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In the Mix: U2’s Poopropa

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 21, 2007

Another article borrowed from Stylus, sorry people but it’s 3:00 and I just spent a half-hour manually blowing up an air-mattress.

Few bands have careers long and resilient enough that they can basically just fuck around for a decade without any fallout. In between the years of 1991 and 2000, U2 took chances with their career that few bands of their stature would ever have even thought to attempt, and audiences were rewarded with some of the coolest, most surprising, and ultimately most confusing and frustrating music of the band’s career. Consequently, they alienated fans by the millions, until the eight million-selling Achtung Baby became the three million success of Zooropa and the barely platinum Pop. Critics weren’t much kinder, as a smaller fraction of the unanimous praise for Achtung was awarded to Zooropa, and an even tinier portion of good will spilled over to Pop, which surely goes down as the most maligned album in the band’s career.

Frankly, it’s not hard to understand why this happened. Simply put, Achtung Baby was a masterpiece—a virtually flawless album that combined musical innovation with lyrical heartbreak, and deservedly saved the band’s career from almost certain egomaniacal self-destruction. Zooropa and Pop, to understate the point, were very far from masterpieces—uneven in sound, quality and pacing, both are decidedly difficult listens, with little of AB’s immediate, obvious greatness. But that’s not to say that the greatness isn’t there—indeed, both albums have a handful of songs that I would have no problem rating with the band’s very best. But the greatness isn’t found in universal anthems like “One” or “With or Without You,” or in righteous rockers like “Mysterious Ways” and “Where the Streets Have No Name”—rather, it’s in these curious, lyrically obscure genre-benders, songs that often don’t even sound like U2 could possibly be behind them—likely the point all along.

Eventually, the band would decide that experimentation and identity-shifting wasn’t as rewarding as playing lowest-common-denominator stadium fillers, and at the turn of the millennium, they (even admittedly) re-submitted their bid for “Best Band in the World” status, and today are just as popular and beloved as ever. And though it’s hard to fault their decision—U2 has always been a band of the people, and said “people” weren’t sticking around for too much more of the band’s Eurocentric weirdness—it’s equally hard not to feel disappointed that a band willing to take such chances decided to settle for being Generation X’s Rolling Stones. It’s highly unlikely we’ll even see an Achtung Baby from these guys again, much less a Pop or Zooropa.

In any event, there is definitely at least one classic album’s worth of material to be found in the band’s “lost decade,” and I’ve attempted to craft it, here. Similarly to my Synchronized Machinery article from a few weeks ago, this isn’t a greatest hits set—I’ve attempted to make a record that follows the Pop guidelines of “starting out at a party and ending at a funeral,” so there’s only really room here for the big, gaudy dance-rock numbers and the sobering, spiritual blues ballads. Consequently, some of the best songs of the period didn’t make the cut, including the heartbreaking love song “Stay (Faraway, So Close!),” the mysterious, adrenalized “Last Night on Earth,” and the Johnny Cash-sung Zooropa closer and fan favorite “The Wanderer.” But I’d like to think that what is here is the cohesive masterpiece U2 failed to materialize during this time, the failure of which arguably cost the band their edge, and if you’re as disillusioned a fan as I am, their soul.

1. “Pop Muzik (PopMart Radio Mix Edit)” (promo single, b-side to “Last Night on Earth”)

Hardly the most musically accomplished thing U2 did in this period, but I can’t think of a better choice to introduce this period of their career. After all, consider the source material—synth-pop fluke M’s 1979 #1 hit, a lyrically enigmatic but irresistibly catchy song concerned with the same kind of media overload that so preoccupied U2 during the 90s. The band obviously agreed, since their cover/remix—produced by Happy Mondays and New Order knob-twiddler Steve Osborne, with Bono laying down some new vocals—was used as intro music on their PopMart tour. In recorded form, however, it was relegated to obscure b-side status on a single that no one heard, so here we put it in the forefront, where it probably belongs.

2. “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” (single from the Batman Forever soundtrack)

Probably the most famous non-album track in U2 history, and probably one of the best. It’s not quite as experimental as most of U2’s upbeat singles from this time, but as a slice of immaculately produced neo-glam, it’s held up surprisngly well. Adam Clayton’s rumbling bass line and Larry Mullen Jr.’s loose, thundering drumming nearly put this in big beat territory, while the Edge’s multi-tracked guitar work (there must be a half-dozen lines going throughout this song—how the hell they managed it live is beyond me) ensure that it’s the last thing U2 ever did that could generously be described as “rocking”. Plus, Bono moans like Marc Bolan on the bridge, and that string outro! Dudes should’ve done soundtrack work more often—besides Larry & Adam’s hysterically 90s “Theme from Mission: Impossible,” which somehow charted higher than any other U2-related single since the ‘80s.

