So many wonderful New Order album tracks over the years never surfaced as singles; superior though they may have been to some of the actual single choices at the time, or indeed where no single was issued from the album. Off the top of my head… Dreams Never End, Age Of Consent, Vanishing Point, Morning Night & Day, and many more. Mr Disco is another one: platinum leftfield electronic pop, full of cool riffs & melodies, seamless production, and thumpingly good beats and bass. Being so spoiled for choice is a measure of the band’s (and indeed Technique’s) greatness.
Mr Disco brings the groove on the album’s side-B trilogy of bliss, and there’s little left in the tank at the end. It’s a textbook example of top drawer late-’80s New Order electronica: wistful verse and punchy chorus vocals, over rolling layers of synth & rock bass, lush synths, bells & strings, plus superlative drum programming (i.e unlike most house/acid at the time, which was necessarily simplistic and repetitious).
I’m in awe when Morris & Co cut loose with some truly joyous programming, and Mr Disco is a 124bpm case-in-point: full of house sounds, and – with a careless but wonderful disregard for shame – rimshots, handclaps, syndrums, timpani and cowbell. The name says it all: the track’s mainline is a muscular update on disco; which under normal circumstances – and in the hands of lesser mortals – would end up as retro as a cheese fondue, but unlike disco the track is interspersed with intricate drum breaks and multi-layered bridging sequences. Example 1: the first instrumental break between 1:11 and 1:42, full of orchestra strikes and syndrum bleeps. Example 2: the peerless break between 2:37 and 3:27 which includes an exuberant switch from timpani to cowbell, plus that emphatic snare pattern rebuilding the song back to a full chorus. Also worth mentioning is the synth/slap-bass sequencing, tonally emphasised by Hooky (admittedly in the background, but in this case appropriately-so), which provides a great punchy bottom end. Finally I want to acknowledge New Order’s attention to detail, because its the sonic nuances and textures in Mr Disco that make this gem of a track sparkle like it does; the reverb/delay and phasing on particular drum shots, the stereo positioning, the subtle synth pads just there in the background giving depth and atmosphere, the selective fade-in and dissipation of chattering sequencer riffs, and lastly – again – a terrific and thoughtful ending; in this case Bernard whispering a final reprise before the track smashes to a halt – like a Tron light-cycle into a wall, splintering into a million shards of digital glass.
Bernard’s in great form: ‘I tried but I cannot find you, tell me now what do I do‘, ‘Our rendezvous just ended in sorrow; without you there’s no tomorrow‘ and ‘I can’t find my peace of mind because I need you with me all of the time‘. Regret, yearning, hope and angst in equal amounts – just like my 19 year-old self. In fact, now that I think about it, the subtle shifts over time in Bernard’s missives have, by and large, felt contextually right: abstraction & impressionism early-on, to the trials & tribulations of relationships and our place in the world, to ruminations on the self and what life should really be about; all suitably interspersed with less complex matters such as football, getting hammered, and dancing ’til you drop. It’s a real-life arc of vision which we can appreciate only because of the longevity and – even after 37 years – quality of the band and its music. And I’m sure they still have much to say… so bring it on.
Mr Disco. One of New Order’s great album tracks.
P.S I wonder who in the band (or their inner circle) is the actual Mr Disco? Thoughts via feedback please…
Available on: Technique