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Music / Substance (New Order Album)

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"I feel so extraordinary, something's got a hold on me..."
Substance is a compilation album by New Order, released in 1987. Released as a stopgap during the interim between 1986's Brotherhood and 1989's Technique, the album compiles every 12" single released by New Order from their formation up until around the first half of 1987 (plus "Procession", which is included on CD and cassette copies despite having only ever seen release as a 7" single). The album is also the band's first to not be focused primarily on the LP format. Not only do the CD and cassette releases manage to squeeze all of the band's 12" singles onto one disc/tape, something that required two records for the LP release, but they also add in a second disc/tape devoted to the B-sides of the included singles and then some, with a few more B-sides present on cassette than on CD. Due to the limited capacity of physical media back in the day, a good amount of tracks were edited down or outright re-recorded to fit a shorter length.

In addition to collecting the band's 12" A-sides and B-sides, Substance also includes two new songs: "True Faith" and "1963", recorded specifically for this album and produced by Pet Shop Boys and Erasure collaborator Stephen Hague. The songs were released together as a 7" and 12" single earlier in 1987 to promote the album, with "True Faith" as the A-side and "1963" as the B-side. Because of this, the songs exist in a weird state of being both non-album singles (as they were never included on an actual studio album) and an album single (as they were written for and released to promote Substance). The single reached no. 4 on the British pop charts and proved to be their Breakthrough Hit in the U.S., reaching the Top 40 for the first time as the song's Surreal Music Video became an MTV hit. The hit single propelled the album to platinum status, the band's first certification in that country.


This album is also notable for being one of only a small amount officially released on Digital Audio Tape (DAT) during the format's limited commercial lifespan before the record industry's freakout over potential piracy applications relegated it to professional use; the DAT release is a double-tape package and features the exact same tracklist per tape as the CD version does per disc.

Substance stands as a historically important entry in New Order's backlog. Because it contains nearly all of the band's singles between 1981 and 1987, it stands as an immediate presentation of the band's artistic evolution from a Post-Punk band in the shadow of Joy Division to the founders and codifiers of the Alternative Dance genre.

Upon and long after its release, Substance received immense critical and commercial acclaim, selling over one million copies. To this day, it is New Order's best-selling and most widely acclaimed album, even surpassing their proper studio albums; among other things, it placed at number 363 on Rolling Stone: 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, making it the only New Order album to appear on the list. Because of the album's success, another singles compilation for Joy Division was released in 1988, also titled Substance. As a result, the New Order album is frequently referred to as Substance 1987 (after the cover art) to differentiate it from the Joy Division one. In hindsight, the success of New Order's Substance in the US heralded the rise of Alternative Rock as a mainstream force in American music, alongside other releases that year such as R.E.M.'s Document, 10,000 Maniacs' In My Tribe, Midnight Oil's Diesel and Dust, U2's The Joshua Tree, and fellow alternative dance group Depeche Mode's Music For The Masses.


Tracklist (taken from the cassette version):

Tape One

Side One
  1. "Ceremony" (4:23)note 
  2. "Everything's Gone Green" (5:30)
  3. "Temptation" (6:59)
  4. "Blue Monday" (7:29)
  5. "Confusion" (4:43)
  6. "Thieves Like Us" (6:36)
  7. "Murder" (3:55)note 

Side Two

  1. "The Perfect Kiss" (8:46)note 
  2. "Sub-Culture" (4:48)
  3. "Shellshock" (6:28)
  4. "State of the Nation" (6:32)
  5. "Bizarre Love Triangle" (6:44)
  6. "True Faith" (5:55)

Tape Two

Side Three
  1. "In a Lonely Place" (6:16)
  2. "Procession" (4:27)
  3. "Mesh" (3:02)†note 
  4. "Cries and Whispers" (3:25)note 
  5. "Hurt" (6:58)
  6. "The Beach" (7:19)
  7. "Confusion (Instrumental)" (7:38)
  8. "Lonesome Tonight" (5:11)
  9. "Thieves Like Us (Instrumental)" (6:57)

