Perfect Sound Forever

New Order

Remote Control
How They Got Wrong Right
by Van Halen Kurtz
(December 2012)

What possibly remains to be said about New Order? The band that invented, then survived, the '80's. Within every thumping techno rave brimming with bipolar textures, interosculating rhythms, sequencer gearshifts and unchastised solipsism lurks New Order. With every misanthropic ambiguity muttered across a smeary grunge stomp, New Order malingers, knowingly. Each premeditated denial of technical composition, every impractical application of bass guitar, every implausible malapropism, all malfunctioning robotic heartbeats, every nitrogen mellotron, inchoate guitar, astronaut synthesizer, cellophane production and all things recondite in album art must eventually access some reluctant debt to New Order. Everybody knows this. Yet, there is another consideration.

How autistic spectrum is New Order?

See that world out there,
Make it go away;
You can't change his mind,
Too much working overtime.
Asperger people hear these sentiments vividly. Results not typical. Mileage may vary. Precise statement, contingent. Subsections of evidence. Grasping stimulus with repetitive abbreviation. Anonymous feedback. Incorrect frequencies. Unity of unconnected clippings. Tangled cables, bungled knobs. Time, unboxed. Small room, the size of a universe. How often, wrong. Periscope, down. Frequent doubt, ceaseless activity, invariable misunderstanding, these are more than metaphors, these are symptoms, diagnostic criteria. New Order, with their inhuman meters colliding obtusely with immature emotions, readily signify the filtered funnel of turbine perception which is empathy tucked in and folded over, pointlessly zooming. Does anyone ever count on visceral indifference feeling so excruciatingly vulnerable?
Up, down, turn around, please don't let me hit the ground.
Not that I was hip enough back when Movement and (the original) "Temptation" hit. I was hip, hip enough for PiL -- like most aspies I stick to one brand with extreme partisanship — and I remember Rolling Stone's dual 4-star for both Movement and the far showier Flowers of Romance, but it wasn't until 1983 that, like most people, the neurotypicals next door, I knew "This Is Not A Love Song" was unacceptable balderdash whereas a certain floppy-packaged disc commanded immediate loyalty. The computer sound was oversaturated, the akimbo elements a perplexment. Perverse in its simplicity, uncanny in its duality. Sure, the conveyer-belt beats and assembly-line squarewaves had their easy precedent, Kraftwerk squeezed through the radio dial nine years before, but here, the vocals did not imply camp artifice - this nameless male narrator sounded like a stomach pump in a straightjacket. And was that clunky new wave guitar even a guitar?

Then there was the album, with its ensorcelling, illogical cover. Whoever you were, whichever flag you were flying, "Your Silent Face" unfailingly stopped the clock. Where was that nihilism slithering through the speakers like some contagious tumor? It wasn't embedded in the 2001 sequencer, the frosted string synth, the IBM percussion, the disengaged bass, the forlorn melodica or even the lethargic, disgusted vocals. It was an ambient pain, an asomatous pain, a haunting friction echoed upon the magnetic particles of the commodity. But, wait. "The Village," with its trickling riffs, maneuvers love doom with pathological naïveté. Then, "Leave Me Alone." Those dour intertwining lines of guitar and bass, shifting octaves against common law sense, with the vocalist faltering on sweet-intentioned high notes and grumbled low notes betraying puerile anguish. Sardonic phantoms seem rarely so authentically distressed.

To think on it now, Power, Lies and Corruption might be one the few albums containing filler that nonetheless is a perfect LP. Its uneasy lures remain undamaged and exhumed, a recurring ubiety continually troubling analysis with unobtainable logic, ineffable iconography and unintentional confidence. It remains one of the rarest examples of a new album.

Subsequent singles increased the mystique. "Confusion" amped the funk but retained the unhinged isolation. "Thieves Like Us" was slick and moody but the B-side bundle of "Murder" and, especially, "Lonesome Tonight" projected a beautiful jukebox with precarious wiring. New Order understood outside, they intuited wrong, they x-rayed indecision and fragmentation, every instance in which they polished their surface first, then got around to sanding it, after. The faulty finish was grammatically evident: repetitive machinations, uncommon clumsiness, narrative disconnectivity and obstinate attention to particularized motifs. Mechanical children, bitter batteries, autistic rockstars proscribing identification. Well, except a fixation on colors and numbers anyway. Not to mention dolby propellers. This wasn't disco for disco dancing. This was disco for fetal retreating.

