So it Goes by New Order + Liam Gillick – Album Review
So it Goes by New Order + Liam Gillick
by David Schuster
It’s often the case that what you hear on an album is very different to how the band want to sound; being constrained by recording time, the technology available and what the record companies deem to be commercial at the time. Over this you have the ambience that the producer wants to achieve, which may be different again. Thus, sometimes the final result disappoints the group themselves. Imagine then, if they could go back, with more money, experience and control, to rework some of their back catalogue: That’s exactly the opportunity that So It Goes... gives to New Order.
In July 2017 they performed a five–night series of shows as part of the Manchester International Festival, in collaboration with visual artist Liam Gillick. The location choice of the Old Granada Studios was significant, as this is where they had appeared (as Joy Division) on Tony Wilson’s So It Goes TV show, almost 40 years earlier. These performances have now been collected into a double CD (or triple coloured vinyl) release.
The bands were already fascinated by the possibilities of electronic music when cruel fate and mental illness tore apart Joy Division, forcing the remaining members to evolve into New Order. But this was 1980, and quality keyboards were eye wateringly expensive. So, armed with what they could afford to buy or build, they developed their trademark fusion of post punk guitar electronica. Fast forward 37 years and things are very different; here they are performing with a 12-piece synthesiser orchestra.
One of the common pitfalls of re-imagining your old tracks is that you lose the essential qualities that gave it appeal in the first place. Any fears on that count are dispelled as soon you hear the first song, ‘Times Change’. They’ve skilfully avoided this trap by carefully moderating the synthesiser orchestration. There’s still Morris’s relentless steam train beat, Sumner’s signature twanging guitar, augmented now by Phil Cunningham, vocals low in the mix, part of the overall hypnotic, pulsating sound, with the characteristic bell like tones of Gillian Gilbert’s keyboard sparkling through. What the other musicians add is an understated sense of power, like the low throb of a super car’s engine, and similarly able to respond with a roar, such as in the majestic ‘Elegia’.
The Manchester International Festival set spans the full four decades of the group’s large back catalogue: From ‘Disorder’ which appeared on Joy Division’s legendary 1979 album Unknown Pleasures, through ‘Vanishing Point’ from 1989’s Technique and ‘Who’s Joe’ taken from 2009’s Waiting for the Siren’s Call, right up to ‘Plastic’ off the critically acclaimed Music Complete, released in 2015.
What’s wonderfully evident is that you can hear that the band enjoying themselves. ‘All Day Long’, the classic ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and ‘Your Silent Face’ all sound particularly joyful – hardly a word associated with New Order. The acrimonious departure of Peter Hook was regrettable, however, musically, Tom Chapman’s contribution, both on bass and in co-writing the songs on Music Complete, more than fills the vital role that Hook played.
The recording quality is excellent for a live performance and must have been taken directly from the mixing desk, an advantage of knowing in advance that you are going to be recording. However, the split of music across the two CDs is a little strange; CD one has the full 2017 Manchester International Festival concert, whilst CD two has the two-song encore which includes the outstanding ‘Your Silent Face’ and three bonus tracks, also taken from the shows. That leaves the second disc feeling slightly redundant, a side effect of having three vinyl records worth of music, I suspect. That’s only a small gripe, you do after all get a photo-booklet inserted into the cover with an interesting description of Liam Gillick’s concept for the visual staging.
The CD cover is arty and enigmatic. Pure white, with a beautiful and subtle pattern embossed in shades of gloss and matt, the absolute purity is broken only by an enigmatic equation: Σ(No, 12k,Lg,17MIF), which (after a good deal of pondering, and without resorting to Google) I managed to solve. What does that complex equation mean? Where would be the fun if I told you that?
So It Goes.. is that rarest of achievements; a re-working of classic tracks that manages to develop and improve on the original material, perfectly capturing a landmark New Order performance.