Substance: Inside New Order
Simon & Schuster
Evidently, this is the golden age of book memoirs by world renowned music artists as the bookstores are being literary showered by juicy memoirs full of soul-baring, band drama, drugs, debauchery and salacious gossip. The appeal of some of these books is evident and immediate. Most of these artists are fascinating already because of their music and lifestyle. Many of the aforementioned memoirs rarely lived up to the expectations promising more but delivering less. Lately, some of the newly published memoirs are of Tolstoyan size with the writers obviously aiming for the equivalent of the double album in music. Bassist Peter Hook's own memoir about New Order is of a Russian classic's size with its 720 pages, but nevertheless, it is an absorbing, informative, entertaining and educational read.
In recent years, he has written two books each concentrating on different chapters of his illustrious career; a hilarious book about the money sucking investment in the form of the legendary club Hacienda (The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club) and the second was his memoir of Joy Division's brief but very influential career. Unknown Pleasures offered a firsthand look at the band's history and legacy. It told a story about real people who made this music during the depressive era Britain rather than the myths surrounding it. The band was a self-taught unit, but nevertheless, it was a group of talented musicians who could write distinct melodies and who have forged their own original sound and path. For a brief period, that band's music and the people around it had started something that would influence and color the music in the decades to come after its tragic end.
The story told in Substance
is a story that starts with a band without its front-man. Rock music is full of stories of stupid and tragic ends to promising starts and Joy Division had a promising start. Joy Division became New Order with the addition of Gillian Gilbert at the end of 1980. One of the ways to deal with the tragedy was music and New Order was built on the rubble of what was a promising band on the rise. From then on, the band didn't a have a real front-man in a classical sense even though guitarist Bernard Sumner reluctantly took the lead vocals. The band had a tough start. Even the producer they had worked with, Martin Hannett, had difficulties in adapting to the band without its singer. To him, Joy Division was a band of one genius and "three Manchester United fans." The album Movement
slightly resembled Joy Division's dark sound but without any desire to push the sound much forward. It also marked the end of the band's working relationship with Hannett. Their growing fascination with programming synthesizers led the band towards more electronic music as it fed on the energy of the machines, overlaid by soulful vocals from Sumner and Hook's iconic "bass-as-lead" playing style.
But the band really woke up to its own potential when they toured America at the start of the '80s and when they roamed NY's dance clubs. Fired up by the dance club culture of the New York club scene the band saw its future there. From then on New Order pretty much watermarked the music scenes starting from the '80s and onward. Power, Corruption & Lies
has always been celebrated as the album on which New Order introduced its trademark synth-driven sound. Further, their other albums in the '80s were an exuberant celebration of the new hybrid they created. The band went on to become one of the most successful and innovative pop-dance acts of all time creating an aesthetic that split between guitar driven post-punk and club-friendly dance music. As a result, their songs were a near-perfect meeting of heart and mind.
The book is similarly structured in the same way as his previous one, Unknown Pleasures. Between chapters Hook is analyzing the albums in detail from this viewpoint, song by song. He looks familiar material from unexpected perspectives and how songs were written and produced, and these details are informative and insightful. Further, he adds lists with concerts from the brief tours in support of those albums with reminiscences of how certain gigs have occurred. Plus, he even adds other lists of people he had an offer to work with (for e.g. The Rolling Stones) but has declined or lists of bass cab messages (Salford Rules) or health issues from playing bass.