Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Electronic

"Disappointed" (1992)

"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.

34 Comments:

Blogger girish said...

Electronic has three albums. The second and third are a bit uneven but their debut, eponymous record is a pure peach.

February 07, 2006 9:10 PM  
Blogger girish said...

The Pop View invites you to name your favorite albums.

February 07, 2006 9:12 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren posted this comment on the Blog-A-Thons post: "The Driller Killer is on the way from GreenCine, and I just checked out Brad Stevens's book, Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision. Glancing over the stills in the book, I'm thinking this Ferrara-a-thon will be a challenge for me. I have a low tolerance for screen violence."

Maybe we could make some suggestions here.
Darren, these are some Ferraras I've seen that have little or no screen violence: New Rose Hotel, The Funeral, Snake Eyes, 'R Xmas, The Blackout.
Others: please feel free to add.

February 07, 2006 9:16 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Girish: Did you like 24 Hour Party People? I love the scene when the Sex Pistols play Manchester and we're told who is in the audience.

February 07, 2006 9:25 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Yes, Peter. I netflixed and saw it recently, and even before it ended, I knew I had to have my own copy.

February 07, 2006 9:26 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Rhythm guitar and keybs on the Gwen tune:
Wendy & Lisa.
[Reaching for Purple Rain].

February 07, 2006 9:33 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Great timing for this post, Girish. I'm putting the final touches on a new mix CD of loud, noisy, dance-able pop music. It includes "Love Will Tear Us Apart," which I'm still playing the hell out of, three weeks after watching the Winterbottom film, and The Smiths's "What Difference Does It Make?" which features some typically brilliant rhythm guitar from Mr. Marr. Expect a full track listing on Long Pauses in the next day.

I have to admit that when your blog refreshed with that "Disappointed" link at the top of the page, I got really excited because I thought it was the Public Image Ltd. song, which I haven't heard for years. I obsessed over that song when it was released. (Off to iTunes I go.)

February 07, 2006 9:43 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren, I'd love a copy of your mix disc. :-)
Coincidentally, maybe even clairvoyantly, I just put a disc to you in the mail earlier today.

February 07, 2006 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Did you read Dooce's account of her Gwen Stefani concert experience?

Thanks for the disc. Any hints

February 07, 2006 10:04 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

There's supposed to be a question mark at the end of that post.

February 07, 2006 10:06 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren, it's a celebration of, um, disco.

February 07, 2006 10:08 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Fun Dooce post; I'd missed it.
I loved this bit about the Black-Eyed Peas:
"And they didn’t just sing off key, they totally roamed around the stage aimlessly like Chuck does when we throw a treat into the middle of the lawn and tell him to GO FIND YOUR BREAKFAST."

February 07, 2006 10:12 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

"Darren, it's a celebration of, um, disco."

Awe. Some.

February 07, 2006 10:19 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Electronic is a band I've never heard before. Good stuff though.

A planned Pet Shop Boys post, huh? Awesome.

February 07, 2006 11:19 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Useless trivia: Did you know that Chris Marker did a video for Electronic's Getting Away With It? The band rejected the end product though, apparently he was experimenting with image modulation along the lines of "The Zone" in Sans Soleil.

My favorite Electronic song: Some Distant Memory :)

February 08, 2006 12:15 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Cool post, Girish. This is the first I've heard from Electronic. When I was younger and learning guitar, I habitually admired all the fancy six-string slingers like many of my peers did, but always had a soft spot for the really intelligent players who could make a song work with their sparse but musical playing. Marr's definitely in that class. I always saw the guitar players for The Pretenders (James Honeyman-Scott and, later, Robbie McInstosh) in a similar vein.

I had no idea Stefani's album had such stellar guest-stars. And I even own the thing. (Goes to show what happens when you rip all the songs to MP3 and then ignore the liner notes.) Real surprise about Wendy and Lisa. They had an album back in the 80s that I really dug, particularly a song called "Waterfall." It had nice vocal melodies and a great guitar solo. I used to have the thing on cassette tape. Thinking about it again makes me want to download it from iTunes.

Great post.

February 08, 2006 12:18 AM  
Anonymous dvd said...

I don't have that Gwen Stefani record, but I've been impressed with most of the singles I've heard (except the Rich Girl one, which I sorta hated). Hollaback Girl was amazing, and I just heard a new one yesterday that was terrific as well (don't recall the name). The production is amazing, of course, but her voice is just such a wonderful ingredient. I don't really care what she's saying in her songs, hearing her sing just makes you feel...cool.

BTW, I think No Doubt's 'Don't Speak' is a truly great pop tune.

February 08, 2006 4:40 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Okay. I need to start posting at night rather than in the mornings--coz I can wake up to a bunch of fun reading. Thanks, folks.