Speaking of which—how come no one makes soundtrack videos like this one anymore? I mean, I know the actual answer—music videos aren’t widely viewed enough anymore to function as legitimate promotional tools for the movies and soundtracks on which they appear, and besides no one buys soundtracks anymore, etc. But still, watch the video and see what a badass fuckin’ movie they turn Batman Forever into—nothing but amazing chase scenes, dazzling set pieces and awesome sound-byte quotes. Gotta be the coolest movie ever, right? (Personally, I still think it actually is pretty great—not as good as the immortal Returns but much better than the snooze-worthy original and laughable Batman & Robin.)

3. “Numb” (single from Zooropa)

Definitely a top five U2 single for me right here. I don’t know what shocks me about it more—that it wasn’t a huge, near-titanic hit for them, or that it was even released as a single (or that it even exists at all) in the first place. Because it doesn’t really make sense as a single—no chorus, not even any verses of note, just one long monotone rant, courtesy of The Edge. Yet…I don’t see how anyone could not love this song. First off, you’ve got that amazing, just ridiculous intro, Mullen’s dripping, tap-tap drum beat pierced with The Edge’s shrieking guitar scrape (crrreeAKKK-CREAK….CREAAaak-creek…creeeaAAAKKK…..CREEEAaak…), a hook that should be jarring and atonal but somehow sounds just perfect. I can’t imagine how many takes and how much production splicing it took to get it just so, but man did they fucking nail it.

And then that vocal. It may be monotone, but goddamn, what a tone they chose (once again, the production on it must’ve been staggering). The Edge hits the perfect pitch of total transfixion—who knows what he’s even saying for half the song, but you just don’t want that tone to stop. Add more nifty production flourishes (the machine-gun synth squeaks, the radio static that seeps in, the looped scream in the last verse) and Bono’s angelic falsetto filling in the negative space (“I fee-eel nu-umb!”) and, I’m sorry, but you’ve got a single that deserves to be held in the band’s highest tier of esteem, along with your “One”s, your “Pride”s, your “With or Without You”s. And, oh man, that video—hard to imagine another video whose visuals so capture the feeling of the song, though another one’s coming up in this article. I could write a whole book about it, but instead, just watch it, please. And then watch this strangety-strange parody of it, a mid-90s promo for The New WKRP in Cincinatti. I had no idea that show even existed.

4. “MOFO” (Single, from Pop)

There was much ballyhoo over U2’s new direction at the time of Pop, and how they had embraced trance and house and big beat and all sorts of other Euro-dance styles, but as far as I can tell the only legitimate evidence of this on the album was “MOFO.” Sure, there were some electronic shenanigans in a bunch of the other tracks, but this is the only one that actually sort of sounds like the Chemical Brothers, or one of the angrier Underworld singles (the undulating synth part actually presages “Moaner” and “King of Snake” by a year or two). It’s got that sort of frenetic, hyper-adrenalized feel, with a little grime and grease to it, that it wouldn’t have been out of place on the Hackers or The Saint soundtracks—which, frankly, is definitely speaking my mid-late 90s electronica language (back when “electronica” was even semi-acceptable in music-crit vocabulary). It’s not a seamless integration, but I still think it sounds pretty cool, and I wish more of the album actually felt like U2 pushing out the walls a little bit like they do here.

5. “Miami” (Pop album track)

Actually a far grittier and more depressing album than most people give it credit for, Pop’s bread-and-butter are these kind of haunted, skin-crawling ballads of decadence and self-loathing. Apparently Q once voted as one of the ten worst songs by a great band, but then again I’m pretty sure they gave this album some super-glowing review when it was first released, so clearly they’re not to be trusted in the first. Anyway, I love the thick drum sound on this one, and those sireny synths give the song the kind of spooky sound it needs, and of the half-dozen or so relative soundalikes like this on Pop, this one serves best for Poopropa’s first truly downbeat song.

6. “Holy Joe (Guilty Mix)” (b-side to “Discotheque”)

Another relatively stripped-down (as in, not much in the way of hooks) but thickly textured (as in, everything sounds real shiny and nice) number with a little more energy than “Miami” to kick the album back into gear a bit. Pop’s closest peer is Depeche Mode’s Ultra—an album released the same year with the same sense of crisis—a singer unsure of the state of his soul, a band unsure of the state of their sound and career. Both feature dalliances into electronics without ever really pulling out all the stops, and both achieved similar levels of success, the main difference being that for Depeche Mode, the stakes were far lower—their career had already peaked for good in the early-90s, and they had to know it, since they never made the same kind of play for returned relevance the way U2 did. Probably better for it, though, and I’d listen to Playing the Angel a few dozen times before I’d listen to How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb once.

