Side-and-Splinter-Project Albums from the Lost and Found (Part 1): Electronic

by Jeff Fiedler

Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.

You may not recognize the names of our featured acts in this week’s column, but there’s a very good chance you’re familiar with something that each act’s members made with their respective former bands.

It might not have seemed like a safe bet to guess that the debut disc from Electronic would yield a Top 40 hit. The legendary British synth-pop band New Order, for all their acclaim, always had a tough time garnering much airplay on American Top 40 stations and had only scored one minor Top 40 hit (the #32-peaking “True Faith”) during the entirety of the Eighties. The Smiths had fared even worse on American radio, failing to score a Hot 100 hit at all (though there’d be some consolation for that after the “How Soon Is Now”-sampling Soho single “Hippychick” made it to #14 on the Hot 100 the following decade.)   

Following the worldwide success of their heavily-club-flavored 1989 album Technique, New Order would go on an extended hiatus (finally regrouping for 1993’s Republic, which would give them their second and final American Top 40 hit in “Regret”), but they wouldn’t be altogether silent, instead embarking on a series of side projects. Lead singer Bernard Sumner would busy himself with a new group called Electronic, a full-length collaboration with former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, who had spent the intervening years since the breakup of the Smiths by doing session work for the likes of Bryan Ferry, The The, and the Pretenders. While Sumner and Marr were technically the only full-time members of Electronic, they also got an extra boost from the part-time contributions of two very big stars, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of the then-red-hot Pet Shop Boys, who had scored a huge run of hits on both sides of the Atlantic in the late ‘80s with hits like “West End Girls,” “What Have I Done to Deserve This,” and “Always on My Mind.”

The disc sounds exactly like you would hope it to sound: a fusion of the synth-laden dance pop of New Order (and, of course, Bernard Sumner’s always-appealing, unmistakable voice) and the artful ambience and rhythmic sense that Marr brought on a regular basis to the Smiths’ backing tracks. “Get the Message” is a perfect example of the magic the two men create together, sounding much like a cross between New Order’s “Every Little Counts” and the Smiths’ “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side,” while the equally strong “Gangster” sounds like Johnny Marr sitting in on Technique. It’s such an inspired meeting of worlds you regret that it took so long for the collaboration to happen. “Feel Every Beat” is much more left-field, an almost-New-Jack-Swing-tinged dance cut that finds Sumner – if you can believe this – rapping during the verses, but it works so, so much better than you would expect it to, and the song boasts a generous helping of hooks and instrumental ear candy like Marr’s near-unaccompanied guitar break.   

The album’s biggest highlight, however, would have to be the unexpected Top 40 hit “Getting Away with It,” penned by Sumner and Marr with the help of Tennant, whose distinctive voice can easily be made out in the song’s chorus. The song is simply flat-out brilliant, an almost relentless stream of hooks backed by Marr’s ever-groovy rhythm guitar work, ABC’s David Palmer on drums, and breathtakingly gorgeous string arrangements from The Art of Noise’s Anne Dudley, all topped with a hauntingly beautiful acoustic solo from Marr, while Sumner spouts out unforgettable lines like “However I look, it’s clear to see I love you more than you love me.”