Back in mid-2001, as prompted and with huge expectation, I got ready.
Crystal was a phenomenal opening salvo, which I will discuss below, but when Get Ready dropped, something in me derailed as I listened through the album, and I think it was my unquestioning love of New Order; a torpor which wouldn’t be shaken loose until Music Complete. So I’ve been slightly apprehensive about entering this phase of my blog, because I feared that I’d built up some ill feelings over the years towards this album and ‘Sirens; perhaps because of the descent into the legal mire that closed out the period with such bitterness, perhaps because it was an unfamiliar version of the group without Gillian, or perhaps because of the band’s embracing of textbook rock and the over-influence of (or was it dependency on) producers.
But you know what? With the wisdom of hindsight I’ve come to realise that I overthought all of these ‘issues’, as I know many fans did (there was some real vitriol spewed out at the time on the Ceremony list, NOOL, and elsewhere). I’ve given myself pause to think about Get Ready, and have come to the conclusion that – a couple of shit tracks aside – it is by & large a really good album; being the clear break from their past that needed to happen. In 2001 another Technique was never going to work, neither was another PC & L. In name, presentation and content, this (and the next) album offered a simpler manifesto that I reacted somewhat negatively to, and rather than getting ready for something different and giving it a chance, I was getting ready by wishing for more of their past glories. We New Order fans can be a selfish bunch sometimes.
There’s some stupid fun to be had on this album, and as always there are some wonderful moments. Which brings me to Crystal – and specifically the album version…
Talk about getting it between the eyes! What a cracking song this is, and a stunning comeback. It fizzles and sparks with such energy, and as regular readers of this blog will know by now, when I love a track as much as this I go all forensic – so here goes!
- The album version of Crystal has a thrilling build-up; combining the opening bars of slightly distorted piano (with their unusual cycle and subtle volume fluctuation), emotive atmospheric synths, and Dawn Zee’s wonderful vocals. Zee is an inspired choice, because with every backing performance she has done for New Order she seems to have nailed the brief. A great vocalist!
- The sonic palette for Crystal is completely different to Republic, particularly in the percussion, with a more acoustic-sounding performance that suits the track much better than an electronic kit.
- Having spent more time in clubs than garages over the years, the jet-blast of guitars in Crystal is a wondrous thing; with its midrange assault well-balanced by both a synth bass and Hooky’s top-notch performance. There are details in the performance & production of Crystal that add so much to the track’s overall swagger; one example being (and I freely admit to being obsessive here) Hooky’s opening bass notes on the 3rd, 6th and 8th bars of the middle-eight instrumental break, where his rapid movement up (or is it down?) the fret sounds like a growl, giving the break some added oomph. Excellent!
- Other terrific details include the locust-like spray of sound that backs the ‘I don’t know what to say‘ line, the brassy flare that emphasises the ‘Here comes love’ line, and the reverbed bell triplets on the ‘Keep it comin…’ lines; the latter also excellent in how they alternate between Bernard’s singing and harmonised whispering, and Dawn’s backing.
- I love the ‘We’re like Crystal, we break easy‘ lyric and Sumner’s intentional bum-note that ends the ‘You shock me to the core‘ line, and unlike other songs across Get Ready and ‘Sirens Call, Bernard’s songwriting and singing on Crystal is completely distinctive rather than derivative. And although upon first listen, the ‘Whoooo‘s and ‘Heeeey‘s came across as a bit over the top, they quickly caught on as a signature piece of New Order bliss; not unlike Bernard’s whoops of joy from earlier times, but taken to an extreme form. In fact I’d suggest that it’s on Crystal that you get Bernard at his most euphoric, particularly on live performances of the period which are full of his whistles and vocal stretches; like the performance on Retro – recorded at the Australian Big Day Out festival on the Gold Coast in 2002 (which Anna & I were very happily at).
- Finally there’s Crystal’s distinctive piano break which loops around itself beautifully. It’s one of my favourite New Order riffs ever, leading us into yet another break which runs the underlying gravelly keyboard textures through a panning phaser effect, before the track recombines and enters a long atmospheric fadeout.
The radio version of Crystal, which was the first one I heard when I bought the Japanese CD single (the first to be issued*), is a quality edit; cutting straight to the chase and paring back many of the album version’s instrumental breaks and fadeout, but I still prefer the album version in all its glory. I also have to mention the video clip, which is terrific. I love the light-wall effect, and the tongue-in-cheek ‘replacement’ of the real band with a bunch of younglings, who – in actuality – would have little chance of sounding like the band which produced Crystal. Still… The Killers have got the requisite look, and pull off all the necessary moves…
Crystal is very well served by its remixes; some of the best from the London period**. The Bedrock mixes eschew some of the highlights I mentioned above, including in particular the piano riffs, Dawn Zee’s vocals, Hooky’s performance etc, but Digweed & Muir’s alternative progressive house sequencing really rolls along, building and weaving with an incessancy that’s very addictive. The John Creamer & Stephane K remix is less successful; its core being less interesting than the Bedrock mixes, but by far the best of the bunch IMHO is the Lee Coombs remix – one of my all-time favourites, with its mainline sequencing driving forward with a real sense of propulsion. The core drum pattern pops and twitches with flares of distortion and a low-end synth drone that adds breadth. Coombs takes his time layering the mix – in true progressive house style – and honours all the important elements; particularly in the melodies, guitars, atmospheres, and vocals. Of particular note is his use of the aforementioned killer piano loop riff to rebuild the track from its midway breakdown, but rather than using it sparingly it’s maintained right into the drum groove.
The album version of Crystal is a remarkable production, and the band + Steve Osbourne are to be wholeheartedly congratulated on a stunning recording; one of New Order’s all-time greats.
* …the artwork for which I thought – based as it was on the 3 16 DVD release and Peter Saville’s Waste Paintings of the period – was going to be the theme for the whole Get Ready campaign. Still, nothing wrong at all with the actual artwork approach used, using the photographs of model Coco + the neutral colour bands. Better than the Republic campaign by a long shot.
** I suppose it’s also worth mentioning the Corvin Dalek production of Crystal, which if I understand it correctly was an offering / collaboration of Bernard’s to the house producer that predates the New Order recording of Crystal. These mixes are also very good, with a harder techno edge to them, and an earlier take of Bernard’s vocals that sounds quite raw, but they suffer from a lack of all the good stuff in New Order’s recording.