Can a dance-oriented, singles band find happiness on the album charts? Turns out it could, at least if that band was Britain’s most successful “indie” band of the ’80s, New Order. They put out their fifth full album, Technique, on this day in 1989.
The band which sprung from the ashes of the gloomy Joy Division almost a decade earlier had become immensely popular, especially at home in the UK, with a string of dancey, yet strangely listenable, ear-worm ready singles through the decade and had in fact put out 14 singles which topped Britain’s Indie Chart before this album. They included ’80s staples like “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Thieves Like Us” and of course “Blue Monday”, a song which hit the overall top 10 twice during the decade and is by many counts still the biggest-selling 12” single ever. Their albums had sold modestly though, until they put out a greatest hits package, Substance 1987, which did rise up the charts and breakthrough into the North American market, going platinum in the U.S. and Canada. That album, and its new single “True Faith” (yet another Indie #1) had gotten the band – and its struggling Factory Records label – thinking of bigger things, Unfortunately, they weren’t all that sure how to do so.
Lead singer and main synthesizer guy Bernard Sumner didn’t want to tour and had just formed a side project band, Electronic, with Johnny Marr. Peter Hook was also doing side projects while the remaining pair, keyboardist Gillian Gilbert and her husband, drummer Stephen Morris were working on movie scores on the side. And there wasn’t quite a unanimous opinion as to what the sound of their next, possibly “make or break” record should be. Sumner correctly noted “we were in the position of being known for this dance, electronic sound and it would have been daft to have just stopped it.” But the highly-skilled bassist Peter Hook was tiring of all the synths and sequencers and said “I still wanted us to be a rock band.”
Generally the former won out, and they headed out to the Mediterranean island of Ibiza to work on Technique, undoubtedly a “Fine Time” for the quartet who were well known for partying and liking certain pills. They got entranced by the so-called Balearic Beat, the dance/house sound of the island, and incorporated it into their music, which ended up a bit lighter and more “chirpy, upbeat” (in the words of Uncut) than much of their earlier work. Morris thought it had a “last day of school” vibe to it. They came back to Britain to finish up, at Peter Gabriel’s studio, which they termed a “more sober” experience than Ibiza!
The result was a nine song, 40-minute piece made for the dance floor. It anyone missed that point, the fact that one song is called “Mr. Disco” might drive it home! But as usual for New Order, the standouts were the singles, three of which were launched from Technique – “Round & Round”, “Fine Time” and “Run” . For the latter, they brought in R.E.M. sidekick Scott Litt to remix it as a single, with Scott editing a few solos and cutting back on the echos and effects, with it being released as “Run 2”. Another thing that stood out about that one, if you looked at the liner notes that unlike all the other songs, collectively written by the band, it had John Denver co-credited as a writer. They didn’t fly the Country Boy to Ibiza for a jam session; his publishing company felt “Run” sounded too much like “Leaving on a Jet Plane” so they wisely added his name to the credits and cut him in on it without going to court.
Perhaps a bit surprisingly, the album met with good critical approval, something not always true of their ’80s work. Melody Maker called it a “rare, ravishing triumph”; the NME gave it 9 out of 10 and shortly after, Q ranked it as the 21st best album of the decade. Even on this side of the ocean, reviews were decent. The oft-snarky Village Voice compared them to the other big British new wave act of the ’80s, saying they were “a lot franker and happier than Depeche Mode.” Rolling Stone gave it 3-stars but said it was a “solid blast of sonic presence with immaculate playing.”
The fans certainly agreed. Both “Fine Time” and “Run 2” added to their impressive list of Indie chart-toppers , the former being a top 10 hit in Ireland as well, while “Round & Round” went to the top of U.S. dance charts. And that helped the album itself become their first #1 in Britain and get to #11 in New Zealand and #32 in the States, with it being gold in those countries and Canada – their best showing to that point (with the exception of the greatest hits package) in all those lands.
Oh, and if you notice there’s a sheep bleeting on the single “Fine Time” – one of the rare instances of farm animals doing guest vocals on an ’80s hit – and laughed a little, turns out they were laughing at you. They said it was put in there to represent how the way fans were just “following the flock.”