"For You" (1996)
It’s been a blistering half-week at work, and the mind and body yearn for a rush of pop pleasure. Let’s get some.
Electronic is Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr. It's a British super-group formed from two of the strongest bands to come out of the 1980’s, New Order and the Smiths; both are from Manchester. The group blends together two key musical strains of the decade: (1) synth-based dance pop, associated among others with New Order and Pet Shop Boys, and (2) the post-punk, guitar-based, “pre-alternative” rock of the Smiths. Electronic might lack the heft of these bands, but they make a breezy, melodic, hybrid-textured pop that has aged nicely.
Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys, my single favorite 1980’s band (expect a full-regalia celebratory post soon), occasionally joins Electronic. In fact, he sings “Disappointed”, which is a creamy slice of techno-pop iced with Marr’s signature, wondrous rhythm guitar playing. Check out his vamp which kicks in around 1:35; at first it appears he’s using a delay (echo) unit, but it’s just his rapid-fire yet precise right hand we hear. The song appears on the Cool World soundtrack.
“For You” is a Marr-fest, stacked with guitar overdubs both acoustic and electric. Bernard sings, and the song veers far away from techno-pop—the drums are, atypically, live and not programmed. Marr has a way of playing superlatively without really calling attention to himself. He solos very rarely, doesn't usually bury his guitar in blankets of distortion, and allows the instrument to ring out—he's a throwback to the sixties in this respect.
Bernard’s no slouch as a guitarist either. He’s not in the same league as Marr (who is?) but he can be marvelously spare and tenacious. I can’t make him out much on the Electronic records—Marr handles most guitar parts—but his New Order and Joy Division rhythm guitar style has had a lasting influence over the years. To illustrate: let’s close with Gwen.
Gwen Stefani: "The Real Thing" (2004)
Fifteen seconds into the song, Greg Collins' electric guitar enters and I could swear it has Bernard’s mark on it—a minimal repeating figure, simple and steadfast, with little vibrato, distortion or other pedal effects, the notes attacked full frontally with little or no sliding around. The backing track, with its propulsive synth-bass line, would have felt at home on a New Order record circa 1989. (I checked the musician credits on the CD just now—Bernard sings backup and Peter Hook plays bass. It all makes sense.) I know Gwen’s album has sold a gazillion copies and been overexposed, but it’s still my most-played pop record of the last couple of years.