Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 10: New Order, "Blue Monday"

Artist: New Order
Song: “Blue Monday”
Album: Blue Monday (single)
Year: 1983

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While many live their lives by the phrase, “everything happens for a reason,” during the darkest hours of human existence, such sentiments can seem both futile and perhaps cold-hearted.  However, in an overwhelming majority of cases, it holds true in the end, though often times such cannot be fathomed “in the moment.”  This is certainly the case that one can argue in the period that followed the tragic suicide of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis in May of 1980.  Coming on the eve of the bands’ first ever U.S. tour, the group was left shattered and frustrated, as one can make the case that they were on the verge of breaking huge on the international music scene.  However, it was out of this tragedy that an equally pivotal band was birthed, and a majority of music in the 1980’s and beyond would have never come to be had it not been for the pioneering sounds of New Order.  Though they remain somewhat overlooked in the list of “big” bands from the 1980’s, their contributions cannot be denied, and many of their songs remain just as relevant and exciting today as they did upon first release.  Fusing together the rising synthesizer-based dance sound with the darker themes of Joy Division, the band carved out an entirely new genre of music, quickly establishing themselves as a group completely separate from their previous band.  New Order forever cemented their names as one of the greatest acts in music history when they released what when on to become the best selling twelve-inch single in history in the form of 1983’s, “Blue Monday.”

Though many may not be aware of the songs’ name or those responsible for its creation, the moment that “Blue Monday” begins, the rhythm and melody are instantly recognizable.  The immediate link to their earlier band is set into play by the stark, almost military-like cadence from the programmed drums, and yet it is this same element which makes “Blue Monday” uniquely danceable.  As the synthesizers slowly fade into the mix, the depth of the song becomes realized, and there are few songs of the era that seem to completely surround the listener in the manner that one can experience on this track.  After the introduction, one of the most distinctive aspects of “Blue Monday” becomes apparent, as the sequencer played by Gillian Gilbert is in fact slightly off rhythm.  Though the band was well aware of this mistake, it was agreed that the “error” managed to work quite well, so it was left as is for the final mix of the song.  The bassline seems to bounce off the track in a completely unique manner, and this is perhaps the most modern aspect of the song, and countless bands that followed in the footsteps of New Order would copy the tone found here.  The interplay between all of the instruments during the “solo” section is unlike anything else, and may very well be the highlight of the entire song.  It is this combination of multiple rhythms and upbeat fills and progressions from the synthesizers that on many levels make “Blue Monday” the quintessential 1980’s pop sound, and few artists deployed as perfectly balanced and toned a sound as one can experience here.

Serving as the ideal finishing touch to an exceptional musical arrangement, the vocals of Bernard Sumner drive home the dark, if not haunting nature of “Blue Monday.”  It is also in his vocals where the most obvious separation between New Order and Joy Division occurs, as his singing is far deeper and darker than that of Ian Curtis.  Yet his vocal approach works perfectly throughout “Blue Monday,” as there is a looming sense of sadness that runs throughout the song, yet there is no question that this is a dance song at its core.  The way with which the almost church-like backing vocals are placed around his futuristic-sounding leads is nothing short of superb, and there has rarely been a vocal performance that can be compared on any level.  Furthermore, one can easily hear the impact of Sumner’s vocal style in later artists like Peter Steele and many other performers.  However, it is also the nature of the lyrics that Sumner sings that makes “Blue Monday” such an overwhelming experience, as they can be interested on a number of different levels.  While at their most basic, the words seem to speak to a broken relationship, due to reality of the world around them, one cannot help but read into the words as a statement to their fallen bandmate.  Every line of the song is beautifully crafted, and it is lines like, “…but if it wasn't for your misfortunes, I'd be a heavenly person today…” that make it impossible not to consider the song as some sort of homage or final statement that “formally” closed the door on Joy Division.

Taking all of this brilliant musicianship into account, one can see the overall success of “Blue Monday” as a rather large surprise, as it had a number of factors working against it.  First off, the full release of the song clocks in at just under seven-and-a-half minutes, and one can easily understand how unfriendly such length is in terms of radio airplay.  Secondly, the song was not placed on the original releases of the bands’ Power, Corruption, And Lies record, igniting the ire of many fans to a point where special labels were placed on the record to formally indicate the absence of the track.  Furthermore, the twelve-inch singles that were released did not actually have the songs’ title or band name on them; instead displaying a “color code” that had to be decoded from the back of the full length album.  Yet even with all of these obstacles, it is estimated that “Blue Monday” sold well over one million copies, instantly cementing its place as one of the best selling singles in history.  As the years have passed, “Blue Monday” has been remixed and re-released on a number of occasions, and this has helped to keep the song fresh and relevant as the musical trends have changed.  In all, more than twenty versions of “Blue Monday” have been formally released over the years, and yet there is still a greatness within the original that has never been matched.  Though nearly every band in the 1980’s attempted to duplicate its perfection, there has never been another track that can compare to New Order’s brilliant 1983 single, “Blue Monday.”

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