Darren & Tuwa--Danke, fellas.
Acquarello, no idea about the Marker! Great tune too.
Michael, as you may know, after the Smiths broke up, Marr joined the Pretenders for a while (which makes perfect sense given your preferences). I admire the heck out of Honeyman-Scott's and McIntosh's playing. The Pretenders debut and Learning To Crawl are among my fave rhythm guitar records.
David, I think Gwen's album is much stronger, on all fronts, than I first realized when I picked it up. And over time, I've grown to dig her writing.
"Cool" is, despite its breeziness, a very moving tune, and along with "Luxurious", my favorite song on the record. (On the latter, that Isley Brothers sample, by way of Biggie, is pure genius.)
And on "The Real Thing", the way she inflects the three-word line "You're so complex" (around 1:58) is so odd and beautiful, it kills me.

February 08, 2006 6:18 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Eric's response to Matt Zoller Seitz.

February 08, 2006 7:59 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Well-known fact: Filmbrain likes to use anagrams in his alt-text to the image. Hmm...

February 08, 2006 8:18 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Girish, I had completely forgotten that Marr was with The Pretenders for a short while. And, yeah, those two albums you mention are prime rhythm guitar playing records.

February 08, 2006 1:18 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Speaking of Gwen, how sad and tired is this? Memo to Wayne: fearing pop music (especially the good variety) is a boring cliché.

February 08, 2006 1:41 PM  
Blogger girish said...

That's so depressing and ignorant...Argh.
Ben, I think the first time I visited your blog and was poking around, I found this amazing Sasha essay you linked to:
"When Critics Meet Pop: Why are some writers so afraid of Justin Timberlake?"

February 08, 2006 2:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Now: this is why I love blogging.
Mubarak posts about Radley Metzger.
I've never seen one of his films, so I ask for a recommendation or two.
AND I get all these excellent tips and links from him and Zach. Now I'm dying to dig in and explore...
How cool.

February 08, 2006 2:26 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Dave Kehr:
"The dramatic sense of a composition, the thematic relationship between shots, the emotional nuances of a lighting effect — these things are all vanishing, and few professional observers seem to notice. Or rather, they notice once a year, when something as aggressively “filmed” as “The New World” comes along. But you can’t appreciate the way someone Malick breaks the rules, with his random, impressionistic, centrifugal editing, unless you have a sense of what those rules are and what values and meanings they carry."

February 08, 2006 2:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Rich Juzwiak on female rapper Remy Ma.

February 08, 2006 2:59 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Funny, I thought of the PiL song too. I hadn't heard this "Disappointed" in years, so thanks for the refresher, girish. I own the first CD, but come to think of it haven't played it in years either, perhaps I will tonight.

As far as Wayne Coyne's comments go, I wouldn't take them too seriously as they sound like the kind of deliberately hackles-raising thing musicians say when they have a new album coming out. Doesn't make me want to see the just-announced Flaming Lips concert here any less fervently.

February 08, 2006 6:26 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Brian, I should go sample that PiL tune; not sure if I know it.

February 08, 2006 7:36 PM  
Anonymous davis said...

Darren, you should put your mix (or as much of it as you can) on iTunes as an iMix so we can grab it easily.

February 09, 2006 1:18 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I've seen a couple of Radley Metger films when they were new as well as a couple on DVD. For me, his films do not age well. I'll go ahead and suggest Camille 2000 and Little Mother.

Also, I just started reading Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus, which has this quote from Bernard Sumner: "I saw the Sex Pistols. They were terrible. I thought they were great. I wanted to get up and be terrible too."

February 09, 2006 7:53 AM  
Anonymous girish said...

Okay, the light bulb comes on a little late (slow on the uptake, as the Brits might say).
But here's another illustration of the conscious "hybridity" (reconciling the two disparate strains, synth- and guitar-based) of Electronic.

On the second mp3 I posted ("For You"), on the solo bridge, which kicks in around 3:00:
The bridge is actually bifurcated in two.
In part 1, we hear a solo that at first sounds like guitar, but on closer listen reveals itself to be computer-sequenced, but using a guitar-like sample.
Part 2 of the bridge is a Marr guitar solo, untouched by electronics.

Off to classes, and a tough day. The semester's caught up with me, big-time.

February 09, 2006 9:26 AM  
Anonymous Aaron Hillis said...

Girish, if you could see only one Radley Metzger film, ya gotta go for The Lickerish Quartet. I think Filmbrain will back me up on this one, too.

February 09, 2006 11:28 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Aaron, I just added it to my Netflix queue.
(And Zach's Slant review of it sounded great too.)
I also tossed in Camille 2000, Score, and Therese & Isabelle.

February 09, 2006 4:50 PM  
Blogger Eric Henderson said...

I still haven't watched Lickerish, but those four are undoubteldy the non-penetration essentials.

February 09, 2006 8:29 PM  

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