Every time I hear this song, I feel a shock right through with a bolt of blue… because its quite simply one of the greatest dance tracks of all time.
I was in my final year at high school in 1986 when this gorgeous anthem emerged; of sweeping arpeggiating strings, euro-pop sequences, massive chords, layers of superb electro bass, and of course Bernard’s classic lines of love, sadness, regret, doubt, feelings and movement – delivered in his inimitable boyish slightly-sad-but-enthusiastic style. Thinking back to my early teens, I listened to some pretty questionable stuff; searching for meaning in those confused times, and seeking one thing I could point to and say this is who I am and this is what I like. It was Bizarre Love Triangle that called out to me like a titanium-sleeved treasure in the record store, and which rang out of every sound system in those mid-80’s clubs on the Gold Coast that easily accepted our fake IDs. Talk about heavy rotation… it set my musical compass to the alternative/dance genre and I’ve never looked back. Not knowing it at the time, but my future wife was having a similar epiphany and its no coincidence that Bizarre Love Triangle was a) the one piece of non-redneck vinyl in the DJ’s record box at the only-club-in-the-village in her home town, and b) remains our go-to track when we’re feeling the need to dance like no one’s watching…
Bizarre Love Triangle for me also defines a new phase in New Order’s evolution. There’s a new gloss to the sound – still firmly alternative – driven by new synths & electronic kit, and new approaches to sequencing and production that are distinctly post-Hannett, post-Baker, and post-Robie. It delivered a modern Euro sound, yet thankfully didn’t tip over the precipice into Italo Disco, SAW, and other equivalents that only offered passing interest (and tooth decay). This new phase of instrumentation and production would guide the band through True Faith, the Substance re-recordings, and Touched By The Hand of God; before changing tack yet again somewhere on the island of Ibiza in the golden glow of 1988.
Version-wise, BLT offers up some great diversity. The album mix is BLT in its purest form; as written, produced and recorded by the band. The sound is less crystalline than the remixes. More raw, with the bass and drum machines in particular sounding sparse and less processed. The synth sequences are gorgeous and distinct, and the crescendo is beautifully mixed.
The commercial 12″ (and edited down 7″) versions were handled by Shep Pettibone; an American contemporary of Arthur Baker’s, yet seemingly with an ear for a more commercial European sound. It’s a remix certainly; i.e. it’s one of the first – other than Subculture, which was bastardised – to be handed over for remixing rather than done as a joint production. The sound is smoother and more fluid than the album version, and there’s a natural emphasis on extending the song with breakdowns, vocoding, new patterns and sequences for club consumption; all of which are perfectly fine and good, and where the stems are thankfully drawn from the original, rather than – circa’95 – having nothing to do with the song. Mixed together with the curious Bizarre Dub Triangle B-side and you have all the makings of a 15 minute tour-de-force; perfect for the aforementioned club scene of 1986. You also have all the ingredients necessary for the teams at Hot Tracks and Razormaid – the original mash-up wizards – to splice together their own handy “DJ only” (read questionably legal) extended versions.
Fast forward to 1994 and London Records’ need to release (yet another) Best-of collection, and for some reason tweak several of the songs. Why fix what isn’t broken? BLT-94 offers little in the way of original thought. The mix is ‘chunkier’, with the percussion and bass sequences sounding more compressed, and some change of layering emphasis around the strings and synths. The companion ‘Rest-of’ compilation includes the Armand Van Helden mix of BLT: pointless, irrelevant, and bearing little resemblance to the original, its a poster child for shit remixes of the period.
Fast forward another 10 years, and Richard X takes aim with his version, included as a B-side to the 3rd of three 7″s issued for the Waiting For The Sirens Call single. This is a quality update, paying tribute to the original Pettibone remix with a modernised drum and bass sequence at its core, some new instrumental overlays, choices of breakdown and rebuild, and variations on Bernard’s vocals. There’s a nice change of key in the run-out as well. BLT was also remixed by Crystal Method around the same time, and their versions aren’t too bad – particularly the completely new core sequences; but IMHO they’re rendered ultimately forgettable by sounding too ‘video gamey’.
A staple of the band’s live set, to this day Bizarre Love Triangle remains a huge live experience, and still seems to squeeze a little bit of joy from Bernard; offering whoops of delight, a sly bit of dad-dancing, and a roar from the crowd as that famous sequencer line kicks in. Its a beautiful thing when tens of thousands of people sing Every time I see you falling, I get down on my knees and pray; hearts in their mouths, with the stage awash with those bolts of blue…
Bizarre Love Triangle is a remarkable, beautiful and timeless piece of dance music.
Could Brotherhood get any better than this? …well actually…