19 February 2008
Rock epic of the month: "Perfect Kiss" (New Order) 1985
Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.
This month, I have a contentious one. Not because of it's length or the fact that it might be crap (it isn't, by the way).
No. This one is contentious because it might not really be rock. This will, however, be explained a little better shortly.
New Order rose phoenix-like from the ashes of Joy Division in the early 1980's after the death of lead singer Ian Curtis. After a name change and the addition of Gillian Gilbert on keyboards and guitars, they went off in a musical direction which was alternate parts jangly guitar pop-rock, and disco influenced electronic dance music.
"Perfect Kiss" has it's roots in "The Perfect Kiss", a song off their 1985 Low-Life long player. However, the version on Low-Life which comes in at 4:48 is a shocker of an edit which the band were clearly not terribly impressed with. Which is weird, because they'd produced it themselves.
The 7" single is itself a strange one, because at 3:27, it has most of the life sucked completely out of it.
And where some bands in the 1980's such as Duran Duran and Frankie Goes To Hollywood were content to let a producer stretch out one of their songs into a 12" version, New Order went the other way. They took the unreleased epic and released it as a 12", sometimes tweaking it with extra percussion lines.
To be clear, this is an epic that is at it's most listenable at the full 8:46. And it's still available on the Substance compilation.
But that is not where it ends. Oh no.
In 1985, Jonathan Demme came into the studio to direct the band playing this one live. And what an absolute firecracker of a version he recorded. Which is what YouTube is serving us up this month, folks.
But before we get to that let's look at the song in question.
You're under no illusions where this is going from the outset with the TR-808 kicking in and going berzerk.
Not long in, Peter Hook lets rip with the now legendary pseudo-slap bass intro which gets the whole tune happening. No drums in this - Stephen Morris is relegated to keyboardist all the way through. And in Demme's video, Morris and Gilbert just have this quiet look of concentration on their faces the whole way through.
Morris scarcely looks older than 12.
The thing builds handsomely until about halfway through where Hook starts beating the bejesus out of a set of electronic drums while guitarist and vocalist Bernard Sumner tries valiantly to keep up on a cowbell before admitting defeat. And then there's a lull (with frogs) before it builds up again a little more urgently.
And here is where I think that this qualifies as a rock epic. Hook works his bass almightily while the thing builds until it just rocks out in a crazy fashion towards the end. Sumner's guitar just happens to ice the cake perfectly.
And yes. For a dance track, it really does rock.
These days New Order are still a going concern, I'm told, although it's really just Sumner and Morris left. Gilbert went off years ago to be a full-time mum, and Hook told Sumner that the pair of them will never work together again not long ago. How you could continue as New Order without Hook is really something that I don't understand.
Anyway, I do hope that you enjoy this video - the quality is really quite good for YouTube.