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New Order: Peel Session #2 EP (1982)

June 20, 2012

Roll: 3-10-7
Album: New Order, Peel Session #2

I sadly spent the entirety of my high school years oblivious to the fact Joy Division were probably my favourite band. At times I think things might have turned out very different for me if I’d been exposed to Unknown Pleasures at a more impressionable age.

But then I’d already been devouring the Bauhaus catalogue and it  hadn’t done me a lick of good so who’s to say it’d have been an epiphany of any sort. Keep in mind my irrational rejection of The Cure and The Smiths at that time. I didn’t like those “mopey, depressing, whiners” (I remember saying to someone in art class) despite apparently finding Leonard CohenJesus and Mary Chain and Skinny Puppy to be rays of joyous sunlight.

Really if there were two bands I should have been listening to in high school it’s Joy Division and New Order. Especially the latter given my closeted Pet Shop Boys obsession and the grudging realization that Depeche Mode‘s Violator was a little brilliant. This latter revelation was only a shock because I was labouring under the misconception Depeche Mode were nothing more than a male version of Bananarama (who I actually kinda secretly liked).

The first time I was aware of New Order’s existence was in my grade 10 gym class. It was some kind of free gym unit where we were allowed to bring in tapes to play on the boombox while we went from station to station. These two guys, Ethan and Mitch, brought in Substance and I was annoyed to find myself bobbing my head to “True Faith”.

I was a long haired, denim and flannel clad, punk-leaning headbanger and Ethan and Mitch looked like Martin Gore and Andy Bell respectively—it was unfathomable to think we might enjoy the same music. I knew for a fact they liked Erasure (“A Little Respect” was another secret favourite of mine) and, besides, they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. This somehow meant, in typical high school logic, that anything they liked was strictly verboten. Though about a year later we were all listening to Nitzer Ebb.

So I immediately filed New Order under the general heading of “synth crap by faggots” and carried on listening to quality rock music by the manly men in Poison.

The next time I wrote off New Order didn’t even involve listening to them. It was the summer before my grad year and I was hanging out with some older guys who’d just graduated. We were sat around a tape deck in the empty living room of the house they were renting in East Vancouver, half-listening to the newly released Carved in Sand by The Mission. While we lamented how much of a disappointment it was, I asked a guy I think I had a bit of a crush on named Mike to fill me in on New Order (he looked not unlike a cross between Eric Stoltz and Johnny Rotten). Having recently gotten into Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb, I’d seen New Order’s name dropped in a few articles and thought maybe I should given them a second chance.

Mike seemed to harbour some vague resentment about their origins as Joy Division and said, rather dismissively, “They’re like a depressing Depeche Mode. But poppier.”

A heavy—if confusing—indictment indeed. Even though Violator was steadily growing on me, New Order didn’t sound like they’d be my cup of tea. Then again, he also described Tones On Tail as, “Bauhaus but slowed down and even more depressing,” which I felt was almost entirely inaccurate.

Still, if Mike said New Order weren’t worth bothering with, then it must be so. He had really stylish Fluevog shoes, after all.

At some point in college, I began listening to Joy Division. I don’t remember if I went backwards from “Blue Monday” or if I ended up at New Order moving forward from “Disorder”. I suspect the former since “Blue Monday” was on almost every New Wave compilation I bought around then and I don’t remember being terribly familiar with the song previous to that.

Ultimately it’s a moot point because what matters is my absolute favourite music from the post-punk era is New Order from about the day after Ian Curtis‘s death in 1980 up to this Peel Session recorded in 1982, just prior to Power, Corruption and Lies (1983).

The session features two tracks which would be featured on the classic album (“We All Stand” and “5-8-6”) and popular opinion would have you believe these are inferior demo takes. The production certainly has a thinner sound, but New Order always suited a more minimal, more abstract aesthetic.

It’s not an approach which would suit the pounding, dark techno of “Blue Monday” and their subsequent career in pop music, but it suits their art rock period to a tee. A period of ecstatic, organic, dubby chilliness which effectively ends here. It’s the last time New Order sounds like a band on record instead of a recording unit.

It might seem a subtle distinction and, for those turned off by the inaccessibility of their early work, the advancement towards tight arrangements and pop hooks might seem a welcome trade off. It would certainly be foolish to deny the importance of the trio of artistically rewarding alternative pop albums that begins with Power, Corruption and Lies and ends with Brotherhood (1986).

But for me, this is the last time New Order sound truly engaged, creative, transcendentally magical and just a little bit more than one of the best bands from the ’80s.

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4 comments

  1. Thank you for reminding me of the Place. Can I tell Mike how much authority his shoes gave him?


    • You definitely can. Though I’m sure his response would be something like, “I never wore Fluevogs.” But in my mind he did.


  2. I quite enjoy your reviews and you’ve got a good system going for pulling out oldies you might not listen to otherwise. Inspires me to try the same, although all the cases disappeared long ago to make moving easier.


    • Thanks. Maybe you could employ a skeet shooter and a lawn darts target.



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