In the final days of the 1980s, a single was quietly released that provided not only a full stop to that most debated decade in popular music, but started the next joyous paragraph that was the 1990s. ‘Getting Away With It’ was a sly, slinky, breath of fresh air, that synthesised the nascent Madchester scene with the dance movement that had grown up around the second summer of love. But this was by no teenage bedroom rave upstarts, it was made by two of the biggest names in 1980s alternative music, Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr under the name Electronic. The fact it was a collaboration with the sumptuous, ironic pop of the Pet Shop Boys, made it all the more striking. It was a resume of the ‘80s in a nutshell; lush, measured, but with the excess all neatly reigned in.
Electronic was a joyous Venn Diagram of Sumner and Marr’s influences. Although ostensibly coming from different disciplines, the experimental dance pop of New Order and the full-bodied jangle of The Smiths, their common interests were many: dance music, a good tune and pushing musical boundaries.
Their debut album, ‘Electronic’ (released May 1991), is where it all began. We have to go back to 1987 to trace its origins. This was the year of the sudden and wholly unexpected demise of The Smiths, who imploded in July after guitarist and songwriter Johnny Marr left the group. ‘I was 23 when the band ended,’ explains Marr. ‘I needed new air and I could see what was coming around the corner. There was this amazing new movement parallel to what we were doing, though it didn’t have a name yet. I was getting tired of what indie had become.’ Two months later, midway through a North American tour, Bernard Sumner shocked his bandmates by announcing that he planned to take time out from New Order. ‘It’s very hard work,’ he admitted later. ‘Plus, I had fears about my health. I hate those pressures.’
‘Both of us needed to work with someone on a personal level who understood the trip that both of us had been through with our groups,’ says Marr. ‘We were two musicians who wanted to get away from the suffocating politics of the band. At the same time it was OK for duos and DJs and non-groups to make records, and that really appealed to Bernard and me. We saw ourselves more in the tradition of David Byrne and Brian Eno, with a lot of technotronics and FX, and Kraftwerk was a very important touchstone for Bernard. So the times were perfect because it was all right to make records with machines, and not have to be four guys stood up against a wall.’
This duly occurred in March 1989 when the Manchester ‘supergroup’ teamed up with Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Tennant and Lowe spent several days recording at Marr’s studio in Manchester, Clear, these sessions resulting in the aforementioned sublime pop gem ‘Getting Away With It’. Released on the legendary Factory label a full 18 months ahead of the band’s eponymously titled debut album, ‘Getting Away With It’ matched the two most plaintive voices in English electro pop with lush strings arranged by Art of Noise member Anne Dudley, drums by David Palmer of ABC, and a truly irresistible chorus. Judged to be ‘the most complete pop record of the week’ by NME, Fac 257 peaked at #12 in Britain in December, also performing well in Europe. A Nude mix of ‘Getting Away With It’ by Haçienda club deejays Mike Pickering and Graeme Park further evidenced Electronic’s desire to cut tracks suitable for release as dance white labels. This line would continue with tracks such as ‘Free Will’ and ‘Try All You Want’, and remixes by DNA, 808 State and FBI, an often overlooked musical sidebar showcased on the middle section of the bonus CD in this deluxe edition.
Throughout the next 12 months Sumner and Marr would continue work at Clear studios on what would become their debut album, with regular weekly trips to the Hacienda nightclub, as Marr recalls. ‘We would end the week’s work on a Friday evening, when a dozen or so people would meet up at the studio to go out to The Haçienda. We would leave whatever track we were working on at the time on the mixing desk and then return to it six hours later, with a different dozen or so people dancing around while we worked. The whole album was infused with the feeling of our friends in the city.’
Factory trailed the album in April 1991 with Electronic’s belated yet brilliant second single, ‘Get the Message’ (Fac 287). ‘We saw ‘Getting Away With It’ as pure pop,’ explained Sumner. ‘So for the second single we wanted something a little more heavyweight and off-beat. It’s still pop, but it’s slightly different. It’s like the other side to us that we wanted to put forward sooner rather than later. Everyone knows that on paper, the two of us working together could produce something good, but on songs like Get the Message it’s ended up being more than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t just sound like New Order and The Smiths fused.’ Marr cited the single as, ‘maybe the track I'm most proud of out of my whole career.’ An introspective, soul-inflected song every bit as good as their debut more than a year earlier, ‘Get The Message’ was enlivened by Marr’s acoustic guitar and Denise Johnson’s soaring closing vocal. It reached number 8 on the UK Singles Chart.
The album’s third and final single, ‘Feel Every Beat’, is one of the most dance-orientated tracks on the album, with its appropriately slamming rhythms. Elsewhere the album showcased Marr’s love of soundtracks in the cinematic tension of ‘Gangsters’, undercut by social comment by Sumner, and Neil Tennant also guested on ‘Patience Of a Saint’ – along with bandmate Chris Lowe – on an excellent, sly duet with Sumner.
Upon its release, the album was critically lauded and reached number 2 on the UK album chart, going on to sell over a million copies worldwide. ‘Electronic’ is one of the greatest collaborations in British pop music, between two of the most revered and respected British songwriters and musicians of their – and any – generation.
Taken from new sleevenotes by James Nice – available on request.
‘Electronic’ Special Edition was remastered by studio engineer Frank Arkwright. It comes with a bonus disc, which features instrumentals of ‘Getting Away With It’ and ‘Twisted Tenderness’, the ‘Disappointed’ 7” version and ‘Turning Point’, the b-side to ‘Second Nature’.
1. Idiot Country (2012 - Remaster)
2. Reality (2012 - Remaster)
3. Tighten Up (2012 - Remaster)
4. The Patience Of A Saint (2012 - Remaster)
5. Getting Away With It (2012 - Remaster)
6. Gangster (2012 - Remaster)
7. Soviet (2012 - Remaster)
8. Get The Message (2012 - Remaster)
9. Try All You Want (2012 - Remaster)
10. Some Distant Memory (2012 - Remaster)
11. Feel Every Beat (2012 - Remaster)
1. Disappointed (Stephen Hague 7” Inch Version) (2012
2. Second To None (Edit) (2012 remaster) PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
3. Lean To The Inside (Edit) (2012 remaster) PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
4. Twisted Tenderness (Guitar / Vocal Mix) (2012 remaster) PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
5. Idiot Country Two (12” Version) (2012 remaster)
6. Free Will (Edit) (2012 remaster) PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
7. Until The End Of Time (Edit) (2012 remaster) PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
8. Feel Every Beat (Edit) (2012 remaster) PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
9. Getting Away With It (Instrumental) (2012 remaster)
10. Turning Point (Edit) (2012 remaster) b-side to ‘Second Nature’
11. Visit Me (Edit) (2012 remaster) PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
12. Twisted Tenderness (Instrumental) (2012 remaster) PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED