Now this is a supergroup from the not so distance past which I have finally given more than a brief glance at. Back in 1989, this band released the one off single "Getting Away With It" which is a wonderful marriage of Pet Shop Boys pop, New Order vocals and Johnny Marr's subtle guitar tone. This came about when Bernard Sumner was getting frustrate with his band mates from New Order not being receptive to his ideas about adding more synths to their work. He tried to produce a solo album but did not enjoy the experience so he drafted in Johnny Marr to help him after they had first met under a differ project called Quando Quango in 1984. After the release of that first single, they ended up doing a show supporting Depeche Mode in America and then the album happened as they naturally do with these people. This was firstly released on Factory records, but being released on Parlophone records in 1994 after Factory records collapsed. Now to review this album I am just looking at the main body of the work itself, as the versions on Deezer and Spotify are the deluxe editions with a disc worth of extra materials, but I am just here for the album proper, so Messrs Sumner, Marr and sometimes Tennant, here I am now....
Firstly the production is of its era in that electronic music was much more simpler back in the day, also all the production job was done by the band themselves so it is very much insular in its purpose. The purpose of this was to infuse the contemporary dance music of the time such as Italo House with Sumner's own brand of indie. Basically I think they wanted to marry the sound of Black Box and Technotronic (if these names are not familiar to you, go to YouTube and check out the videos for "Ride On Time" and "This Beat Is Technotronic" for a reference point) with the New Order sound, to update the synth moments of Sumner's day job. It seems slightly strange that New Order were resistant to this sort of idea as it is not as if they have not been at the forefront of this brand of dance and indie before. Something must have been rotten in the state of the band for them to be so negative towards an idea that was naturally up their collective street.
Starting out with a look at 90's style British Police tactics and style towards Rave Culture, "Idiot Country", starts off with an aggressive tone and wah wah guitar that fits in perfectly with lyrics and dark undertone that is coming across from the duo. Not so much of a euphoric start, but more of a statement of intent and a damming condemnation of those aggressive moments that had been used in the early 90's towards raves and particularly the drugs that surrounded them (basically the same stuff they do these days, except it was more in the press). "Reality" is next with its mixed message about relationships from a rather selfish point of view of contradictions. Musically it is in need of some laser beams and a nightclub, it is a dark moment of indulgence and my deity is it a great moment on this album. Marr keeps himself to the background and lets the rest of the music do the talking, which goes to show he can sometimes get it right. Which brings us onto "Tighten Up" and it's almost A-Ha sounding keyboard at the beginning (which was the third single from this album). It is all about the end of another relationship, the music is rockier on this one and closer to the darker days of New Order and The Smiths; it is another gem of a song that can make the older indie generation smile that wry smile of their faces. Again, Marr and Sumner know when to work their collective magic here and when to let the other one shine.
"The Patience Of A Saint" is the first of two contributions on this album with David Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys and also has Chris Lowe from the Pet Shop Boys working his magic over the keyboards as well. This is the most pop number of the album if the truth be told, full of that wonderful PSB sounds which they would go on to explore into themselves with 'Behaviour', the song is a lament on how the singer's are very self involved and would try the patience of the people anointed by God himself. Very dark, brooding and with a lovely little horn section going on in the background, it is a joy on the ears. Next is the first fruit of this labour "Getting Away With It", which is still a firm favourite in the ATTIWLTMOWOS office/towers/house; for some reason it was not on the album when it was first released, but it is on later releases. This is a perfect union of pop sensibilities and the dark moody under lying tension that is the hallmark of Sumner's music. The flamenco guitar styling by Marr in the middle of this is sublime and Tennant is a perfect lighter fold for Sumner to bounce off. I do wonder what the rest of this album would have been like if there was more work between them (there was one more track, a one off single called Disappointed), but alas it is just those two moments.
"Gangster" is next is and it brings out A-ha's keyboards again, and acts like a positive mood changer compared to what has gone before; however the lyrics are just as moody as what has gone before. Also, this is a distant cousin to "True Faith" from New Order and also has pieces that would not be out of place on "Blue Monday" as well. It is a decent track which is not bad, but nothing that I would care for outside of the album. "Soviet" is next and it is the shortest of the album; it is an instrumental that bridges the original two sides of the album. Foreboding and sounding like the template for some modern computer game music as well. It is a lovely little piece, but again it is not too essential in the greater scheme of things if we're honest. However, "Get The Message" is a truly essential moment for the early 90's indie dance movement. This was the second song to be released as a single; it is more focused on the guitar and looser moments of the song. The synth is more background compared to some of the other parts of the records. It was not a favourite at the time, but looking back I can see how important it was to my musical upbringing.
"Try All You Want" is back with the ambivalent lyrics of rejection and turning your back on something that you had previously wanted. The keyboard on this song does not work for me, didn't work when I first heard it and it has dated the most of the whole album. It just does not add up on the record for me, I am sure it might have made perfect sense when you’re off your tits of drugs; but it does nothing here. After this you have "Some Distant Memory" which continues the movement of "Try All You Want". However, Mr Marr saves this with some exception guitar work that was missing on the previous track. It is a close thing to be honest, as it could have quite easily been the same as "Try...." and a bit of a disappointment. Ending the album you have "Feel Every Beat" which was the last single to be harvested from this album which should have been the crowning glory. Yet it is a glorious failure at that task as Sumner tries to rap on this song just like he did on "World In Motion" and it almost kills the song. Note the world almost, as it saved by the music and the stylistic movement of the rest of the song. This could have been the track of the album; instead it is just a decent number.
On revisiting this album, there are some parts which are very much of its time and have not aged very well. Overall it is very much an album of its era and unless you are a fan of early 90's indie and dance you may wonder what the fuss is about. For me, it is a mix back of glory and blunder in places; thankfully it is more glory than blunder. The parts they did with the Pet Shop Boys are testament to how well they understand the band and could focus them and it is not as if Sumner & Marr cannot pull a tune together; there is just points on here which either needed a second ear outside of the band to change it or to be replaced. For those parts I can see why the other members of New Order resisted the material; however there are some parts of this I cannot see why they turned them down. But for the album itself, it is a very good release and it has it home within the English indie scene which cannot be denied. There are two further releases from them, I wonder if they changed at all.....
7.5 out of ten - This is good and well worth a check
Top track - The Patience Of A Saint
You can purchase the special edition of the album from Amazon here
There is no Electronic website, but here is a link to the New Order one for a look at Bernard Sumner's activities
And here is a link to the Johnny Marr website as well
And just for the joy of it, here is the Pet Shop Boys website as well
You can listen to the album on Spotify here
Or is you have a Deezer preference, you can listen to it here (both this and the Spotify link are for the deluxe version on the album)