked to Destroyer. This is a shrewd choice, as Destroyer’s acclaimed 2011 release, Kaputt, drew some of its sonic inspiration from the seminal new wave band and even references them (“You terrify the land / You’re pestle and mortar / Your first love’s New Order” on “Blue Eyes”). “Savage Night at the Opera” prominently features a synth line that shares melodic genes with Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1. Bejar is a songwriting chameleon (contrast the “musical subversion” of Kaputt and the more straight-laced Destroyer’s Rubies) and a brilliant lyricist (Kaputt was apparently influenced by the book of the same name). His tracks on New Pornographers albums remain standouts (“Jackie”, “Jackie Dressed in Cobras”), providing enough idiosyncrasy to prevent 12-14 tracks of relentless power-pop from becoming too monotonous.

Perhaps drawing inspiration from wordplay with the song’s title, Destroyer’s cover is almost the same length as and is musically faithful to the original, though with more volume in the guitar amplifier and Bejar’s added mumblings in the intro and “ooh-ooh’s” in the coda. Depending on whether one prefers their cover artists to be faithful or to run amok with the original material, this may come off as disappointing or positive. The biggest surprise is Bejar’s voice. Sumner’s voice is a blank slate, an inoffensive vector for his dark and often nonsensical lines; Bejar is in the company of Craig Finn, having a voice that polarizes listeners, but that is essential for the delivery of his esoterica. Here, Bejar’s delivery is smooth and hazy. The contrast is most apparent on the high notes: Sumner’s vocal effort betrays a sort of romanticism, while the echo from ’80’s like-processing leaves Bejar’s voice with a sheen of detachment.

A notable difference: in the original coda, Sumner’s restless conjunct motions drop out, deferring to Hook’s perfect fifth (and Morris’ hi-hat) for the last word. Destroyer’s cover ends with the electric guitar triumphantly reaffirming the tonic, with a long fade.

The cover:

The original:

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