It's called love, and it belongs to everyone but us.
Then New Order signed to corporate Qwest. Band photos, finally. Everyone assumed the misshapen face on the front of Low-Life was the singer. I remember playing a friend the creepy now sound. "That bloke can't sing, at all." Was that a problem in a world filled with problems? But I knew there was something that brought me to this band because all those canned handclaps and wriggling algorithms sure weren't my usual routing. He really couldn't sing, could he? Then, there was that zig-zagging guitar. Or was it attention deficit disorder bass? Bubble-buffed with that much flange and chorus? "Love Vigilantes" was almost new wave but the rest was microwaved. Quick frozen people, ingeminated info loops, switched-on disruption, ancillary language, decompensating inculcations, tenuous structures of auditory film, with vocals apparently recorded by a man entering terminal stages of Cotard Syndrome.
What do I get out of this
I always try, I always miss;
One of these days you'll go back to your home
You won't even notice that you are alone.
Then came "Shellshock." With clinical metronome, algebraic bass, neurotic piano and digital pizzacato, it's an icy ratio of process. I believe this is the track where Bernard Sumner earned his microphone. Then, "State of the Nation." Sleeve art, retina rorschach. Sound, laboratory quicksand. Then, another album about to hit, and a U.S. tour. I saw them in Tampa, Florida. No, the low life on the cover of Low-Life was the drummer, and, damn, Sumner was so intoxicated I doubted he'd stand upright through the set. He barely did. Peter Hook was also inebriated, but his playing was utterly charmed, wrestling his bass between his knees, trilling coiled invocations just like the recordings. The other two, they pushed buttons and looked British. The setlist, preprogrammed directory assistance, was alien vitamins made aerosol. Anoetic trances ensued.

Brotherhood came off rancorous, but every New Order album after Power, Lies and Corruption has come into its own with insurrectionary élan. It's the album where Hook started overdubbing bass. And, those shiny acoustic guitars on "Way of Life," which sounded pushy at the time, started something New Order would soon harvest resplendently. The main criticism at the time was Brotherhood was disheveled. And ten years later, the same critics would pine for another jolt of that crude nerve. Deadline album. Why nobody thought of remixing "Paradise" on 12" remains of the several cantankerous what if’s of the band's history; one counterpoint short, perhaps. But Brotherhood, with its irrational ideations and codependent vacuities documented with insouciant befuddlement, has aged as a mad map of blithe despair. No band ever so perseverated upon communication deficiencies. Lest we forget the disoriented accuracy of their most characteristic stanza:

