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Singles, Attached

New Order and Jay Reatard release singles compilations that challenge the hallowed album form Albums were once simply collections of previously released songs. Therefore, there shouldn't be too great a split between an album and a singles roundup, right? For whatever reason--reading too many issues..

New Order and Jay Reatard release singles compilations that challenge the hallowed album form

Albums were once simply collections of previously released songs. Therefore, there shouldn't be too great a split between an album and a singles roundup, right?For whatever reason--reading too many issues of Rolling Stone, let's say--I always make a distinction in my head, if not with my ears: Albums should be structured like a long drive-peaks, valleys, highway, side roads, etc., a cohesive variety; singles compilations are more like a strung-together series of events. Of course, those rules aren't hard and fast- exceptions start at albums that birth loads of singles, such as Thriller and Rumours.It's impossible, however, to imagine much of the best music released since the '60s without this distinction. Would the Rolling Stones have even recorded "Country Honk," a shambling acoustic run-through of the classic "Honky Tonk Women," if they hadn't decided to leave their version of the latter off Let It Bleed? Would Let It Bleed have so precise a shape minus "Country Honk?"


Rhino Records recently reissued deluxe editions of five albums recorded by the Manchester band New Order during the 1980s. Each is packaged in a slipcase with a bonus CD containing both sides of the singles each record spawned. The rereleases of 1981's Movement and 1983's Power, Corruption & Lies are particularly fascinating: In each pair, the attached singles compilations are the more compelling listens, despite lacking some of the classic album shape and containing multiple mixes of certain songs.Take the case of Movement, which the band made in the long shadow of Ian Curtis, as it mutated from Joy Division to New Order after the singer's 1980 suicide. Even today, it sounds enormously tentative: a group taking baby steps toward a new but uncertain identity. Its bonus disc, however, is riveting: New Order grows, takes shape, and fills out on classic singles like "Ceremony," "Everything's Gone Green," and "Temptation." Even those tracks' less memorable B-sides sound confident enough to make the collection flow as if it were an album. Power, Corruption & Lies, on the other hand, is a lot less shaky. It's thin enough, however, to pale in comparison to its attached singles comp, which features variations on three more great 12-inches: "Confusion," "Thieves Like Us," and "Blue Monday" (video below).[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niCfmQajoh0The idea of a singles comp as a nonstop barrage of hits is, of course, a notion that privileges punk, where the 7-inch never died (or required a rebirth). Memphis garage-rocker Jay Reatard proves that point on Singles 06-07 and Matador Singles '08, the two chronologically ordered compilations he released this year. Born Jay Lindsey, Reatard writes exceedingly catchy tunes delivered in the most concise manner possible: of 30 songs contained on these collections, nine are under two minutes in duration, and only five are more than three minutes long.

Four of the longer tracks appear on '08. It seems appropriate: As you get older, you relax a bit (even if, like Reatard, you're only 28). The earlier collection is comparatively supercharged and scrappy: 06-07 opens with "Night of Broken Glass," one of the most genuinely reckless-sounding records in recent memory. Elsewhere, the abrupt sing-along "Feeling Blank Again" recalls early Devo in its angularity and Richard Hell in its cross-generational angst. That's not to imply '08 is sedate: "An Ugly Death" rides a speed-strummed acoustic guitar and features wheezing organ, which underscores its can't-miss chorus ("For you! For me! For alllllll to see!"). Similar ingredients go into "D.O.A.," which also includes a martial snare beat similar to that of the Supremes' "Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart."Both releases, befitting their origins, maintain a brisk pace even when the tempos wind down--and, because they're not shaped like albums, they tend to sound equally good on shuffle. That isn't quite true of the early New Order bonus discs, where the progression is key. But Reatard isn't about progress. He's about the now-just as a good singles artists should be.
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