7. “Lemon” (single from Zooropa)

Along with “Numb,” the most curious single U2 ever released, and along with “Numb,” the most superficially sublime. Bono, once again falsetto’d out, croons about who knows what over The Edge’s choppy, (tremolo?) guitar lines and Adam & Larry’s “futuristic German disco” (actually pretty accurate) beat. If it weren’t for the song’s bridge, with the piano and Bono’s trademark wailing, there’d be absolutely nothing to mark this song as U2. Naturally, it tanked on the pop charts, but the clubs seemed to dig it OK, and once again, another great, insanely creative U2 video. When exactly did these guys forget how to make a decent four-five minute clip, let alone crank classic after classic as if videos were so much Play-Doh? Do they just not care anymore?

8. “If God Will Send His Angels” (single from Pop and City of Angels original soundtrack)

Clearly, U2 were big ol’ Wim Wenders fans, with Zooropa’s “Stay” not only getting on the soundtrack to Wenders’ Faraway, So Close!, but the song taking the movie’s title for its subtitle (also to differentiate it from Lisa Loeb’s concurrent hit of the same name) and even its video getting directed by the man himself. And then, they offer up “If God Will Send His Angels” to City of Angels, a remake of Wenders’ Wings of Desire. Makes sense, especially for a song like this—more of Bono’s worrying about God, Jesus, blind people and the state of the world (“If God will send his angels / I sure could use ‘em here right now”). IGWSHA is the great U2 anthem that never was, a song just slightly too obscure and just not quite inspired enough to really have the mass appeal of their true classics. Still, it deserved to at least have Bono standing on a huge statue overlooking all of Los Angeles in the video or something. Hell, “Iris” got that much.

9. “North and South of the River” (B-side to “Staring At the Sun”)

Why this didn’t make the cut for Pop is one of a mysterious album’s biggest mysteries. As a low-key but fairly rousing anthem, this actually might’ve sounded more at home on All That You Can’t Leave Behind than on this, which I’d ordinarily mean as an insult, but this feels like the kind of song of redemption and hope that the utterly miserable second side of Pop so badly needed. And, really, this is way better than most of ATYCLB, which kind of sucks outside of “Beautiful Day” and “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” Perhaps I should’ve saved this for a hodgepodge album of those two albums, but that assumes there’s enough there for an entire album of decent material, which I’m not terribly optimistic about. (Prove me wrong, kids, prove me wrong!)

10. “The First Time” (Album track from Zooropa)

Funny, returning to Zooropa recently, this song kind of blindsided me. I had just assumed from memory that aside from “The Wanderer” (which, in retrospect, I kind of wish I had found room for here somewhere) the second side of Zooropa was filled with nothing but inconsequential tracks like “Daddy’s Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car” and “Some Days Are Better Than Others,” total garbage songs that reminded me why it had been so long since I listened to the album in the first place. But this ballad, a gorgeous number that could have been a huge “All I Want Is You”-style ballad if it ever bothered to swell, which, curiously, it never does—just some synth waves, a yearning guitar line, and one of Bono’s most soaring vocals for four minutes. Clearly, U2 grasped the song’s power better than I did, placing the song as the closer to their Best of 1990-2000 compilation, as did Brian Eno, who lobbied to have the song included on the Zooropa’s final cut. Lost classic, sorta, and the perfect way to end the “funeral” section of my Poopropa album.

11. “Discotheque” (Single, from Pop)

All right, so maybe this is one of them New Orleans-style funerals (“Hey, you’re dead, sucks but not really, let’s party”), since I’m ending the album with an upbeat dance song. It’s not quite as frenzied as “MOFO” but it’s probably the better song, although to say the public wasn’t ready for it in 1997 would be a gross understatement. Or just an incorrect statement in general, since it’s doubtful the world ever would be ready for a song this much in opposition to everything the band, or y’know, rock music seemed to once stand for. Fuck ‘em all though, ‘coz this song is kind of great—The Edge’s impossibly fuzzed-out guitar, the furious cowbell exploitation, even the utterly laughable “HUNH! HUNH! DEES-CO-TEK!” outro. I don’t even remember what I thought of this song when I first heard it in 1997, but I love it more with every year that passes, especially when I imagine the dropped jaws of “real” U2 fans when they first saw what the band they’d presumably follow to the end of the earth was up to these days.

