Friday, August 10, 2007

Video Vault: New Order, The Perfect Kiss

This song came at the end of the most creative period of New Order's long and storied career. It's one of their highlights, another in a long line of understated anthems that merge machine-driven electronic sounds and rhythms with traditional "real" instruments like guitar and drums.

I've seen New Order in concert about four times, and I always love those moments where there's a cacophony of multi-layered, polyrhythmic sound pumping out from the stage, and no one in the band is actually playing an instrument. One time when I saw them, Barney introduced Fine Time by saying something like, "This is our new single, and we're going to be playing to it... er, playing it to you so you'll go out and buy it." Peter Hook sauntered to the microphone, and with perfect timing, archly mumbled, "Freudian slip."

This video contains some pretty good examples of the band standing around aimlessly while their pre-programmed machines do the heavy lifting. It also highlights their dedicated amateurism. Peter Hook is wearing a leather jacket and plain grey sweatpants, I think, and check out Barney's "guitar solo" about halfway through, right before he starts banging away on a cowbell, of all things.

The thing is, they never just completely turned the machines loose. Their best moments, as in this song, Everything's Gone Green and 5-8-6, were always when they gave the machines a good lengthy head start, then chased after them on guitar and, especially, bass, and raced along together to form a glorious, delirious hybrid Man Machine. The last two minutes of this video provide an excellent example of this.

They performed this song live for the video, and I think it's the best recorded version of the song. Casual fans are probably most familiar with the extended version on the greatest hits collection Substance. The version on Low-life was trimmed down into a tighter, more compact form. They completely cut out the bridge, but you can hear Barney start the "Wh..." sound in the first line. (Listen to the version on Low-life at the 2:24 mark).

This video was directed by Jonathan Demme right after he did Stop Making Sense, the Talking Heads concert film. This is done in a similar style, with lots of long-take close-ups that focus on the musician's faces rather than their flyin' fingers.

The video was a shock. After years of obsessively refusing to appear on their album covers or otherwise engage in standard rock-ist promotion, both as Joy Division and New Order, here they were, under the bright lights of their rehearsal studio in what is either an early use of digital video, or some sort of high definition video tape.

It's a nice little touch, sort of an in-joke, how Demme begins the video with a few seconds of abstract blurriness, then lets Gillian Gilbert step into the frame in full focus. There are simple cuts to matter-of-fact closeups of each band member, and then Demme just keeps them front and center, big as life, for nine minutes.

The two things people always remark upon after seeing this video are the sampled frog sounds and the look of sheer boredom each band member displays at least occasionally. I also like the part near the end, when you can see their manager, Rob Gretton, leaning in the doorway, obviously digging the performance. (At least I think it's him; it might actually be Tony Wilson.* And I think that's Arthur Baker obscured behind the glass.)

*Holy crap, it looks like he just died today! Kiss of death, indeed.

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