New Order: Retro

4CD box set (limited edition of 3000 with extra 5th CD)
London 0927 49499 2, released 9th December 2002

New Order have been one of the finest bands ever to come out of Manchester. Ever. Blue Monday re-defined how the dance single should be done, and throughout their career from 1980 onwards following the death of Joy Division's Ian Curtis (and the death of that band too) they've been innovative and refreshing to listen to.

Retro was a greatest hits project like no other started by their late manager Rob Gretton, who wished to have a compilation made more for the fans by the fans rather than just have some executive at the record company just pick their way through the back catalogue, and so each of the four discs were given to various people to compile their own CD of New Order from different angles.

I must mention the superb packaging here, the whole box set folds out nicely allowing easy access to all the CDs, and there is a lovely 72 page booklet full of quotes from the band, pictures, and full credits for all the tracks, and much more. That itself is really well puts together and smacks of quality.

In principle the concept is interesting, but how does this work in practice? Let's see:

Disc One: POP (selected by Miranda Sawyer)

Miranda has long been a New Order fan as well as a music journalist, and those of you who have their 3:16 DVD will realise this from her extensive interview with the band. Trying to pick around 80 minutes of New Order's more pop singles while keeping the balance right must have been a difficult choice, however the important thing also was to get the right mix of each single. So we kick off with the album version of Fine Time (a good choice, as the 7" edit was far too butchered) and then, oh joy! The original 12" mix of Temptation, not the 1987 remix that was on the Substance compilation. As good as that version is, the original is somehow more punchy and immediate and almost feels like it was recorded in someone's bedroom. Then we have the normal 12" version of True Faith, the album version of The Perfect Kiss (which still even has that nasty edit intact, check the "wh" of the line "when you are alone at night" about two minutes in) and then, more joy! The first single, Ceremony, which although re-recorded from when Joy Division played it in their last few concerts, still sounds defiant and uplifting. Regret is a perfect next track despite the twelve year difference between the two, it almost defines in one step the maturity, as then does their 2001 single Crystal. Back to album edits with Bizarre Love Triangle, which is okay, but the 12" is much better. But then, oh absolute joy! The original 12" of Confusion! No naff Arthur Baker 1987 Substance version, no even more naff version on the Blade soundtrack, the proper, beats driven, almost loose original. Superb. Then, there's good old Round and Round, which is probably one of NO's most under-rated singles, before the it-just-had-to-be-here original of Blue Monday makes its appearance. You then get Brutal (recorded for The Beach film soundtrack) followed by Slow Jam and Everyone Everywhere, which I was sure both of them didn't get a UK single release, so it seemed strange having them here. Despite this, it's an almost flawless introduction while finally making fans listen up to the originals of Temptation and Confusion again. Now that has to be good.

Disc Two: FAN (selected by John McCready)

John has been a New Order fan (and journalist) for some time too, and recently has helped assemble other artists' compilation, so he generally knows what to pick from a fan's point of view. His selection does not disappoint here with album tracks and B-sides providing an excellent backdrop. Take the excellent Elegia from Low-Life, add the B-side In A Lonely Place, and you get the idea that this CD is definitely one for the real fan and die-hard. Procession, another B-side comes next, with a gentle multiple synth introduction that gives way sublimely even now. And then, more joy! Possibly New Order's best album track, Your Silent Face comes next. It's majestic and still has that line "You caught me at a bad time, so why don't you p--- off" delivered with Barney's dead panned voice. Sunrise meanwhile is the closest New Order sounded to being like The Cure, although it's an excellent track in its own right. Let's Go appared on the Salvation soundtrack first of all, but got released as a B-side and that's here too. More trademark Hooky guitars are very prevalent in Broken Pomise which still to this day really is catchy, then back to 1981 and Dreams Never End from the album Movement, then Cries and Whispers which was on the 12" of Everything's Gone Green in some countries. Now you'll listen to this and think "Hang on, shouldn't this be Mesh?". Turns out Substance labelled the album wrong, according to the band themselves. Or was it another Factory attempt to de-rail the trainspotters? All Day Long has a memorable hook line and the subject matter is quite intense, so listen carefully. Sooner Than You Think wouldn't have been included by me, it's possibly one of their worst album tracks, but each to their own as this is rectified by having Leave Me Alone straight after, which is class. Not to mention Lonesome Tonight, the B-side of Thieves Like Us, next. The sort of B-side that could have easily been released as an A-side, it's that good, with a Hooky bass line being the whole base of the tune. Every Little Counts is another New Order humour left intact, where Barney giggles while singing "I think you are a pig, you should be in a zoo" and they left it in when recording the album Brotherhood. Sublime. As is Run Wild from Get Ready, too. On the whole then, a good fan selection and one that took some good thought into putting the tracks together. It would have been nice for the 12" single of Run 2 (or its B-side MTO) to be here maybe with a few less album tracks, but that is me nit-picking.