Or, of course, when they saw the video. Half 2001: A Space Odyssey and half “Sex Over the Phone” (OK, maybe 25% / 75%), the thing is simply the gaudiest, glitziest, and, to be somewhat reductive, gayest thing ever visually attempted by a mainstream rock band, much less one of U2’s stature. Find a fan watching Bono wave the white flag at Red Rocks back in 1983 and tell him that less than 15 years from now, the boys will make a video where Bono humps the camera, The Edge sashays down the runway, Adam does his best cat-pose under a spinning disco-ball, and the whole band DRESSES UP LIKE THE FUCKING VILLAGE PEOPLE for the outro, but first, prepare to get punched in the throat. Compared to this, Bowie & Jagger’s “Dancing in the Streets” may as well be a late-80s Motley Crue video. It works as a symbol for this period at large—extremely risky, more than a little embarrassing, but kind of awesome and infinitely preferable to a former hole-in-one of a band content to hit for par for the rest of their career.

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In the Mix: The Police – Synchronized Machinery

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 30, 2007

Taken from an article I had published on Stylus a few days ago–now with MP3 links!

Even though they’ve sold a combined 11 million copies in the US alone, and regularly appear on all sorts of Best Albums of the 80s lists, I doubt there are too many people that could honestly say that Ghost in the Machine or Synchronicity are perfect albums. The Police only made one really solid album in their lifetime, and it wasn’t either of these—1980’s Zenyatta Mondatta runs at about a steady 8 ½, a markedly consistent effort in both sound and quality. Consistency is far from the name of the game with Ghost and Synchronicity, albums that match gorgeous pop songs with frenzied post-punk workouts, proggy head-scratchers, and, at least in the case of Synchronicity, the most egregious filler to ever occupy space on an album that actually outsold Thriller for fifteen weeks.

So I’m taking some sandpaper and a hot glue gun to the two albums, combining them at the points where they best complement each other, to create my idealized version of this phase in their career–Synchronized Machinery. And in my opinion, that involves taking out the albums’ megahits. Ghost‘s “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” is jettisoned, as is Synchronicity‘s “King of Pain,” and of course, 1983’s #1 single, “Every Breath You Take.” Despite going through long phases of wanting to destroy the radio whenever I heard them played, these three songs are somewhat indisputable in their classic status, and they’ve rightfully become part of our pop cultural DNA. Nonetheless, their sort of pop perfection tends to distract from what I really like about the Police’s last two albums—my favorite Police songs tend to be their most jarringly hybridized, ones that combine their disparate influences into somewhat perplexing, but thrillingly unique early-80s music. Part Clash, part Yes, part Byrne & Eno, but all Police.

And in the interest of keeping it strictly a Police effort, I’ve kept off a couple songs that sound more like Sting starting his solo career, including Synchronicity‘s bullpen tracks “Tea in the Sahara” and “Murder By Numbers,” as well as the quality b-side “Once Upon a Daydream.” I wanted to keep Synchronized Machinery to roughly the length of a regular Police album anyway, so they aren’t much missed.

01. “Synchornicity I” (from Synchronicity)
I generally hate doing this, but I ended up keeping the Synchronicity opener in place, since really, I can’t picture it anywhere else in the running order. It’s an odd introduction to one of the best-selling albums of the 80s, but it’s the perfect introduction to my punkprogwave Frankenstein album. It’s one of Syncrhonicity‘s weirdest and most frenetic tracks, a keyboard-heavy 6/4 groove played with the energy of the band’s punk-y early singles, matched with one of Sting’s most obscure pseudo-intellectual lyrics (“We know you, they know me / Extrasensory / Synchronicity”). Regardless of how little sense they make (and maybe they make perfect sense, I don’t know enough Jung to judge), the words sound great, and that’s all anyone ever asked of a man who thinks “Their logic ties me up and rapes me” is an acceptable line to introduce a hit chorus.

02. “Spirits in the Material World” (from Ghost in the Machine)
And of course, I hit right back with the Ghost opener. Possibly the least obviously commercial single the 5-0ers ever released, “Spirits” pits reggae’d-out synths against Sting’s bubbliest bass line and possibly the least satisfying chorus of the 80s, and somehow comes out with both a top 20 hit and one of Ghost’s coolest, if most enigmatic songs. There’s just so much weirdness contained in this song—the random sax gargles in the second verse, the pogoing synth-line that appears randomly in the song’s bridge and disappears almost as quickly, the chorus’s attempt to cram one beat too many into its titular hook—and hey, it all kind of works anyway. Don’t think Diddy’ll be sampling it any time soon, though.

