51. New Order – Hurt

/ Temptation, Factory, 1982

New Order - Temptation

Of course, had Ian Curtis not committed suicide, it might all have been so very different.  Had Joy Division left as planned to tour America on the day following his death, the group might have discovered the music of the clubs of New York a year earlier.  But how willing would Curtis have been to go down the rhythm-oriented, technological route?  Likely as not, a schism would eventually have resulted; the musical differences of legend.

The death of Curtis meant that the new group felt the need and had the chance to start from scratch, enabling a radical shift in outlook which might never have happened if Joy Division had come back from America and settled in with Martin Hannett to record their next album.  As it was, at the same time as they intent on reinventing themselves, New Order were perhaps understandably clinging to the skeletal, shipwrecked remains of that third Joy Division album – the ghost that was brought to the surface to become New Order’s first, complete with Bernard’s and Hooky’s Ian Curtis impressions.  This was how they managed to record more or less simultaneously both Movement and the startling, sequenced throb of ‘Everything’s gone green’, and not long after that ‘Temptation’ – mysterious, simmering with defiant life, and magically accommodating the past within its blueprint of the future.

Of all the fine B sides that New Order turned out during the first half of the eighties, I’ve gone for the one coupled with ‘Temptation’.  The first single of theirs that I bought, both A and B have a personal head start over the others but ‘Hurt’ deserves to be chosen on merit alone, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Let’s start with the words, such as they are.  Lyrically carefree and careless, particularly when (unfairly but inevitably) set against Curtis, Bernard was always a sloppy wordsmith.  But he was capable of flashes of brilliance, and of picking words and lines which might be meaningless or at least not terribly meaningful yet suited the mood of the music.  The nonsensical and vaguely apologetic ‘Hurt’ is no exception in this respect.  What made Bernard special as a front man was not so much his occasional lyrical brilliance but his unwillingness, his discomfort.  An initially diffident singer learning to sing in public, he was atypical to the point of being unique; the leader who didn’t really want to lead, at least not like that, before an audience (though behind the scenes it may have been different).  It gave him a vulnerability which helped balance New Order’s musical strength and confidence.

Is the vocodered ‘1234’ with which ‘Hurt’ begins a respectful nod to Kraftwerk?  The track has a sequenced dance floor shimmer that also betrays a debt to Giorgio Moroder, Donna Summer and ‘I feel love’ but ‘Hurt’ is necessarily darker, stripped of most of the light that might have reflected from sequins stitched into a Summer dress.  Ingredients that go into making a great early to mid-period New Order record – an off-on-his-own melodic Hooky bass line, experimental drum programming – are mixed in with atypical elements – choppily rhythmic dance-oriented guitar, a synthesised harmonica or melodica part – and Bernard finding his voice for perhaps the first time, whooping it up with ‘ow’s and ‘oh’s.

I first knew it in its foreshortened 7 inch form, and the drop-out sections in the 12 spook me a little even now, but here are both versions for you to decide your own preference.

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