It was my birthday yesterday.
Happily, I got to spend it with my mum and my sisters, the first time I have seen these three ladies – as well as my stepdad and my sister Ria’s partner Al – since February. We spent the day in Beckenham Place Park and I can legitimately say to you that it was one of the best birthdays I can remember. Jo, who was also there, of course she was, with her dad had gone out of her way to make the day as special as she possibly could.
Mission accomplished. I really am very, very lucky to have someone like Jo in my life. Which is why, with words broiling in my brain, I have left her to sleep and get some rest rest after a long weekend, whilst I come to talk to you about some of the records I got yesterday.
As is becoming habitual, my birthday list (yes, even at the age of 43, I still have one – it seems a sensible way to avoid people wasting money on things I don’t want) was dominated by vinyl. One of the good things about the vinyl explosion, I think, is that pretty much anything can now be obtained (even PJ Harvey is releasing her back catalogue on vinyl now – more of which to follow, no doubt, at some point in the future..) and at increasingly reasonable prices. So I don’t have to feel too guilty about stuffing my list with records.
I am also trying to expand my horizons, so my vinyl collection doesn’t simply mirror my CD collection because that would be a total waste of money, although, obviously there are going to be some records – better, sacred texts – which I must have. I know that sounds greedy, I don’t care. Some records are just too important. More of which, anon.
Jo’s dad has actively encouraged this habit, so it seems fitting that the first record which found its way onto the turntable yesterday is the one he bought me, Kraftwerk’s Computer World. It took me a long time to fall for Kraftwerk, a lot longer than it should have someone who has been worshipping at the twin altars of Depeche Mode & New Order since the mid 90’s; I guess I always found Autobahn a little…. well, let’s just say I never quite “got” it and leave it there.
However, when I did fall for them, I fell hard.
To sit here and list the reasons why Kraftwerk are so important would be a blog post in itself, so I’m not going to do that. I will say that I had already picked up the records I considered to be “canon” a few years back and was happy. And then, on the day Jo and I were supposed to have seen them perform at Victoria Park in May, we watched a Kraftwerk 3-D performance on Youtube instead. And I realised that Computer World was very much also “canon”. As we’ve already covered, I can be slow on the uptake.
The record itself was released in 1981 and is a gentler experience than perhaps the live versions of its songs would indicate. But you can still listen to it and hear how it anticipates house music and lyrically, it makes a mockery of those music critics who, perhaps taken in by The Robots, derided Kraftwerk as musical sourpusses. There’s a deftness of touch in Computer Love that perhaps you wouldn’t expect from a band whose name literally translates to “Power Plant”. I love the futuristic heads on the album cover and then the four blokes (der robots?) on the back creating that future.
I can’t wait to go back in.
But next to a band who I was really big on around the time I began this blog nearly ten years ago, Metronomy and Nights Out. Nights Out was originally released in 2008 and is the second album Joe Mount released under the Metronomy name. It was recently reissued on vinyl and, having missed it the first time round, I had to have it, particularly having had the chance to watch again their excellent set from Glastonbury 2017. Luckily for me, my Jo was happy to oblige.
I will always have fond memories of the songs like Heartbreaker, Thing For Me & Holiday because Metronomy were still playing these the first time we saw them live at the Albert Hall. It’s good to be reminded how much fun Metronomy were live, but their squeaky electronica transcends nostalgia and so I found myself hollering along to Radio Ladio‘s holleralong friendly chorus at the top of my voice. I hope, when all this staying at home hoping to avoid a pandemic is over, we can be reunited once more.
And speaking of live reunions, last April I bought tickets to see Peter Hook perform both Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures & Closer on the 40th anniversary of the latter’s May 18, 1980 release. This gig has now been postponed to the 25th Jan 2021, so by the time we get to it, the tickets will have been in my possession for around 21 months. Which seems absolutely crackers.
Happily, the pandemic (can you use the words “happily” & “pandemic” in the same sentence? I’m going with it) hasn’t prevented a rather spectacular looking reissue of Closer on clear vinyl.
Can you use “happily” and “Closer” together? Hmmmm….
Anyway, remember when I said about sacred texts? Well, as I opened this package, the feeling that I was holding something almost too delicate to touch was overwhelming. I know, I know, it’s a reissue, that’s totally irrelevant to me. I have a theory about Closer that, whilst Joy Division fans can love Unknown Pleasures as a dark, but otherwise straight up rock record, Closer is inextricably linked to Ian Curtis suicide and, as such, can not ever really be “enjoyed” in the truest sense of the word.
Even so, or maybe because of this, the music committed to these two sides of clear vinyl wield a phenomenal power and to hold this record, for me, is like touching an original copy of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.
Talking to some friends about it yesterday, I said A Means To An End, Heart And Soul (if ever a track invented the term “Goth Disco”, it must have been this one with its soft, shuffling grooves?) and Twenty Four Hours are the greatest three tracks sequenced together of all time. Then I went further and said that in my opinion, side two of Closer is the most perfect side of music ever committed to tape. I mean, seriously.
You can’t talk about Heart And Soul and Twenty Four Hours and then leave out the desperately resigned, yet strangely beautiful The Eternal and as for Decades… Jesus. I remember writing in a breathless review of New Order’s 2018 Ally Pally show that I hadn’t been able to get the song out of my head. Is it any wonder?
If Closer is the sound of a man giving up on life then, with the eerie foresight of Decades, Ian Curtis predicts the, ultimately fruitless, struggle his bandmates would (in my opinion) have in laying his ghost to rest throughout the journey of New Order.
I have just replayed side 2 as I type this, the silence following Decades seems to fill the room. I remember one night, many years ago, playing Unknown Pleasures over and over again. It’s difficult to do that with Closer, its like the album means too much to just play on repeat, you have to let it settle, let yourself recover.
I realise that I have somewhat glossed over side 1. Make no mistake that I also hold that side of the record in the highest esteem, it’s just that the emotional heft on the flip side, for me, dominates the record. As a whole, Closer is, not to appear flippant about it, a towering achievement given that it was recorded by 4 young lads from Manchester (& surrounding areas) who appeared to not to have a clue what they were doing.
Luckily for them, and us, their producer, Martin Hannett (RIP) did.