Thursday, February 28, 2008

Song of the day

"Confusion", by New Order. I have a confession to make: until last weekend, I had never owned a copy of "Substance", possibly the best, and certainly the most generous, single-artist compilation in the history of the world. I think I held off buying it for so long on the misguided assumption that it was too good to be true; it is too good, but it is also true. Life's not often like that.

"Blue Monday", of course, is the song that blew everything out of the water, and in many ways it continues to do so: try to imagine a world in which it had never happened; you can't, nor would you want to. Michael Clark gave me a copy of the original 12" for my birthday back when it first came out, thus contributing to the financial loss that Factory made on each record sold. (In fact, I can't help thinking that that statistic, even if correct, is as misleading as any other statistic. "Blue Monday" in its original form might have been a loss-maker, but if so it must also have been a loss-leader: much of the money Factory presumably subsequently made from New Order and merely from resultant brand recognition would not have been made but for the doors forced open by "Blue Monday".) Michael possibly assumed, and I'm not going to say he was definitely wrong to do so, that I had a number of self-erected "attitudinal" barriers to entry that would have caused me to reject "Blue Monday" out of hand, and that if it was going to be let into my world, as it had to be, it would have to be pushed. Thanks, Michael.

That said, it is possibly "Confusion" that had the bigger effect on my own ears. Whereas "Blue Monday" took some pre-existing ideas and expanded them out of all proportion, "Confusion" took what we understood as the "sound" of a song and threw it away. I had, literally, never heard anything like it. My guess is that what drew me to "Confusion" was the affinity I sensed between it and the Jamaican dub reggae that by then had long taken hold of me in a deep and profound way, and the way that geniuses (yes) like Lee "Scratch" Perry and King Tubby had opened up the possibilities of recorded sound in ways never before thought of, using in many cases techniques involving nothing more than (perhaps literally) scissors and sticky tape.

The name "Arthur Baker", which meant nothing to me, was what was attached to the sound of "Confusion". It was as if the beats had had all of the juice sucked out of them and had been stripped back not just to the basic sound to something less than the basic sound. Ditto the keyboards. "Minimal" is a word bandied around a lot these days. Is this where it started? Certainly, it is difficult to see how further out New Order, and music in general for that matter, could have gone from here, and indeed New Order subsequently went into a more pop-song-oriented direction from then on - and let's be clear that this is not a criticism in any way. But, in the way of these things, it is arguable that the next step on from "Confusion" was not made for a couple of decades, when Ricardo Villalobos turned up to the party.