Two Brits Team Up in Pursuit of the Perfect Pop Song
BOSTON — TWO heroes of today's British music scene - New Order's Bernard Sumner and ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr - have teamed up under the moniker Electronic to offer one of this summer's most exciting pop albums.At first they seemed like unlikely partners: Sumner was best known for New Order's infectious European disco sound, while Marr was thought of as the champion of retro-'60s guitar rock with his former group The Smiths. But the two Manchester, England natives, who initially met in 1983 at a recording session, first surprised their fans in late 1989 with the offering of their "Getting Away with It" single. Electronic's self-titled, 11-track debut album, released 18 months later, is a collection of cutting-edge pop songs that fall roughly into the category of dance music. But whereas dance music is often accused of being repetitive or simplistic, Electronic manages to avoid these pitfalls. Sumner and Marr, who between them have penned such '80s standards as "Blue Monday,Bizarre Love Triangle,There is Light That Never Goes Out," and "How Soon is Now," are both proven songwriters. Their collective musical tastes range from girl groups like the Shirelles and the Shangri-Las to current European and American "house" music - energetic club tracks with a heavy, 4/4 beat. Consequently, Electronic's songs are a mixture of genres, ranging from power pop and hip hop to dance-floor anthems and rap. In addition to superior keyboard orchestrations and a steady sense of beat, the album's songs are highlighted by Sumner's lyrics and vocals and by Marr's guitar craftmanship. "Idiot Country," the album's opening cut, throws out a frantic electric guitar riff with a thick synthesized bass line and an insistent drum track, featuring Sumner's spoken vocals over the top. Several measures later, along comes a sing-along chorus with lush, synthesized string sounds. Although somewhat cryptic, Electronic's lyrics are clever enough to avoid falling into pop music's "throwaway" category. Marr's guitar work glides effortlessly over the album's synthesizer tracks. Considered a modern rock-guitar hero for the '90s, Marr's styles range from rhythmic acoustic guitar on "Tighten Up" to Spanish-guitar solos on "Getting Away With It" and "Some Distant Memory." His trademark "jingle-jangle" guitar sound - a very quick and clean-sounding strum - can be heard throughout the album. Another popular British duo, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe (a k a The Pet Shop Boys), contribute to two Electronic tracks. Tennant performs background vocal duties on "Getting Away With It," and has a duet with Sumner on "Patience Of A Saint." In the quest for the elusive perfect pop song, Electronic leads the pack.