It's no problem of mine
But it's a problem I find
Living a life that I can't leave behind;
But there's no sense in telling me
The wisdom of the fool won't set you free;
But that's the way that it goes
And it's what nobody knows;
Well, every day my confusion grows.
Then Substance, with its index of 12-inch intoxicants. However benevolent "True Faith" throbbed out of American dashboards, the update of "Temptation" rang utopian. Hook. Has anyone noticed the greatest bassist of the era didn't really play a single lick unavailable to Chuck Berry? Then, "Touched By the Hand of God," with its reckless hair-metal video, was awkwardly commercial, a bolt of the pending. "Blue Monday '88," a misstep. The circuit breaker didn't require a flip start. But New Order's fifth album, Technique, opening with the hallucinogenic "Fine Time," was a mirific reinvention of increased cadence. It album. Bouquet of data. Candy-coated, toner tweaked, motorized, measured, compressed, elastic, tintinnabulating, ridiculous, facile, savant and, with an ample fusebox full of codependent tantrums submitted as lyrics, obliviously aporetic. Fingerprint ringtone, accelerated metabolism, rotary excogitation, designer synesthesia, oscillating polarity, obstreperous pulses, electronic dust, glow-in-the-dark chords, irradiated riffs, but primarily: vending machine, sulking.
It takes years to find the nerve
To be apart from what you've done,
To find the truth inside yourself
And not depend on anyone.
Long wait. Techno went mainstream. Grunge. Indie. Whatever. Then Republic. Squishy keyboards, distracted crooning, freeze-dried drumming, demoralized bass (when present), probably a discarded Sumner solo project. Replica of neurotypicality. Pop with a condom. But. Of course. Except. The single. The special message.
You may think that I'm out of hand,
That I'm naïve, I'll understand
On this occasion, it's not true;
Look at me,
I'm not you.
Time passes. Married, divorced, betrayed, remorseful. People take lost turns and end up with no time for found names. Other side left behind, disqualified better off when gone. It happens. The 80's went into an analog box along with libido adventures, pharmaceutical follies, concatenated misinterpretations and cyclical attritions. Can anyone ever love like that again? How can anyone even tell when what is remembered is memory itself? Tin voices orbit echo ribbons of tremulous atoms. Dematerializing sensory cartridges crumble unattended, compressed and gated in imploding experience archives. Condenser adapter, stereo to mono, goes the whole world. Closed windows, footprints in soot, prerecorded syrup, inconclusive orgasms, erroneous protocols, jammed gravity, agenda desuetude, catatonic airwaves, abridged time zones, corrupted chronology, discontinued intimacy, tabescent cathexis, solitary confinement, unedited bereavement, out of order. Waiting is forgetting in advance. Happens. Policy. Just wait 'til tomorrow.

Then, almost imperceptibly, a shrink-wrapped square in the Border's or whatever air-conditioned hell is considered the sterile inevitability of mass apathy in the 21st century, and it's New Order rebooted. Here we go again. Refrigerated arpeggio of keys, taser beam of fuzz guitar, artificial brainwaves, braille drumbeats, distressed bass, crumpled antennae, and Sumner groaning with his old insomniac antipathy.

I'm applauded, then forgotten;
It was summer, now it's autumn;
I don't know what to say;
You don't care anyway.
From there, it's all on again. Propellers, funnels, stipulated DNA, iridescent tickertape, tempestuous endorphins, problems to solve, escalation of emotional asymmetry. Pain, pleasure, procreation, use only as directed. Asperger people are stamped with a primer code, alone is home. Down to a science, not yet an appliance. "I don't wanna be like other people are," Sumner complains with the corroded abandonment of a bottled orphan. Understood. Other people are holograms anyway. The door doesn't open from the outside. Evolution went cheap effects. Underwater in a fallout shelter. Shifting text of ventriloquist blips. Inserted, catapulted, flash-forwarded, password remanded, trip-wired and trust-tired. Aliquot caresses. Disembodied banalities. Unilateral lovemaking. Affection, anesthetized. Inventory, lonely. Remote control. The door doesn't open from the inside. Shortwave emissions, white-out directives, involuted observations with corrugated basslines. That's one half. The other half are garage toss-offs, made phosphorescent by a simple twist of the thermostat. A sly, sludgy flex of muscle memory. Intervals of disequilibrium, epiphanies in a vacuum, diapasons of trouble. The worse the condition, the stronger the convalescence.

Then came the end. Waiting for the Sirens Call, the imperfect kiss, the hesitant valentine, the garbled horoscope, the telepathic conundrum, the deleted destiny, the reticent question, the ambivalent commitment, the uncomprehending conclusion, the encrypted beacon. Eternity, obviated.

We all want some kind of love;
But sometimes it's not enough.
Yet, yes, the last rays of day are the most gentle. After a lifetime of calculating the innominate wrongs of operant conditioning, the static of flesh, the storage of sight, the failings of words, the hope of finding directions off this wrong world, New Order turn it all around, dialectical, and, with high-calorie hooks, approximate something which suggests the agonies of interconnectivity are necessary test patterns of autonomy. No one knows who they are unless they look straight into the lens of some other face, and receive a discernible signal of laminated confirmation.
I got it all wrong
'Cause you were not
The wrong one.

ED NOTE: Van Halen Kurtz's post-punk classic from 1981, The Philosophic Collage Genius EP, is presently in vinyl reissue, available from BDR/Rerun records, St. Louis.

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