Side Four

  1. "Kiss of Death" (7:02)
  2. "Dub-Vulture" (7:57)†
  3. "Shellcock" (7:35)†
  4. "Shame of the Nation" (7:54)
  5. "Bizarre Dub Triangle" (7:00)†
  6. "1963" (5:35)
  7. "True Dub" (10:41)†

†Exclusive to cassette releases

Principal members:

"It was January 1963, when Johnny came home with a trope for me":

  • Alternative Dance: The album acts as an abridged history of the genre's formation, focusing on the band that invented and helped codify it.
  • Anti-Love Song: Many of the songs qualify, particularly "Blue Monday" and "Bizarre Love Triangle".
  • The Big Rotten Apple: The video for "Confusion" shows 1983 New York City in all its glory: subway cars scrawled with graffiti and a Times Square full of porno theaters.
  • Breather Episode: "Temptation" and "Thieves Like Us", two upbeat, straight love songs with no major catches, sandwiched within a tracklist whose songs tend to be sardonic at best.
  • Call-Back: The cover art is a subtle one to Movement; both albums' cover art feature the band name, album title, and year of release in black text against a bright, single-color background.
  • Coolest Club Ever: The video for "Confusion" has shots of New York City's legendary Fun House club packed with dancers.
  • Distinct Double Album: In different forms on different formats.
    • On the LP version, which only contains the A-sides, disc one chronicles the band's non-album singles from 1981 to 1983, while disc two chronicles the singles from 1985 to 1987.
    • On cassette, sides one and three chronicles the band's A-sides and B-sides from 1981 to 1984, while sides two and four chronicle the band's A-sides and B-sides from 1985 to 1987.
    • On CD, DAT, and cassette, unit one chronicles A-sides, while unit two primarily chronicles B-sides. The only exceptions to this rule are "Procession" and "Murder", which are included on the B-side portion of the album despite having originally been released as A-sides; "Murder" though is properly placed among the A-sides on cassette copies.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Present on the A-sides and B-sides that predate "Temptation" and "Hurt". These songs were written prior to the band's Genre Shift to Alternative Dance, during a time when they were simply hoping to continue what they had started as Joy Division, only this time without the late Ian Curtis. The songs also have much more emphasis on Echoing Acoustics, due to them being produced by Joy Division producer Martin Hannett.
  • Epic Rocking: And how. Of the 29 tracks included on Substance, 18 of them exceed the 6-minute mark.
  • Gratuitous Panning: The synth hits at the end of the intro for "The Perfect Kiss" and the isolated backing vocals on the last reprise of the chorus of "Bizarre Love Triangle".
  • Greatest Hits Album: To an extent. While many of the band's best-known singles are included on Substance, the album does not aim to be a greatest hits album and is simply meant as a retrospective of the band's career via their single releases.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "The Perfect Kiss" ends with a synthesized bang on LP and cassette, implied to be the narrator's friend shooting himself dead.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: A hallmark of New Order; "The Perfect Kiss", "Bizarre Love Triangle", "True Faith", "Procession", and "1963" are all unusually upbeat musically for their morbid subject matter, with producer Stephen Hague referring to "1963" in particular as "the only song about domestic violence that you can dance to."
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Simply the words "New Order Substance 1987" on a white background.
  • Pop-Star Composer: "Shellshock" was originally written for the film Pretty in Pink.
  • Protest Song: "State of the Nation" is a vague one, attacking "deprivation" in the United Kingdom.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: "The Perfect Kiss" was based on an incident while, during a stay in America, a man randomly showed the members of New Order the gun collection hidden beneath his mattress, before heading out for a night on the town.
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • A fair number of songs had to receive significant overhauls to compensate for storage limitations of physical media back in 1987. Theoretically one could've split the A-side and B-side portion across two discs each on the CD release (via a four-disc "fatbox" jewel case) and have room for the added content in the cassette release, but the fact that the CD format was still fairly nascent and more expensive to manufacture than records kept such a thing from becoming a reality.
