This is a good time to discuss the playing of bass guitar in New Order.
Peter Hook. Salfordian. Irreplaceable. Original. Unique, with a body of peerless work that will be remembered forever. I’m very sad at the way that his part of the band’s story left the road, smashed through the fence, and went over the cliff; but I’m also happy that he’s doing his own thing touring and celebrating that history. By his own published admissions he was struggling with a range of issues, and like any human being in challenging circumstances he may not have made the right decisions, said the right things, or acted in his own best interests. But the water seems to have largely passed under the bridge now, and all parties seem to be just getting on with it. I hope that’s true, and good on Hooky for building what has to be acknowledged as a must-see live experience; namely The Light*. Without him there was no Joy Division and no New Order, but it is certainly not the case that without him New Order was done & dusted…
Tom Chapman. French. Funky. Accomplished. Cool. Chapman isn’t Hook, but neither is Hook Chapman. What Tom has managed to do brilliantly is find his own place in the band (initially under tremendous scrutiny) and help create a new incarnation of New Order. What Music Complete lays out so clearly is that it was not some attempt by “core members + ring-ins” to try and be what once was. It was a hugely successful marker of change, and New Order since 2011 is its own thing, with five fully-fledged members firing on all cylinders and contributing in their own distinctive ways.
My first opportunity of meeting the band in 2012 was here in Brisbane, during their run of the Australian Future Music festivals. I had a beer with Phil & Tom, jibing them on their textbook English concerns about deadly Aussie fauna (sorry about calling you ‘delicate poms’); and what struck me was that they were no-bullshit guys, with minimal ego and a characteristic coolness that seemed to be such a natural fit for New Order. It was right there that I felt that the band was in good hands, even then in 2012; 3 years before the new album and in the midst of peak-drama. When I saw them again in 2016 at their Sydney Opera House residency, it was like they’d all been together for a decade; in complete enjoyment of their performances, relaxed on stage, relaxed backstage, and on a creative high. Chapman himself was in the thick of it, grooving and playing in his own way. The ‘ghost of Hooky’ was well and truly gone, because New Order without Hooky is 100% awesome, just as it was with Hooky; I view them as separate entities**.
It is People On The High Line – one the band’s own favourite songs on the album – that so clearly stamps Chapman’s own distinctive mark on proceedings. What a joyous, funky party this is. Let me count the ways…
- The opening 13 seconds of chopped-up percussive bass, electronic drum shots, and woozy guitar slides. Mad and wonderful, leading directly into…
- The next 17 seconds of pure top-shelf funk intro, with Chic-esque guitar riffs (that we know Bernard has such a love of), a disco pattern complete with handclaps, and a wonderful bass groove the likes of which I can’t recall from any New Order song before, leading directly into…
- A great snare roll heralding a happy-house piano sequence that rolls in & around more of Chapman’s glorious slap & pick bass (with those cheeky high emphases), leading directly into…
- Some über-cheese snare shots with the echo turned up to 11, taking us into Bernard’s opening verse. Others have commented on it, but I don’t mind the croaky edge to some of his vocals; whether by design, age or octave. What makes it work particularly well here is La Roux’s backing performance, which dips harmonically both higher and lower than Bernard’s at different stages. A really great vocal production (by the band of course).
- At 1:58 the track breaks down to practically nothing, and restarts in full funk with a new synth line. As with all great New Order tracks there are so many melodies on offer in the various layers of the song.
- The touches of colour and texture added here & there, including the bleep sequence at 2:40, the ambient bell tones in the breakdown at 3:42, and the buzzing rebuild from 3:57.
- The “I’ll keep trying, it’s all gonna be alright” verse. I love both the sentiment and performances from Sumner and La Roux. Another great line is in the vocal reprise: “I’m a shadow of a man without your love“.
Everything clicks in People On The High Line, and like almost everything on Music Complete it is masterfully produced. Having said that, the Extended Mix on Complete Music – as an exercise in restructuring and drawing out different parts – is a perfectly fine mix but isn’t as seamlessly terrific as the album version, particularly in the intro where the added high/low chattering sequence is a minor irritation. I quite like the alternative middle breakdown/rebuild, with the ‘retro video game’ sound effect more obvious over the piano riffs. The phasing used on the fade-out is quite effective too.
Lots of remixes to go through!
Richard-X has done a decent job on the Radio Edit, but as always it’s tricky to edit down a track that has to be the original length that it is. The Claptone Remix opening drum pattern is very familiar, and I’m trying to place it… nevertheless I quite like its new repeating synth baseline, although dropping most of Chapman’s performance is sacrilegious given that it’s so core to the original; and I’m not convinced by the replacement choice of piano sound. Overall it’s fine but not amazing. The Purple Disco Machine Remix from the Music Complete Remix EP offers a more robust disco stomp with particular sequences and riffs from the original, including (just) the “It’s all gonna be alright” vocal line on repeated loop. The remix peaks mid-way for about 2 minutes with all parts firing, but then the interest starts to drop away. The LNTG Can’t Get Any Higher Remix emphasises La Roux’s vocals, bringing them much forward in the mix along with the funk guitar; although the way its looped gives an overly staccato feel IMHO.
Planet Funk, who did such a fantastic job with their remix of Waiting For The Sirens’ Call, present quite a different interpretation; pitching Bernard’s vocals into a different key and building a new track around it. Really interesting. It doesn’t sound – other than the recognisable lyrics – like People On The High Line, and yet after a few listens I ‘got it’. There’s some great atmosphere created, with all those tuneful bells & motifs and great progressions. I normally don’t like remixes bearing little resemblance to the original, but I make an exception here because I sense that Planet Funk really thought about it.
The Hybrid Remix eschews the original’s funk for a more progressive structure. I really like the core groove in this version, which has a great driving quality and some interesting key changes different to the original, and there’s some nice bottom-end too. Overall excellent. Their Armchair Mix strips all the drum and bass out of their main remix, except for a background heartbeat; leaving just vast washes of atmosphere, ambience & tone in a great secondary offering from Hybrid***.
Another killer track. Tom Chapman, take a bow. More please!
* …and getting better. A good mate here in Brisbane is responsible for getting The Light’s more recent and more electronic reworks to sound on point. Nice one Ken.
** I view New Order in 2 ‘complete’ versions; the first being Sumner, Hook, Morris, Gilbert, and the other Sumner, Morris, Gilbert, Cunningham, Chapman. The Sumner, Hook, Morris, Cunningham incarnation feels transitional to me now – not sure why…
*** Who collaborated with Peter Hook about 10 years earlier. No ‘sides taken’ then, thankfully.