03. “Miss Gradenko” (from Synchronicity)
In the interest of democracy, seems only fair to have one of drummer Stewart Copeland’s contributions in here. Even if “Gradenko” hardly registers as one of the Police’s most memorable song—I had completely forgotten how it went before prepping this article—it’s a pleasant enough slice of strangeness, and with three verses, two choruses and a guitar solo in two minutes, it’s one of Synchronized Machinery‘s most efficient tracks. Anyone know what the hell the lyrics are about?

04. “Too Much Information” (from Ghost in the Machine)
One of the better horn-infused post-punk dance party numbers that makes up Ghost‘s bread & butter. One of the band’s simplest choruses (“Too much information / Running through my brain / Too much information / Driving me insane”), and that chorus makes up about 80% of the song’s lyrics, but it’s played with enough enthusiasm that it’s hard to mind too much. Plus, it’s fun to wonder if those mid-song “SHIAH!“s were the inspiration for the similar shouts in Big Country’s “In a Big Country.”

05. “Invisible Sun” (from Ghost in the Machine)
Quickly on its way to becoming my favorite Police song ever. The Police really knew how to introduce a single—that creepy chuckle at the beginning of “Roxanne,” that far creepier bass rumble that opens “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” even just that little cymbal fill that kicks off “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”—and on those terms, the first 45 seconds of “Invisible Sun” is surely their masterwork. A chillingly undulating synth pattern fades in to introduce Sting’s extremely patient count off, shortly joined by Summers’s sublimely subtle guitar line and Copeland’s heartbeat-approximating drum thump. Sting doesn’t get to a full eight count, instead stopping short at six, creating a tension gloriously relieved by the introduction of the song’s “woah-oh-ah-oh-woah-oh” hook, spooky and yet strangely anthemic—the best tone-setter the song could’ve asked for.

The rest of the song is no slouch either, with one of Sting’s most surprisingly coherent political lyrics, and one of rebel rock’s great opening lines (“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life / Looking down the barrel of an Armalite”). As with “Spirits,” the song’s relatively bland chorus mainly just serves to accentuate how awesome the rest of the song, but no matter, since the rest can certainly weather the hit. Bono may have written a few songs more fist-pump worthy than this, but certainly none as hypnotic or fascinating.

06. “How Stupid Mr. Bates” (from the Brimstone & Treacle soundtrack)
Summers and Copeland were nice enough to provide their support on the soundtrack to the 1982 film Brimstone & Treacle, only remembered today for featuring one of Sting’s only lead acting performances. Along with two other tracks, the Police contributed this instrumental, a nice-enough low-key number that works beautifully as my side one closer. I’ve had several conversations with Stylus colleague Alfred Soto about the Police’s similarity to Rush, another foreign (both literally and figuratively) rock trio of the early 80s with highly conflicting influences, occasionally over-reaching lyrics and a love-him-or-hate-him frontman. Here the similarity is writ large—basically, “How Stupid Mr. Bates” sounds exactly like Rush, and if I told you this was an album track from Moving Pictures, you’d probably believe me (unless you’d already heard the album, and if not, why the hell haven’t you heard Moving Pictures yet???)

07. “Omegaman” (from Ghost in the Machine)
The album’s secret weapon, “Omegaman” was regrettably buried in the second side of the original Ghost in the Machine, but here it’s brought to the album’s center, where it deserves to be. Honestly, why the band opted for “Spirits” and “Invisible Sun” (and even “Secret Journey,” not found on this cut) over choosing this as a single is beyond me—with its chugging groove, heartbreaking bridge and simply stunning chorus riff, this is really about as classic as new wave guitar-rock gets. True, the song’s super-ambiguous lyrics probably did it no favors commercially, and Sting probably wasn’t too keen on the Summers-written song overshadowing his own material, but damn if this isn’t a beaut. Essential even for non-Police fans.

08. “Demolition Man” (from Ghost in the Machine)
Sort of hard to listen to without getting flashes of Sylvester Stallone and Taco Bell-heavy dystopias, but nonetheless, “Demolition Man” is the Police at their most badass (which is to say, not very, but it certainly beats the hell out of “Walking in Your Footsteps”). Summers and Copeland might’ve been pissed off at the band’s increasing reliance on horns, but fuck it, I think they sound tight on this, without making the band’s sound any less “raw” or “urgent” or “good” or whatever. Get a life, you two.

09. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” (from Synchronicity)
All right, so I cheated a little bit. There’s not too much punkprogwave about “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” a relatively straightforward ballad that hit the top ten and featured a horrible video with the band poncing around a maze of tall candles in slow motion (which, truth told, is actually an incredibly awesome video, and at least Sting isn’t wearing a stupid-looking hat for once). Still, I don’t feel too bad including this—even the most punkprogwave of albums still has room for one crowd-pleaser, and “Wrapped” is still the most obscure of the Police’s big ballads. Find me another ‘80s pop hit with the words “Mephistopheles” and “alabaster” in the lyrics and I’ll gladly swap it out for that boring French song from Ghost.

10. “Rehumanize Yourself” (from Ghost in the Machine)
Not too much to talk about on this one, it’s just another of the punkier, hornier (just in the one way, sorry) tracks from Ghost, with more of the political lyrics and such. It’s just slightly above-average enough to land my concoction’s much-coveted “buried-in-the-second-side” slot, so bully for that, I guess.

11. “Low Life” (b-side to “Spirits in the Material World”)
On the whole, the Police weren’t a great b-sides band—most of the stuff they left off was just a little too so-so to deserve inclusion on their full lengths, although considering some of the putrid shit that ended up on their full lengths, it’s hard to give them too much credit for good editing. In any event, “Low Life” is probably my favorite of this era’s b’s, a fairly average ballad that takes on an impressively epic quality in its final minutes, Sting yelling the title against some surprisingly tolerable sax wonking. In any event, it serves its place well on this album, as a set-up for the album’s closer…

12. “Synchronicity II” (from Synchronicity)
The only single to threaten “Invisible Sun” for my top-ranking Police tune. The introduction is almost as great—one note of piercing guitar distortion, leading into Copeland kicking off the band’s most ass-kicking upbeat groove. Something about the way Sting’s bass sounds when it’s just doing its one-note low rumble thing—boring as hell to play in Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s, but it sounds fucking great. If “Invisible Sun” beats U2 through subtlety and subversion, “Synchronicity II” beats them straight up at their own game, with Sting’s mountaintop “YAAAAHHHHH-OHHHHHHHH-OHHHHHH“ing and Summers’s unbearably tense riffing putting most of War to utter shame.

And unlike “Invisible Sun,” the rest of the song is just as amazing. There’s no chorus to let you down, because strictly speaking, the song doesn’t have a chorus—just a very extended verse form and some extremely memorable bridges, with the righteous major-chording of the former providing sharp and stunning contrast to the creeping darkness of the latter, and vice versa. And as an album closer, it couldn’t work more seamlessly. You’ve got the whole bookending thing with “Synch 1” going, as well as the whole “many miles away…” closing thing, permanently associated with the video’s classic closing panning shot. And hell, I just like albums that save their strongest rocker for the finale. Fairly underrated practice.

13. “Mother” (from Synchronicity) (Hidden Track)
Nah, just kidding. Still the worst song ever written.

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In the Mix: New Order for the Non-New Order Fan

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 12, 2007

There’s not a problem that I can’t fix, ‘coz I can do it in the mix

The great thing about being a New Order fan is that they experience a revival approximately every 14 months. A new album, a new box set, a new band or producer citing them as an influence (Jacques Lu Cont, we hardly knew ye), people’ll use just about any excuse to bring back New Order. And that’s nothing but good news as far as I’m concerned–despite that I don’t listen to them all too much on my own anymore, they’re still definitely my favorite band ever, and I love an excuse to dive back into their super-extensive back catalogue.

This time, it’s the release of Anton Corbijn’s recent Joy Division biopic Control, which has once again sparked up that age-old debate: would Joy Division have continued in their greatness had singer Ian Curtis not killed himself (spoiler alert, I guess), or was the transformation into New Order for the best? To me, there’s just about nothing to this debate at all–I believe the heights scaled by New Order during the first ten years or so of their reign of pop supremacy are far greater than any the band reached with Curtis, or by any other 80s band for that matter. However, not all are so convinced, and thus, they need some convincing.

Hence, I was comissioned (or, rather, volunteered myself) to create a New Order mix for a JD supporter not necessarily convinced of the band’s post-Curtis worth. Rather than just create a one-disc mix of the band’s best and best known songs (which for most intents and purposes, already exists and is called Substance), I decided to slack off on the New Order songs everybody knows–nothing off disc 1 of Substance besides “Confusion” and the original ’82 version of “Temptation,” no “Regret,” not even “Age of Consent” or “Love Vigilantes”. There’d be no way for me to create a one-disc mix to summarize the whole band’s catalogue anyway, so doing this at least takes off some of the pressure.

