Just consider the pedigree: one is a founding member of Joy Division and the voice of New Order, the other is arguably one of the most influential guitarists of a generation and one half of the songwriting duo that launched the Smiths. When Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr announced their new partnership as Electronic in 1989, expectations were higher than anyone could possibly meet and quickly tempered when Marr proclaimed they’d be recording “dance music you could listen to.” While Morrissey was still on tour in flowery shirts urging mopey teens to “hang the DJ,” his former songwriting partner was donning gold chains and penning “Feel Every Beat.”
Bernard Sumner’s songwriting ability hinges not on adroit lyrics or blissful melodies, but on his knack for conveying so much by saying so little and in what are sometimes laughably sentimental nursery rhymes. Half of his lyrics, removed from the trappings of song, border on inane ramblings and nonsense, but within the framework of the right sonic elements, hit that sweet spot that defines good pop music. When they miss though, the songs stumble out as pap foolishness.
Their first single, “Getting Away With It” and the follow-up, “Get the Message,” are prime examples of how Marr and Sumner combined their promise to hit that high. The former is an example of pop mastery bedazzled with swirling violins and staccato guitar while the latter is rife with 12-string guitar, a faux Madchester beat, and lyrics so puzzling they defy logic:
I always though of you as my brick wall
Built like an angel, six feet tall…
Unfortunately, Manchester’s dynamic duo couldn’t sustain the highs of their initial singles and their three albums contain more filler than can be forgiven. So it would seem a singles collection would be ideal, but unfortunately it suffers from the same fate as those original releases by having more style than substance, which is fatal in an already anemic genre.
Luckily, the tracklisting for Get The Message includes the aforementioned gems as well as “Disappointed,” featuring Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys, and the indie rocker “Twisted Tenderness” from their last official studio release.
Given the bands these two have inspired, Electronic falls a bit short on the promise, but this collection is perfect for mix disc fodder and dance parties. Oh Manchester, so much to answer for.