Back in the heady days of 1990 (I remember it pop kids, even if you don’t) the indie-supergroup to die for released what is, quite possibly, the best love song of all time: Getting Away With It. Dark and sarcastic, with perfect synthesised beats and the immortal refrain “I love you more than yooooouuuuu loooooove me”, it was near perfect – and there would be more to follow.
Comprising Bernard Sumner (late of Joy Division, then of New Order), former Smiths and contemporary The The guitarist Johnny Marr and occasionally Pet Shop Boys‘ Neil Tennant, Electronic bridged the gap between dour Manchester miserablism and perfect synthesiser pop at the exact same time that the acid house movement was putting their home city once again at the forefront of the British music scene. You could argue that bridging the gap between the two sides of Manc acoustics was what Bernard Sumner had been doing for the best part of a decade anyway, and therefore wonder why he felt the need to create yet another showcase for his talents, but why look a gift horse in the mouth?
The idea behind Electronic was that it would give A-list indie stars Sumner and Marr the freedom to operate outside of the traditional rigid group structure, allowing them to bring in collaborators as and when they wanted to, experimenting with different musicians from one project to the next. Tennant was merely the first.
Electronic were (hardly surprisingly) immediately huge. They played their debut gig in America, opening for Depeche Mode in front of more than 60,000 fans and sold singles in droves. Sumner and Marr went on to produce three albums in total – 1991’s Electronic, 1996’s Raise the Pressure and 2000’s Twisted Tenderness, all of which were suffused with sublime and sensual synth rock, lyrics which smiled sarcastically and riffs that made a generation weep. There are far too many highlights to list but all of them are here, taken from across all three albums. No matter how much Sumner and Marr put into their primary projects, it seemed they always had yet more to give. Even without Neil Tennant, second single Get The Message was just as wonderful as the first.
The compilation opens on Forbidden City, with Sumner imploring us to let him ‘show you what I can do’ while Marr throws in some guitar solos for good measure. Feel Every Beat takes everything a few steps closer to a sun-kissed dance floor … and so it goes on.
Here and there the darker elements of New Order sneak through, such as on Vivid, or All That I Need, while the gently depreciating lyrics of For You (“Can we meet on the street/Maybe tomorrow/See the world at our feet/Naked and hollow”) could almost be a lost Smiths classic. Imitation Of Life is perhaps the closest to pure New Order that Electronic climb but in truth, there’s nary a duff track wherever you look.
Fast forward to 2006 and New Order can still sell out Wembley. Pet Shop Boys can still headline festivals. Johnny Marr may have become the perennial nearly man of indie rock, but even he can still cut a riff that will make a generation go weak at the knees. And Electronic sound as fresh and vibrant as ever, superstars throwing off their constraints, free from any expectations or limitations. Playing away from home, they produce an aural love affair in which the synths soar, the guitars get better every time and the result is something which genuinely manages to be greater than the sum of its parts. Which, when you consider what the parts are, is a pretty impressive feat.
Buy the version complete with DVD and you can sample the visual delights of Getting Away With It, Get The Message, Feel Every Beat, Disappointed, Forbidden City, For You and Vivid as well.