DIsc Three: CLUB (selected by Mike Pickering)

Mike used to DJ at Manchester's Haçienda club (part owned by New Order at the time, of course) and nowadays still does DJ the odd event, as well as being a die-hard Manchester City fan (ironic as he and Rob Gretton are City fans, whilst Barney and Hooky are staunch Reds). And if anyone knows how to make New Order work properly in a club, Mike does. It's also testimony to the band that some of the tracks here appear intact in their original form. We start off with the new Koma and Bones remix of Confusion (which came out as a limited single). Using some of the Blue Monday background, it's nice, but not a patch on the original. The remix of Paradise only came on the 12" remix single of True Faith, and is quite an interesting diversion from its original album track, much more beaty. Then the Sabres'n'Low mix of Regret. Utter crap. Sorry Sabres of Paradise, but it is. Thankfully we're much better next track - the Shep Pettibone 12" mix of Bizarre Love Triangle (also on Substance). Shep at least had the idea how to remix New Order properly, and this is how to do it. Intelligent, good on the beats, and punchy and catchy at the same time. Same goes for the John Robie mix of Shellshock (as used in the Pretty in Pink movie), then the rather intriguing Steve "Silk" Hurley mix of Fine Time. Steve did that single Jack Your Body, and some of that catchiness is here and at least retains the punchiness of Fine Time. Simialrly, the 95 remix of 1963 (True Faith's superb B-side) was another cracking remix - it didn't destroy the original, it handled it gently with pace and allowing the guitars to breathe nicely. Then, the recorded-in-12-hours-due-to-deadlines 7" version of Touched By The Hand Of God, which was okay, but the 12" mix is much better. The original 12" of Everything's Gone Green is next, and it didn't need any tweaks. Very electronic, very immediate and the beat sticks in your mind, so a good choice there. Jam and Spoon's treatment of Blue Monday comes next, and this is another example of how _not_ to remix New Order. It doesn't do the original any justice at all. Mike couldn't resist one of his own remixes, and the Subbuteo Mix of World in Motion doesn't disappoint either. It's very funky and catchy and retains that spirit of the original plus John Barnes, thankfully. You also have the extended instrumental of Here To Stay (from the 24 Hour Party People soundtrack) which is very nice, as the Chemical Brothers team up with NO and do it justice. The Lee Coombs mix of Crystal serves as a good excuse to press stop on the CD early, so you can tell what I make of it. On the whole, most of the mixes here are good with only three duffers, which for any remix album has to be quite good really. Despite not being the biggest dance music fan I do appreciate a good remix if done well, and lots of them here are.

Disc Four: LIVE (selected by Bobby Gillespie and New Order)

