Friday, October 13, 2006
Written by Tío Esqueleto
When word first surfaced back in 1988 that New Order frontman Bernard Sumner and The Smiths guitarist/all-around Manchester-darling Johnny Marr were to collaborate on a side project, the UK music scene was all ears. Could it get any better than one part Joy Division/New Order and one part The Smiths? Having worked together briefly in 1983 for fellow Factory mates Quando Quango, longtime friends and mutual fans of each other Sumner and Marr met up in the summer of 1987 and decided to hit the studio with the hopes of adding something new to the scene they had both helped to create: the amalgamation of music, drugs, fashion, and technology that was the Manchester music scene.
With Electronic, both Marr and Sumner saw this as a chance to take a break from their current mainstays (Sumner having just finished recording and touring New Order’s Technique, and Marr rounding out a stint both on record and on tour for The The’s seminal Mind Bomb album), and to further the marriage of Manchester indie guitar-pop with a growing dance music scene. They also saw it as a catalyst to collaborate with people they’d always wanted to work with, starting quite simply with each other. In 1989, Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe entered the fold and what resulted was something not quite New Order, The Smiths, or Pet Shop Boys, but rather something very unique and most importantly, very Manchester.
Get The Message: The Best of Electronic is the first hits compilation from this UK super duo, now legends in there own right. The 15-track disc spans three albums over nine years; represented here are various choice cuts from 1991’s Electronic, 1992’s stand-alone single, “Disappointed”, 1996’s Raise The Pressure, and 2000’s Twisted Tenderness.
It opens with “Forbidden City”, the opening track from Raise the Pressure. Out of all the tracks penned by Sumner/Marr, none scream The Smiths/New Order more so than this, the perfect trumpeting of their ‘96 return. Marr’s guitar jangles and wails behind Sumner’s sweetly melancholic vocals. One has to wonder if this isn’t what the beginnings of an unrealized Smiths album would have sounded like had Morrissey lent his signature croon back in 1996, or the same side of the opposite coin had Peter Hook lent one of his signature bass lines to the mix.
“Getting Away With It” is the song that started it all. It reached #11 on the UK charts, hit the Top 40 here in the states, and still holds its own nearly 16 years later. Co-written by Tennant, who also sings the chorus, it is “the” Electronic song to those who never heard more than this first single and have since distorted and wondered all these years “whatever happened to that one New Order song with the guy from the Pet Shop Boys?”. Unlike “Forbidden City”, “Getting Away With It” is a sound all its own, the sound of Electronic.
From the same vein we get the bouncy singles “Get the Message” and “Feel Every Beat”. Both are very much a Sumner/Marr product and both scream Manchester, not unlike early Stone Roses or Happy Mondays of that period. Sadly, these are the only three songs represented from that first album. The one glaring omission being “Patience Of A Saint”, another track co-penned and sung by Tenant.
Track five is the single mix to 1992’s “Disappointed”, the highly anticipated follow-up to the debut album. Again, co-written and this time sung entirely by Tenant, “Disappointed” is a piano-heavy, Euro-House track that falls a hair short of expectation. It is aptly titled, but I must say it sounds better to me today than it ever did then.
What follows is a mixed bag of singles and prime cuts from the remaining two Electronic albums, Raise The Pressure and Twisted Tenderness. The former finds Marr and Sumner working with former Kraftwerk member Karl Bartos, a legend both Marr and Sumner had longed to work with since their humblest beginnings. “Second Nature”, “For You”, and “Imitation Of Life” are all worthy selections, the latter being the B-side to the already mentioned “Forbidden City”. Again, there are glaring omissions form the source material. Foremost is “Dark Angel”, a driving song that is representative of the dance music revolution of the mid 1990’s. A tad dated, probably, but its absence is certainly noticed in a collection of hits.
Twisted Tenderness saw a return to the rock roots of both Marr and Sumner’s prospective pasts. Not nearly as fun and accessible as prior Electronic releases (it actually serves more as foreshadowing for what would be Sumner’s next New Order release, Get Ready), it did however provide “Out Of My League”, another classic Electronic song.
Get The Message is an unexpected surprise. Not that it’s surprisingly good, quite the contrary. It’s great! The surprise is that it was ever conceived of in the first place. A Greatest Hits from a band (a side project, no less) scarcely heard of by those outside “the know”. One would think that anyone interested in a Greatest Hits, from a band like this, would already own all of the source material. Sure, but to that I say here they are, all in one place, abridged, and with only a few minor omissions/complaints. The packaging is pretty nifty too! A-