Music Features

New Order's Retro: The definitive box-set?

We all have our earliest musical memories. For me, it's sitting on the back of a bus on the way back from the annual school trip out, everyone singing World In Motion at the top of our voices, confident an England World Cup victory could be - nay, definitely - on the cards.

Of course, I was but a slip of a 9 year old back then. Today, I realise England will only once again be world champions shortly after Jesus Christ takes a stroll on Lake Windermere while Elvis Presley offers encouragement from his nearby yacht. But New Order have always been a constant, and the chance of a box set tying up all the loose ends in my record collection filled me with a rare bolt of sunshine in my otherwise cold heart. Let's take this review one CD at a time OK?

. . .

DISC 1: "POP" (Chosen by Miranda Sawyer)

For those of us with some degrees of learning difficulties, the "Pop" CD goes out to compile New Order's most "Pop" moments. So all the big hits are here, except World In Motion. While the quality of the music on at least 11 of the 14 tracks is as close to flawless as possible, questions have to be asked about the validity of this CD. Any fan worth their salt will already have the vast majority of the tracks here.

Saying that though, the appearance of the original 12" versions of both Temptation and Confusion contradict that viewpoint - given that both songs were given a severe reworking for the previous Substance 1987 compilation. Plus, adding Brutal, only previously available on the soundtrack to "The Beach" is very welcome.

Hardcore New Order fans may bicker about the tracklisting for months to come, being that the very average Everyone Everywhere (from the mainly very average Republic album) and Get Ready's Slow Jam get in above countless other more worthy contenders.

Still, you can only listen to what you're given and as previously noted, there's more memorable choruses, basslines and keyboard blips on 14 tracks here than in most of what 2002 had to offer us. 9/10

. . .

DISC 2: "FAN" (Chosen by John McCready)

Ah, now, this was the one I was looking forward to. By name, you would think this would be a collection of obscure b-sides, out-takes, alternative versions and unreleased classics. Bad news. It's a rather disappointing knocked up set of album tracks and b-sides previously found on Substance. So therefore once again, any "Fan" will probably have at least 75% of the tracks here. The one major bonus here is Let's Go. Built around an excellent guitar jangle and only previously to be found on the 1963 (95) single or the US version of (The Best Of), it makes you wonder why there isn't more of this kind of thing?

Where, for example, are the 7" versions of Ceremony and Temptation? Any post 1987 b-sides? That song from the US 1981-82 album that everyone thought was called Cries and Whispers but now turns out isn't? (It's very complicated to explain about that last song, if you really want to know, ask). Still, in terms of the music it's a more complete collection then "Pop" with not one single duff track to be found. All Day Long, Lonesome Tonight and Elegia still have the sense of sweetness and even innocence from the first listen while Dreams Never End with it's memorable bass intro might just persuade some to check out the band's highly undervalued debut album, Movement.

So, therefore, it's a mighty 10/10 for the music but a sorry 5/10 for showing a criminal lack of original thought and wasting a good opportunity.

. . .

DISC 3: "CLUB" (Chosen by Mike Pickering)

I've never made a secret of it: I despise most New Order re-mixes. Most are done by some superstar DJ wannabe who takes a tiny aspect of the song and builds their own thing around it. So naturally, this CD was never going to be my favourite.

But wait: Spirits were raised by the inclusion of Arthur Baker's 1963 ('95 Remix), which I've spent the best part of three years looking for. Baker's experience of working with the band shows as he adds new aspects to an already classic song. Great stuff. Thumbs up also to Robert Racic for his mix of the 1986 Brotherhood album opener Paradise. Perhaps the key here is that both Baker and Racic leave the soul of New Order (for me personally, mainly the bass and the vocals) intact. Same with Steve 'Silk' Hurley's reworking of Fine Time, which has a much darker feel here than elsewhere.

Continuing the irritating theme of repetition from other compilations, Everything's Gone Green appears alongside the mixes of Shellshock and Bizarre Love Triangle found on Substance 1987. Great songs of course, but surely other, harder to find material could have been included?

A lot of what's on this CD comes down to taste. Others may find the Jam & Spoon Manuela Mix of Blue Monday nothing more then a fucking embarrassment that should never be played outside lifts while the Subbuteo mix of my beloved World In Motion has as much life as the plastic footballers of the board game.

So, 5/10 but it's more a matter of taste then the other discs. Those who were regulars down FAC 51 when Pickering was DJ'ing every week (M People then a twinkle in his eye) may find the need to dance like a monkey on listening.

. . .

DISC 4: "LIVE" (Compiled by New Order/Bobby Gillespie)

The only part of the box set with any band input looks to show the experience of New Order at their live best. It's also spliced together from gigs over 21 years so you get the glamour of the Paris Olympia last year alongside Warrington Arena, 1986.

It's a sound (albeit somewhat artificial) set, though the inclusion of both Fine Time and Crystal for the 3rd time over four CDs is slightly wearisome. Also, a bit more of the infamous New Order between-song banter might have been nice i.e. Barney once saying "People are getting crushed, please step back. Actually, I don't give a fuck really, but it sounds good to say that." Highlights of the "performance" are blistering run-throughs of Age of Consent and all the tracks from Glastonbury '87, especially all nine minutes of The Perfect Kiss.

So, a nice and a very fair assessment of the band as a live power, but giving us extended highlights from maybe two or three gigs (like on the Joy Division Heart and Soul box set) may have worked better. Oh well. 8/10

. . .

And there you have it. But the real question remains unanswered - just who is this box set aimed at? Hardcore fans will already have most the material here, and £30 is a lot to pay for a nice booklet, some remixes, a few live performances and maybe a song or two not already owned. Plus anyone looking for an introduction to the band who doesn't have money to burn would be far better served by the flawless Substance 1987 double CD set.

The lasting impression from Retro is that of a collection of sublime moments in British popular music, but also that of an opportunity wasted. While Heart and Soul was essential for Joy Division fans, the same can't be said here. However, this is a music, not morality, review so, 9/10.