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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 English Alternative Dance group New Order, released in 1987. Released as a stopgap during the interim between 1986's Brotherhood and 1989's Technique, specifically while the band were touring North America, 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, though this was happening across the music industry as a whole as LP sales plummeted in favor of cassettes and CDs over the course of the 1980s. 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 to fit a shorter length, with "Temptation" and "Confusion" being outright re-recorded from the ground-up. As non-album singles were still pretty common in the U.K. at the time, this was the first stateside appearance for many of these tracks, though some were previously released on the band's studio albums in substantially different forms, no pun intended.

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 mainstream Breakthrough Hit in the U.S. (having already broken through on the dance charts with "Bizarre Love Triangle" the previous year), reaching the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 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. The CD tracklist would also be recycled when the album belatedly hit streaming services in September of 2020, likely because, unlike the longer cassette release, it already had a usable digital master and didn't need to have any tracks re-transferred from archival tapes.

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. AllMusic lists the compilation as an "album pick", meaning that the site's editors feel the album is the most representative of New Order's output as a whole. 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". With "Temptation" it's not immediately obvious, with the lyrics reading closer to a silly love song and the music being very upbeat, but it counts given that Bernard Sumner stated during a 1984 live performance at the Zurich Volkshaus that the song is "a story about long lost love."
  • 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.
  • The Bluebeard: Johnny is depicted as a reluctant one in "1963", shooting and killing his wife behind both tear and hate-filled eyes in order to elope with a woman he was having an affair with.
  • Bookends: The video for "The Perfect Kiss" begins with close-ups of the band members glancing at one another and the camera crew in preparation for their performance. It ends again with close-ups of the band members glancing at one another and the camera crew, this time gauging each other's responses to the performance (as the video had been shot in one take).
  • Breather Episode: "Temptation" and "Thieves Like Us", two upbeat-sounding songs (albeit with Anti-Love Song lyrical themes) sandwiched within a tracklist whose music tends 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.
  • Canon Immigrant: "Everything's Gone Green" was only ever given a Belgian and Japanese release officially, but was popular enough in the UK via import copies to peak at No. 3 on the UK Independent Singles Chart. Because of this, it's included on the A-sides portion of the compilation, which otherwise focuses on the band's British 12" releases.
  • Changed for the Video:
    • The music video for "The Perfect Kiss" features the band performing the 12" version of the song live in the studio, as they refused to lip-sync at the time.
    • The music video for "Bizarre Love Triangle" uses the 7" edit of the Shep Pettibone remix (included in full on 12" copies and on this compilation as the "Extended Dance Mix"), featuring a considerably different arrangement. The edit also double-tracks Bernard Sumner's vocals on the chorus, rather than backing them with synthesized vocals (as on the album) or leaving them alone (as on the 12" version). Additionally, the music video for "Bizarre Love Triangle" features a cut-out not present in the actual song where the music briefly stops in favor of an argument about reincarnation before immediately resuming afterwards.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: On the cassette release, the A-sides tape sports red labels while the B-sides tape sports blue ones, tying in with the red and blue floral patterns found in the liner notes.
  • Coolest Club Ever: The video for "Confusion" has shots of New York City's legendary Fun House club packed with dancers.
  • Corpsing: The re-recorded "Confusion" ends with the band cracking up over the outro, segueing into a small bit of Studio Chatter.
  • 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.
  • Downer Beginning: The album opens with "Ceremony", a wistfully melancholic song that just so happened to be one of the last pieces Joy Division ever wrote and rehearsed before Ian Curtis' 1980 suicide. The B-side portion itself takes things up a notch, opening with "In a Lonely Place", which was written and rehearsed around the same time as "Ceremony" and is even bleaker in tone both musically and lyrically, among other things including a verse about a hanging that seems frighteningly prescient in light of Curtis' death by the same method.
  • Downer Ending: The CD, DAT, and digital versions of the album close out with "1963", a melancholic song about uxoricide.
  • Drugs Are Bad: "True Faith" is sung from the perspective of a man spiraling down into drug addiction while trying to cope with the trauma of an abusive childhood.
  • 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.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: "The Perfect Kiss" includes a sampled interlude of frog croaks of all things, simply because Stephen Morris loved the recording and jumped at the chance to make use of it, as well as synthesized sheep bleats at the end; the bleating sheep sample would become an aural Running Gag in future New Order songs.
  • Gratuitous Panning: Done with the isolated backing vocals on the last reprise of the chorus of "Bizarre Love Triangle" (as well as on a large number of other parts on the latter).
  • 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.
  • Idiosyncratic Cover Art: While it's not visible on the outer sleeve, the inner sleeve on 12" copies of "True Faith" and the back cover on 7" ones feature a modified version of the Substance cover art with the text "SUBSTANCE 1987" changed to "TRUE FAITH 1963".