      • "Temptation" and "Confusion" are both re-recorded, running significantly shorter than the original 12" releases. The re-recording of "Temptation" incidentally seems to combine elements of the 7" and 12" versions from 1982, featuring the slick, thumping sound of the 7" version and the freeform Epic Rocking experimentation of the 12" version (perhaps not coincidentally, both versions of the 1982 release were recorded back-to-back in a single take). The end result is a "best of both worlds" approach that came to overshadow both versions of the original 1982 single as time went on.
      • "Sub-Culture", "Shellshock", and "Hurt" are all significantly edited down from their original running lengths, with "The Perfect Kiss" being an additional victim on CD and DAT copies. The full-length version of "The Perfect Kiss" wouldn't be included in a New Order release in its entirety until the 2008 collector's edition reissue of Low-Life.
    • "Sub-Culture" is a different example of this trope, in comparison with the version included on Low-Life. The song received a remix by American record producer John Robie for its 12" release, incorporating soul singer backing vocals and more club-oriented rhythms; ironically, the album version ended up being considered more club-friendly.
    • The version of "Ceremony" included on the compilation is the re-recorded version with Gillian Gilbert in the lineup, released in September of 1981, rather than the original January 1981 release that solely featured the surviving members of Joy Division; compared to the first version, this one features lacks the processed vocals and distorted guitar, and lends a drier sound closer to the original Joy Division demos of the track. The reason for picking the re-recording over the original is unknown, as both received a 12" release, though the fact that the September recording featured the full New Order lineup may have been the most likely deciding factor.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Murder" features samples of dialogue from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Caligula.
    • The bassline for "Blue Monday" was inspired by Ennio Morricone's soundtrack for For a Few Dollars More. The song also sounds quite a bit like Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)", which isn't that surprising given that the band acknowledged the disco star as an influence.
    • The backing vocals of "Subculture" reference the theme of Shaft.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: "Blue Monday" and "The Beach". They are the same track, but "The Beach" alternates sounds and voices throughout the song. Not surprisingly, they were originally released as an A-side and B-side back in 1983.
  • Spiritual Successor: The 2005 Singles compilation seems intended to be one to Substance as the latter is now out of print. Singles is another 2-disc compilation, but focuses on the band's 7-inch releases and also covers the band's post-1987 singles, while using original versions instead of re-recordings. Its cover art is also a Call-Back to that of the "True Faith" single, featuring the leaf's skeleton atop a white background instead of blue.
  • Spiteful Spit: "Lonesome Tonight" features the sound of someone hocking a loogie during the outro, tying in with the bitter lyrics about a failed relationship to invoke this trope.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Gillian Gilbert has backing vocals on "Procession" and "Confusion".
  • Surreal Music Video: The video for "True Faith".
  • Title Confusion: "Cries and Whispers" and "Mesh" have their names swapped on the album's packaging, stemming from an error present on the "Everything's Gone Green" sleeve back in 1982.
  • Vanilla Edition: LP and U.S. cassette copies only include the A-side portion of the album, likely due to cost issues, as the total collection of 12" A-sides already covers two LPs. Releases on all other formats add in the B-sides as well, plus "Procession" (which was only ever released as a 7" single) and "Murder"; cassette versions go an extra mile and include several more B-sides not featured on CD and DAT copies.
  • Who Shot JFK?: In New Order Music 1981-89, Bernard Sumner facetiously described "1963" as being based around this trope; his tongue-in-cheek summary of the song states that John F. Kennedy arranged for Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate his wife in Dallas so he could elope with Marilyn Monroe, only for Oswald to take out Kennedy by mistake; Monroe commits suicide in despair, while Oswald is murdered by Jack Ruby for causing his boss's hitman business to go bust.note 

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