There are some absolute gems on Republic, and Young Offender is one of them. It would have been one of the stronger contenders for single release (and remix), and its quality may have more-than-something to do with the fact that – as one of the earliest tracks* written for Republic during Factory’s dying days – Pascal Gabriel had a hand in its (pre)production as he did with Regret. I’ve got a lot of time for Gabriel; having produced some of my favourite songs by S’Express, Bomb The Bass, Inspiral Carpets, and of course The Other Two, and I often wonder how Republic might’ve been shaped had his involvement continued.
In my opinion Young Offender** features some of the best programming on Republic; particularly with respect to the dipping and weaving synth bassline, the rapid fire house piano sequence, and the cute pitch-bend on the brassy riff in the instrumental break. I also really like the production on Bernard’s verse vocals, which take on a call / response feel whereby the first stanza is singular and the second stanza takes on a vocal harmony, not unlike the approach Brian Eno is known for (a-la Talking Heads, John Cale, U2 and his own work). Bernard’s vocal performance is excellent, and the overall production really is top-notch. It sounds like the band is firing on all cylinders; with Hook’s contributions not completely lost in the mix (although I’d have mixed his performance a little higher to cut through), and – as with much of Republic – Young Offender is dense with layers of fine keyboard production by Gillian, Stephen and Bernard, but in this case because the drum programming doesn’t overpower in a ‘muddy middle’ the many synth melodies are given space to glisten.
So Young Offender is a veritable peach, but is it worthy of 5 stars? No, because there’s something about all of the Republic-era primarily-electronic songs that has them fall short in my estimation when compared with the likes of Fine Time, Vanishing Point, Bizarre Love Triangle, The Perfect Kiss, Blue Monday and Everything’s Gone Green that came before, and I think it’s this: for over 10 years New Order had been setting a standard by which all others were measured, but by the time of Republic their works (at least to my ears) were contrasted against a vast and exciting field of electronic music innovation – the children of Blue Monday*** – that had finally overtaken them (and indeed their choice of producers).
Republic sounds very polished, was a well-deserved #1 album, and contains some comfortably excellent New Order songs, but for the first time it didn’t astonish me and it would be a while before they managed to do so once again.
* I’m told that the contents of what may be the mythical FACT 300 demo tape included Young Offender (working title Identity), Regret, and Times Change (working title Heavy One). It’s likely that Pascal Gabriel worked on these three at the early demo stage.
** The conjecture (among those who worry about such things) around the Pet Shop Boys having a track called Young Offender on their Hague-produced Very album that same year is a (very small) storm in a (very small) teacup. IMHO it’s just an interesting coincidence – nothing to see here. They are both great tracks, and that’s all that matters.
*** But what of the children of the children of Blue Monday; i.e those producing electronic music now? Was the period of 1983-1998 the golden age of EDM; the degree of innovation of which is unlikely to be repeated? Is everything now just a mash-up of what came before or am I just being grumpy? Answers via feedback – what do you consider to have been remarkable and original in the last 10 years?
Available on: Republic