There are the essential albums that need to be in everyone’s collection. There are the personal favorites, the ones that aren’t highly acclaimed but still get played every once in a while. And then there are the albums that you stick in the back of your collection because you want to forget that you spent money on them. “Own It or Disown It” gives the writer the opportunity to look at such discarded albums and determine if they are diamonds in the rough or if they deserve to be used as mini-frisbees.
I don’t like to assume that we all share the same collective memory, and those who gain status by leeching off of relatively-obscure reminders of the past can only successfully do so for a short period of time (this is why I hated Camp and have soured on Tyler, the Creator’s music), but in this case, I’ll risk it: if you were born sometime in the mid-80’s to early 90’s, you had the same Casio keyboard that everyone else had. It had the cheesiest sound effects, the thickest approximations of sampled drums, and a demo that played a bastardized, instrumental version of “Together Forever”. I was never able to figure out how to make quality music with it, but I had fun messing around with it when I was younger. While listening to New Order’s Substance 1987 compilation earlier this week, it occurred to me that many, if not most, of the songs on the compilation could have been composed entirely on the same kind of Casio keyboard. I still haven’t decided if this is a good thing or not.
I tried to approach this album in the same manner that I look at old albums—with little regard to history, judging it against contemporary albums—but this compilation is so influenced by the period of time it was released that I can’t look at it in this matter. Opener “Ceremony” starts off with a memorable guitar riff, but almost every song that follows is fueled by synthesizers and electronic drums. I feel like I need to listen to it while watching Crockett and Tubbs chase down a suspect. There’s also the issue with some of these songs being too popular for their own good—I can’t think of “Blue Monday” without recalling Orgy’s horrendous cover of it, and “Ceremony” has been featured in commercials and that one Sophia Coppola film that was booed out of Cannes.
As long as I’m airing my complaints about this compilation, let’s tag one more onto the pile: Substance 1987 is way too long. Compilations are supposed to be long by their nature, but Substance 1987 is almost two and a half hours long spanning two discs, and the second disc isn’t nearly as memorable or cohesive as the first disc (having three instrumental tracks doesn’t help matters). New Order’s music fills enough space that Substance 1987 likely couldn’t have fit all on one CD without some noteworthy exclusions, but this could have easily been only ninety minutes long.
Then again, I’m ragging on an album for “only” have ninety minutes worth of good music. New Order spent most of the 80’s reworking Kraftwerk’s kind of music into something that could be digested by normal people, making some of the most “important” albums in the history of electronic music in the process. For all of their achievements, though, New Order were never the kind of act whose work demanded to be put in an album format, especially since the band kept releasing singles without attaching them to an album, so Substance 1987 is a compilation whose existence is justified and actually makes sense. Navigating past the too-familiar tunes produced rewarding results—“Confusion” could have been a Michael Jackson tune, “Subculture” has enough chaotic kitsch to work, and I can’t decide if “Temptation” or “Bizarre Love Triangle” is the best track on this compilation. I had such a good time listening to these songs that I barely noticed that many of them last longer than six minutes.
Much like Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the conditions in which something like Substance 1987 was released will never be replicated. In this case, though, the work in question is still pretty fun while also acting as a time capsule. This could have easily been cut down a bit, but I found this to be a fascinating listen for the most part. Forget just owning it—I’ll be sure to take it out more often.
Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.