Mixed feelings about this song. I’ve found it one of the most difficult to pin down with a concrete viewpoint, and so I’ve been vacillating on what to write. Let’s see if this makes sense…
Nothing But A Fool contains one of my all-time favourite chorus lyrics from Bernard; featuring classic Sumner reflections on relationships, sung sensitively but rendered angelic courtesy of Dawn Zee and Denise Johnson on backing vocals:
Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got
You think you’re better than the rest
And the world belongs to you
But you’re nothing but a fool
If you can hold her in your hands
If you can feel her in your heart
Don’t ever let her run away
Don’t ever let her drift away
‘Cause it will break you later on
When you’re left there on your own
Don’t ever let her slip away
Don’t ever let her drift away
Great advice emphasised in the choruses with beautiful strings, driving bass from Chapman and a choice drumming performance from Morris! These really are beautiful convictions; the sort that I for one am actually energised to live by. New Order have soundtracked my life since my teenage years, and even now at 50+ and well versed in the vicissitudes of life I can still be emotionally motivated by this remarkable band. “If you can hold her in your hands… Don’t ever let her drift away“… I can and I won’t!
Unfortunately – and in jarring opposition to the above sentiments – I find the song’s verses flat and uninspiring; with more than a nod to similarly lumpen tracks on the London albums. The song starts like a sequel to Stray Dog but the atmosphere established by the textured guitars in the first minute feels immediately sucked out of the song like a vacuum when it drops down into the ponderous verse lyrics, instrumentation and performance. Maybe its just me but Nothing Like A Fool feels like two songs spliced together; one a bit tired and one remarkable, and it’s that dichotomy that challenges me here.
Luckily we have a couple* of Extended Mixes on offer; offering the potential for redress.
Although the (original) Extended Mix doesn’t stray very far from the album version, the Extended Mix 2 on Music Complete is excellent; going a long way to improving the overall ‘architecture’ of the track. In particular I like the way the intro and verse instrumentation are allowed to play out for longer and with greater emphasis on low-end strings and Chapman’s bass; offering a much better progression into Bernard’s verses. In fact the strings are far more prominent throughout the mix, which I love – particularly around ~7:00. The Manchester Camerata did a lovely job and they’re given some space here to open their wings. The only real negative is that the backing vocals are less prominent in the mix, which is a shame.
Like I said… mixed feelings. Frustratingly inconsistent, I’m nevertheless sufficiently swept away by the beautiful chorus in Nothing But A Fool to still enjoy it, and particularly Extended Mix 2 which is my go-to version of the song.
* The existence of updated Extended Mixes on Complete Music – for both Nothing Like A Fool and Superheated – is quite interesting; illuminating the band’s ongoing need to actually improve (and not just extend for extension-sake) these tracks after the original boxed vinyl set had already been released. In both cases the band was 100% right in doing so, and kudos to Mute for supporting their artistic freedom.