Instead, I decided to focus on the band’s second-tier, which, if not quite as rapturous and awe-inspiring as their best work, is just as cool and arguably even more fascinating. So I included at least one song off every album (minus 2005’s Waiting for the Sirens Call, which we here at IITS still refuse to officially acknowledge the existence of), a bunch of their weirder a’s and b’s (where “Murder” fits in their catalogue is still beyond me) and even some of their unreleased stuff. Hopefully it’ll show that New Order were a lot more than your average synth-pop band, and how there’s something in their catalogue for just about everyone. Plus, it’s New Order, you know it’s gonna be fucking good.

A Fond Farewell to Your Soul: New Order for the Non-New Order Fan:

  1. “Temptation” (Original ’82 12″)
  2. “As it is When it Was” (Brotherhood)
  3. “Ruined in a Day” (Republic, single)
  4. “Confusion” (’87 Version from Substance)
  5. “Love Less” (Technique)
  6. “Turn the Heater On” (Keith Hudson cover, non-album BBC session)
  7. “Your Silent Face” (Power, Corruption & Lies)
  8. “Fine Time” (Technique, single)
  9. “Elegia” (Low-Life)
  10. “Lonesome Tonight” (Substance, “Thieves Like Us” b-side)
  11. “Primtiive Notion” (Get Ready)
  12. “Mesh” (1981-1982 EP, NOT the song mislabeled as “Mesh” on Substance)
  13. “Dreams Never End” (Movement)
  14. “Touched By the Hand of God” (Non-album single)
  15. “Murder” (Limited non-album single)
  16. “Leave Me Alone” (Power, Corruption & Lies)
  17. The Happy One” (theme music from TV special)

think of “The Happy One” as a bonus track, it’s too ridiculous to be anything else.

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In the Mix: 12″ 80s Dance & Pop

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 1, 2007

There’s not a problem that I can’t fix, ‘coz I can do it in the mix

I posted a week or so ago about the compilations of 80s 12″s I had been listening to recently, which have continued to provide me some quality walking-around-the-city music. The compilations are far from perfect though, and just about every disc (six total) has three or four songs that were probably barely listenable in their three and four-minute versions, and are practically unbearable in their extended remixes. I was asked by an internet acquaintance to upload one-disc compilations of the best tracks on each, so I figured as long as I was doing that, I figured I may as well post about it here as well. I’ve got links for the whole mixes, as well as the individual tracks, with a few words on each. D/l a couple, there’s some good times to be had:

Your Heart Sweats, Your Teeth Grind: The Best of 12″ 80s / Pop:

  1. Duran Duran – “Girls on Film (Night Version)” Nocturnal remix of the Duran boys’ US breakthrough, further emphasizing the Chic influence of rhythm section John & Roger Taylor. Hard not to miss the famous photo-click intro, but more Duran Duran is always good news.
  2. Blancmange – “Living on the Ceiling (Remix)” Unfortunately overlooked in the States, this sitar-heavy UK smash is quickly becoming one of my favorite lost synth-pop numbers. Never heard the 7″ version, though, so I don’t really know how it compares.
  3. Godley & Creme – “Cry (Extended Remix)” A couple extra minutes of moaning and pulsating synths bring what is quite possibly the wussiest song ever written to epic proportions of self-pity. And yes, I do (mostly) mean that as a compliment.
  4. Jan Hammer – “Miami Vice Theme (Extended Remix)” Didn’t use to be the biggest fan of the U.S.’s last-ever instrumental #1, but this extendo version helped me realize what a classic combination of blinding egotism and nose-rubbing paranoia this theme song is. Makes me want to rent Season 1 even more.
  5. Erasure – “Victim of Love (12″ Mix)” Never heard this one before, but like the great majority of Erasure songs, it’s solid, over-romantic 80s pop. And the 12″ format treats this one pretty well.
  6. Donna Summer & Musical Youth – “Unconditional Love (Extended Version)” Already said all there is to say on this one.
  7. ABC – “Poison Arrow (US Jazz Mix)” Not exactly an improvement on the original, which’d be pretty hard to top, but an interesting variation. Much mellower than the super-bitter original, the Jazz Mix now has a flute as the song’s lead instrument, which isn’t exactly much of a replacement for Martin Fry’s anguished vocals, but it’s cool to hear what the song’d sound like as lounge-pop.
  8. Wang Chung – “Dance Hall Days (Remix)” Once again, not really superior to Wang Chung’s swinging original, but a fascinating and compellingly dated attempt to modernize the song by adding a faux-hip-hop beat to the song (with guest rap vocals to boot, sort of!) It doesn’t exactly gel, but it’s still possibly my favorite thing on here.
  9. Fine Young Cannibals – “Johnny Come Home (Extended Mix)” Only heard the original once or twice, but this jazzier, jammier version sounds like a step up from the FYC’s forgotten first hit to me. Really would’ve killed for an extra couple minutes of “She Drives Me Crazy” or “Good Thing,” though.
  10. Robert Palmer – “Addicted To Love (12″ Mix)” Not too much difference from the original here, just a slightly longer intro and an additional “Might as well face it!” break. Hardly rocket science, but a little extending the groove of Palmer’s definitive number couldn’t possibly be a bad thing.
  11. The Cure – “Lullaby (Extended Version)” Don’t know why, but I really like dancier remixes of The Cure’s stuff. The “Love Song” 12″ would’ve been preferable, but this eight-minute version of The Cure’s creepy-crawliest hit is still a winner. I probably should’ve bought Mixed Up years ago.
  12. Orange Juice – “Rip It Up (The Intermediate Edit)” Like “Addicted to Love,” not too much difference from the original here, just an extended intro and a new breakdown section providing the outro. The little additions here really do improve the song, though, and coming under the 5:00 mark, doesn’t push it the way some of the other tracks here do. A pleasant update.
  13. Will Powers – “Kissing With Confidence (Extended)” Easily the strangest track on here, a bizarro girl-group / spoken-word hybrid one-off produced by Todd Rundgren. Silly as all hell, but somehow totally irresistible. Must be heard to be believed.

