Certain Songs #1310: New Order – “Temptation”

Album: 1981-1982 EP
Year: 1982

So first off, because there at least three fucking versions of “Temptation” running around out there, I need to be very specific which version I mean.

Not the one on Substance: it was re-recorded with a flat, affectless vocal.
Not the 7″ single: it’s too short and too linear.

Nope, I’m talking about the original 12″ single, the one that was collected here in the States along with their other early post-“Ceremony” singles, and which represents a quantum leap in their music, basically setting up the rest of their career.

It’s also one of the greatest songs ever recored. And even though I declared “Ceremony” my all-time favorite recording just a few days ago, objectively, “Temptation” is even better.

Obviously, “Temptation” wasn’t the first song to attempt to fuse rock and what’s now known as electronic dance music, but it set a totally new standard, as it split the difference perfectly with an combo of sequencer pulses, rave-up guitars, robotic rhythms and fragile vocals.

The new thing under the sun was, of course, Peter Hook’s bass parts, which at any moment would be echoing the melody of the verses and an another moment pulling the song inexorably forward. His case for greatest bassist of all time may not have started with “Temptation,” but it’s pretty close to exhibit A.

Meanwhile, on top of the song’s ever changing cacophony, Bernard Sumner lays on hook after hook after hook. And he does so from the beginning, as “Temptation” fades in with Sumner chanting ooh-oooh-oooh-ooh” over and over again, like he’s been singing it his whole life and we’re just now getting to listen in. This opening also establishes one of the most important facts about “Temptation:” it’s the first New Order song that you couldn’t really imagine Ian Curtis singing.

Those “oooohs” are the first hook, but after some business in the studio where they stuff a snowball down Sumner’s shirt and he reacts with a yelp, everything but the synths & drums lay out for a bit and he tosses out the second irresistible hook, with Hook’s bass almost instantly joining:

Oh, you’ve got green eyes
Oh, you’ve got blue eyes
Oh, you’ve got grey eyes
Oh, you’ve got green eyes
Oh, you’ve got blue eyes
Oh, you’ve got grey eyes
And I’ve never seen anyone quite like you before
No, I’ve never met anyone quite like you before

One of the weird things about Bernard Sumner, especially back then: he had trouble playing his guitar while singing, which is why so many New Order songs have very minimal guitar on the verses, ramp up for the choruses, go into overdrive during the instrumental breaks, only to get sparse again during the subsequent verses.

But New Order turned what might have been a bug into a feature: Sumner’s inability to play & sing at the same time created a natural sense of dynamics. And “Temptation” absolutely overflows with those dynamics, featuring segments that are just the sequencers & drum machines; or vocals, bass, sequencers & drum machines; or a full glorious wall of sound filled with everything: guitars, synths, bass, drums, and even vocals, especially on the third hook, which I might as well call the chorus:

Up, down, turn around
Please don’t let me hit the ground
Tonight I think I’ll walk alone
I’ll find my soul as I go home
Up, down, turn around
Please don’t let me hit the ground
Tonight I think I’ll walk alone
I’ll find my soul as I go home

Here’s the thing: for the first time in their career, New Order sound joyous. Sumner is singing with something approaching delight throughout — check his little yelp on “soul” — and his phrasing on “never…met…anyone…quite like you before” is almost sublime. He hadn’t become a great singer yet, but you could feel him inching his way there.

I can’t even tell you how much this turned my head around in 1982. At that point in my life, I was pretty much full-on indie rock guitar guy — any kind of keyboard that wasn’t a piano or organ was suspect — so I was kinda floored at how much I loved “Temptation.”

But of course, there are all sorts of reasons to love “Temptation:” the hidden Bo Diddley beat on Sumner’s rhythm guitars, the ever-shifting counter melodies that Peter Hook plays during the verses, even the overly-gated snare drum that Stephen Morris interjects over the electronic rhythms.

At the end, they’re having fun with both the performance — the whole band is meshing perfectly — and the studio, as Sumner steals a trick from long time faves The Velvet Underground and overdubs himself singing different lyrics at the same time as everything swells beneath him.

Then at then end, Sumner sings “ooooooh-ooh-ooh-ooh” again and again and again as most of the rest of the instruments fall into a black hole, leaving only the drums — echoing almost exploding — and his fragile vocals, a final human touch on a song that perfectly blends the artificial and the natural.

“Temptation” was a top 30 hit in the U.K., made a bunch of critics year-end lists and was generally well-received. To me, now, it seems titanic, still a real banger and light years ahead of its time, and while I’ve listened to it hundreds, maybe even thousands of times over the years, I still find something fresh every time I hear it.

“Temptation”

“Temptation” live in NYC, 1981

“Temptation” live in Belgium, 1985

“Temptation” live in Montreux, 1993

“Temptation” live in London, 2002

“Temptation” live in Glasgow, 2008

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One Response to “Certain Songs #1310: New Order – “Temptation””

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