  • In the Style of...: The music video for "The Perfect Kiss", directed by Jonathan Demme, is a straight Performance Video done in the same manner as Stop Making Sense, the Demme-directed Talking Heads concert film from the previous year.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "The Perfect Kiss" ends with a synthesized bang, implied to be the narrator's friend shooting himself dead.
  • Longest Song Goes Last: On cassette copies, the compilation ends with the 10:41 "True Dub".
  • Lyrical Dissonance: A hallmark of New Order; in particular, "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.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The Temptation of Victoria, a music video for the re-recorded "Temptation" produced and released nearly 20 years after the song itself, is an extended one to departed Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis: not only does the woman in the video resemble him, but she also reenacts his habit of shoplifting records (albeit with the setting transplanted to France).
    • "Shellshock" reprises the melody and structure of "Confusion", the original incarnation of which predates it by roughly three years; the re-recording of "Confusion" on this compilation returns the favor by adopting elements of "Shellshock" in its own mix.
  • Non-Appearing Title: Most of the tracks apply, with the exceptions of "Confusion", "The Perfect Kiss", "Shellshock", "State of the Nation", "Hurt", and "1963".
  • 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. The re-recorded "Confusion" also blends the conciseness of the 7" mix with the more experimental elements of the 12" one, but overhauls the sound to a much harder, percussive one that reflects the radical change in club music between 1983 and 1987.
      • "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, specifically cutting 44 seconds from the outro (though still maintaining most of the climactic finale and especially the Last Note Nightmare ending); the latter additionally carries over to streaming services, which reuse the CD release's master. The full-length version of "The Perfect Kiss" wouldn't be included on a New Order CD release in its entirety until the 2008 collector's edition reissue of Low-Life. Notably, the edit of "Shellshock" ended up being so similar to the original Pretty in Pink version of the song that it's frequently misidentified as it.
    • "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 (who also provided the remix of "Shellshock" included on this compilation) 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.
  • Rule of Cool: The sole rationale for the frog solo in "The Perfect Kiss".
  • Shout-Out:
    • The outro of "Confusion" features a "ra-tata-tatata-ta-ta-hey!" chant that nods to the "mama-say mama-sah ma-ma-coo-sah" chant from Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango's 1972 single "Soul Makossa"; the use of it specifically in the outro further harks back to "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" by Michael Jackson.
    • "Thieves Like Us" derives its title from the 1974 film of the same name.
    • "Murder" features samples of dialogue from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Caligula.
    • Peter Hook's bass riff in "Blue Monday" is lifted from Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to For a Few Dollars More, and the choir sample is taken from Kraftwerk's "Uranium". 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 song title itself, meanwhile, is derived from the 1973 Kurt Vonnegut novel Breakfast Of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday.
    • The backing vocals of "Sub-Culture" reference the theme of Shaft.
    • The configuration of the A-sides on the main album and the B-sides on the extra disc/cassette is a lot like fellow Manchester band Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady compilation, which employed a similar scheme on a single record, with the A-Sides on side "A" and the B-sides on side "B". The only major difference is the LP release of Substance only includes the A-sides, with the CD, DAT, and cassette releases taking the Distinct Double Album approach.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: Many tracks on the B-side portion are alternate instrumental remixes of tracks included on the A-side portion (e.g. "Blue Monday" and "The Beach", "The Perfect Kiss" and "Kiss of Death", "Bizarre Love Triangle" and "Bizarre Dub Triangle", etc.), reflecting their original configurations on their initial single releases.
  • Speedy Techno Remake: The re-recording of "Confusion", which is considerably faster in tempo and features a much harder, more traditionally "techno" sound than the 1983 original. This is especially noticeable with the inclusion of "Confusion (Instrumental)" on the B-sides portion, which is taken straight from the original 1983 release.
  • Spiritual Successor: The 2005 Singles compilation seems intended to be one to Substance as the latter is now out of print (at least on physical formats). 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"; Peter Hook also performs backing vocals on the latter.
  • Stop and Go: Done in the music video for "Bizarre Love Triangle", which briefly cuts out the music to show a short argument between a man and a woman over the topic of reincarnation before cutting back into the song. This doesn't happen in the actual single.
  • Studio Chatter: "Confusion" ends with a mix of this and corpsing, with the band playfully arguing over the outro for a few seconds.
  • Surreal Music Video: The video for "True Faith", courtesy of French choreographer Philippe Decouflé; alongside the video for the Fine Young Cannibals' "She Drives Me Crazy" from two years later, this was one of the only two music videos he directed over the course of his career, and both make prominent use of people in bizarre costumes performing avant-garde... what technically could be called "dances."
  • Title Confusion: "Cries and Whispers" and "Mesh" have their names swapped on the album's packaging on most releases, stemming from an error present on the "Everything's Gone Green" sleeve back in 1982; this wasn't corrected until Substance was officially added to streaming services in 2020.
  • 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" (which was initially a Belgium-only release); cassette versions go an extra mile and include several more B-sides not featured on CD or 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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