Thinking of a Master Plan: The Best of 12″ 80s / Dance:

  1. Indeep – “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life (12″ Mix)” Don’t even know if there’s a 7″ of Indeep’s catchphrase-spawning soul-disco classic, but 5:38 of this song doesn’t seem nearly long enough. Would’ve liked to have seen the spooky, skeletal Shep Pettibone remix on here, but they already used him on another track, which we’ll see later.
  2. Art of Noise – “Beat Box (Diversion One)” Also not sure I’ve ever heard the shorter version here, but this one’s plenty long at 8:05. Still a great early hip-hop cut-up instrumental, though, sampled recently in that decent Tech N9ne song. The Art of Noise 12″ compilation is fairly essential shit if you’ve never heard it, by the way.
  3. Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam – “I Wonder if I Take You Home (12″ Mix)” The most exceedingly sweet and buoyant of Lisa Lisa’s 80s smashes, given extra emotional weight here with some additional dialogue (“I gave our relationship too much credit!“) and a flexible running-time. Great stuff.
  4. Wham! – “Everything She Wants” By far my favorite of George Michael’s occasionally spotty 80s hit record, if lacking the cultural cache of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”. Not too much new here, but that extended synth and hi-hat groove is some seriously addictive business.
  5. Level 42 – “Something About You” One of the better late-80s songs to prominently feature synth-horns, taken on by New Order and “Vogue” producer Shep Pettibone. Slightly dated, but definitely an improvement on the original.
  6. Central Line – “Walking Into Sunshine (Orignal Larry Levan 12” Mix) Never heard the original of this, but this is a pretty good light funk number given the works by legendary dance producer Levan.
  7. Eric B. & Rakim – “Paid in Full (Coldcut’s Seven Minutes of Madness Remix)” One of the most famous (and important) remixes of the 80s, and deservedly so. The first great exploration of the possibilites of the sampladelic asthetic, paving the way for a whole bunch of the tracks on here, including great ones by Bomb the Bass and S’Express that I cut for time, and because the extended versions weren’t terribly different from the originals.
  8. Quincy Jones – “Ai No Corrida (12″ Mix)” A semi-rare solo excursion (well, not entirely solo, pretty sure that’s someone else on vocals) by the biggest Grammy Award winner of all-time. Surprisingly good stuff, a little grittier and it could’ve been a Brothers Johnson number (speaking of which, where the hell are they on this comp? Or The Gap Band, for that matter? Not UK-friendly enough?)
  9. Donna Summer – “I Feel Love (Patrick Crowley Remix)” Originally from ’77, but I guess the Patrick Crowley version is different enough to count for the 80s. Stretching Donna Summer’s influential future-disco standard to a whopping 16 minutes, it could probably stand to get shaved down a little, but an “I Feel Love” remix that goes even HEAVIER on the synths can take all the time it needs, really.
  10. Stock, Aitken & Waterman – “Roadblock (12″ Mix)” Like “Ai No Corrida,” a rare step out from behind the decks from UK superproducers Stock, Aitken and Waterman (behind essentially the entire careers of Rick Astley, Bananarama, and countless others). Surprisingly low key and groovy for such crassly commercial dudes, definitely a pleasant surprise, even if they were assholes about M/A/R/R/S sampling it for “Pump Up the Volume”.

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