Tuesday, 29 July 2008

NEW ORDER: Turn The Heater On

A humid evening which had no need of additional heating, at least not in that sense; a bedroom in the growing but no less warm darkness. Unquiet student nights, nearly out of the first year, just about nearly, and New Pop at its Cortesian/Cartesian peak. The Peel show which some numbed skulls at the time felt was already slipping out of touch, but always the magic, always the essence of everything that mattered, including New Pop, and a magic song from nowhere, although I knew that really it came from everywhere.

I’ve been concernedly cagey about talking on the subject(s) of Joy Division and New Order on any of my blogs since together (and how could anyone think of their story as separate?) they are my favourite pop group and provoke thoughts and emotions too private for even (or especially) this privacy-shredding world. The Associates, yes, double ice cream cones yes, and their tragedy was to play out the Joy Division/New Order story in reverse, but New Order were the best; after all, were they not directly (if inadvertently) the cause of New Pop in the first place?

They were on the ascendant with “Temptation” in the charts of the time (and what better time for the charts?) and the Peel session received the first of its numerous airings on Tuesday 1 June 1982. We already knew that they had forced themselves past the grief barrier with “Everything’s Gone Green” – and I don’t think there will ever be a better example of that phenomenon, the pop single – and not only managed to extricate themselves from the quiet horror of mourning but also invented something new in the process.

Their version of “Turn The Heater On” helped complete the transition (and another of that evening’s session tracks, “4-8-6,” is a prototype for the definitive conclusion and beginning of “Blue Monday”). The original version appears on Torch Of Freedom, one of the less locatable of Keith Hudson albums which was probably far easier to find in seventies Manchester than it is in 2008 anywhere (a French CD issue briefly appeared in the mid-nineties and you had to be fleet and foxy to get a copy) and clearly its sentiments of “gonna beat them all, gonna beat them all” carried rather severer resonance in Jamaica. In that setting Hudson ’s pleas to “hold me” and “squeeze me” bear a literal life-and-death subtext.

New Order moved the realm of the song very naturally from the political to the personal; their take on reggae is so instinctively right in its lightness of touch that their “Turn The Heater On” glides effortlessly into their world; you notice Barney’s melodica (inspired by Augustus Pablo, that remarkable musician who turned what is generally regarded as an instrument for schoolchildren into as eloquent a vehicle for expression as Davis’ trumpet or Rollins’ tenor) tooting its islet of lament in the distance but also the very familiar rain of that string synthesiser – it’s not until several listens that you shiver at the eventual recognition that this song has the same chord sequence as “Decades.” Sumner sings without vibrato or noticeable straining; his plea for reassurance and salvation is immediately palpable, his “For I feel so cold at night” immediately striking (in slow motion) the post-Curtis ice. Around this spiritual – there truly is no other word for it – guitars cuddle up to each other from across the channel, Hook knows exactly when to arch his bass and bend it back down again, Morris’ drumming miraculous and enough for three “normal” drummers, simultaneously providing that seamless dub undertow and a straighter 4/4 rock overtone, but even “rock” seems such an intrusive word to use in this world; the detritus of the old world clanks around the corners of what New Order perceive to be their new world. “Blue Monday” would see them drive out the secondary demons for good but this told me at the aptest of times that the vital key was still in their possession.