Thursday, November 4, 2010

New Order In Confusion

It seems I've been neglecting this site. I don't have all that many music releases to write about but I listen to music everyday, so I figure this is as good a place as any to muse on the music I'm listening to. And lately, I've been listening to "Confusion."

New Order's 1983 single is something of an anomaly for the band. It was produced by Arthur Baker, the man behind the desk for "Planet Rock" and countless other hits and the then king of the New York dance floor. New Order had been interested in the NY scene for awhile and so, flush with success from "Blue Monday," their first true club cut, they went to the Big Apple to cut "Confusion" with Baker.

Take a look at this promotional video for the song, shot in NY at the Fun House, the main spot for electro and underground club music at the time.

That's producer Arthur Baker with the long hair. It's telling that he appears more in the video than the band, as the song sounds more like an Arthur Baker remix of a New Order song than an original song. It's got those heavy Arthur Baker beats so popular at the time. It even has "Planet Rock"-style chanting towards the end.

The song was popular upon its release, coming hot on the heels of "Blue Monday," but unlike that more famous song, which successfully blended dance floor concerns with that typical New Order joy, "Confusion" is largely devoid of personality. The melody is recognizably New Order but the feeling, that familiar New Order feeling, is conspicuously absent.

I started listening to the band in 1986, just in time for Low Life, still my favorite album. The original 12" mix of "The Perfect Kiss" is an epic cut, wide screen disco that both borrowed from the conventions of its time and set new standards. I would often listen to it on my Walkman while riding the bus home from school and let the song transport me away from my suburban malaise.

Maybe I never liked "Confusion" because it was too indicative of (sub)urban malaise, those tough beats mimicking the hip-hop of the time. It wasn't an escape; it was a reminder. Or maybe it was just an inferior song. I asked a friend of mine, a fellow New Order fan, what he thought of the song and he called it an experiment. That it is, but I'd label it more of a mis-step.

New Order would eventually perfect the dance floor pop hybrid on Technique but they would do it on their own terms, without the help of an established producer with an established sound. "Confusion" then remains the odd one out in New Order's discography.

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