Still the best album the band never made...
Daryl Easlea 2007
In 1987 there were two records that stood head and shoulders above the pack: Substance by New Order and Sign Of The Times by Prince. Two double albums that defined the state of transatlantic dance music before E fully took sway and beats went forever baggy.
In the 80s, New Order were yer actual ultimate singles band. Although you forced yourself to love their individual albums (Power, Corruption and Lies and Low Life come close to being great), there was always something missing. That's because their greatest tracks had been used on 45s. And in those days, the two were kept largely separate. And then, finally, as Factory's 200th release, they celebrated themselves with Substance - an apt title if ever there was one.
Released on a chunky-packaged CD, it offered a disc of A-sides and a disc of Bs - simple and somehow quite perfect. All the band's 12”s were lined up in a row, and the opening six tracks of the first disc are as sublime a run as you are going to get in popular music, even with the dodgy rerecords of “Confusion” and “Temptation”. Here, they quickly got out of the shadow of Joy Division and found a robust dance-driven sound. And then, there it is, monolithic almost: “Blue Monday”. Reviled by the group themselves, as it was something of a try-out for their latest equipment, it became their anthem and fully explored the possibilities of the 12” single format.
But it is the two singles on the way to this - “Everything's Gone Green” and “Temptation” that find the group at their best, with Bernard Sumner's naïve lyrics set against a brooding cauldron of electronica that became their trademark. A new single came out to accompany Substance: “True Faith.” Never had their pop sensibilities been so perfectly honed. Although the group enjoyed many great moments after this point, Substance should still be their time capsule release. Almost taken for granted, the way New Order brought the underground dance sounds of the US to the indie mainstream could well make them one of the most significant groups ever.