If one thing defines New Order, it's their excellent live performances (yes, Pop Idol bands, that's like, with proper instruments and stuff) that really show how good they are. Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream has always liked them live, so he got together with the band and compiled many live highlights. Only one snag: if you've ever seen New Order live, you know that their shows can be pretty tight and intense, and somehow that feel does get lost a little without being in the crowd and having to mosh with everyone else and just enjoy the moment. The sound quality does vary, but on the whole you;'re going to get a mixed bag. Ceremony, recorded in Barcelona, sounds like a 2-track was taping it, and it does sound very rough, whilst Procession, recorded at London Polytechnic, does actually sound like the band in transition from one phase to another. Similarly, the 1983 Tolworth Rec recording of Everything's Gone Green has that very loose, immediate feel, and it's very electronic. Then off to Glastonbury, 1981 style, for a really down-trodden live version of In A Lonely Place which is really really depressing. Even more so than usual. Then to another rough recording, this time of Age of Consent in Warrington. It does sound rough, but even so the handywork here live outweighs all that completely, as it just sounds right. Back to Glastonbury again for Elegia in 1987, although they recorded it specially for BBC Radio 1. Then to the live show proper and one of their best live shows (which BBC/Strange Fruit released on CD - search for it if you can!) and the full almost ten minutes of The Perfect Kiss. Brilliant! Over to Chicago, the home of house, so where better for New Order to whack out Fine Time live to them? It sounds very snappy here, and really does give it that house feel. World in Dallas isn't a great New Order moment, but skip that and go to Reading 1993, for ousing, brilliant versions of Regret and As It Is When It Was that makes you wish you were actually there. I know I do, when listening to it. You couldn't resist having one of the intermissions in there, and as Alan Wise did a great job on the 2001 tour, the little interlude at Paris Olympia is funny and just serves as a memory of the 2001 tour for all that went, going into Crystal live in Australia's Gold Coast, a very nice version too. And then a little treat - the intimate Liverpool Olympia 2001 gig, Turn My Way, complete with Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan on vocals and guitar. Marvellous. To end the live set, what else but Temptation? And this Gold Coast recording you feel just got the whole crowd rocking as it harked back to the 12" original at about 120mph, superb stuff. So on the whole, although a mixed bag, it does give you a pretty good flavour of the band live, even though really nothing can substitute for the actual experince of seeing them live, and the recordings on the whole are good and well-preseved. Intriguing, to say the least.

Disc Five - the limited edition extra CD

You mean there's more? Yes. If you bought one of the first 3000 copies of the box set, an extra 5th CD was yours with nine more tracks to delectate over. And these are all more for the real diehard, and makes an excellent incentive to get the limited run. First, you get the 1998 version of Temptation, re-recorded for when Manchester bid for and won the 2002 Commonwealth Games. They actually played it in Albert Square, Manchester, when the announcement came through, and really should have been the Games anthem. Ah well. You then get Joy Division's "Transmission" live from Australia's Gold Coast, and just like when I saw NO in Manchester doing it, it still sounds completely superb and rocking. "Such A Good Thing" was the B-side to the 2002 re-release of World in Motion, and is a very nice little track, and talking of which, you then get the theme tune to "Best and Marsh" as well, which is nice. And instrumental. Used for a little-known Granada TV show, a 7" edit of the theme appeared on the Round and Round CD single but this is the full mix. Oh joy! More joy to come as Let's G.. (the instrumental version of Let's Go from the movie Salvation) is here, only a short edit but nice nonetheless. Sadly, the Pink Noise Morel edit of True Faith shouldn't have been here with the rest of these gems, as it's a really bad dance mix of the song, but I suppose some people will like it. The original mix of Run Wild is also pretty nice and worth having as it's really nice and more string-like. Then, the two final pieces de resistance, and no punches pulled! The live take of The Perfect Kiss was recorded direct while they were shooting the video (Fac 321, remember?) and means you don't have to record it from the Substance video anymore at the same time, but it still sounds nice and rough and ready like in the video, even down to the odd human error. And my jaw dropped for the last track, the original, unedited version of Elegia. On Low Life it was edited really well and kept the listener interested, and for the real diehard fan being able to hear the full seventeen minute version (yes, you heard me right, seventeen minutes!) is quite an interesting curio. Well worth it.


Well, the New Order fans amongst us will hopefully have snapped up the limited edition, as some of the tracks on the fifth CD outweigh some of the others on the four regular CDs. The nit-picker amongst me would have probably picked different remixes for the club CDs and some different live tracks, or even suggested different B-sides that are hard to get hold of now, but that for the most part would be just scraping the top surface off what is actually a well thought out, put together package that pays both the casual listener and the die-hard fan respect. Get it if you can.

Warren's rating: 89%