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monaco
Monaco
Self-Titled
Roadrunner

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Sometimes it pays to know your limitations and to work within them. Bill Evans praised peers Erroll Garner and Thelonious Monk for both knowing and exploiting their strengths, and for glossing over the areas where they might shine less strongly. If Bill Evans was still alive, and was a big New Order fan, I'm sure he'd shake his head over Bernard Sumner's work with Electronic. There, if Electronic's interviews can be taken for truth, Sumner and Johnny Marr have had a good time indulging their weakest abilities; it's Marr who contributes the electronic bits, while Sumner noodles around with the guitars. In order for their next album to deflate further interest in their "supergroup", I hear the two are planning an all-percussion affair. Pardon me, but what the fuck?

With his group Revenge, the deeply influential and phenomenally gifted bass guitarist Peter Hook also tried to leave his strengths behind; he did not seem to know it was his guitar playing, that briliant sound he could create with a string, which made New Order's songs dance. Instead, he thought his song title talents (for example, "Gun World Porn") would do the trick. Except on very drunken nights, they did not. Revenge were far from awful (and ditto for Sumner's Electronic), but what's the point of straying from the trademark New Order sound if that's the only thing you really do damn well? If it's in response to critics, most of whom always seem to dump on bands that don't develop, then to hell with them. They're hypocrites anyway, 'cos when have you ever read a person say something bad about Chuck Berry? Chuck Berry is fantastic, but almost his entire career is based on variations of two songs.

When Peter Hook created Monaco with David Potts, he had finally come to grips with the fact that his work with New Order was great, and his artistic impulses are best expressed with thumping, urgent bass pounding against, around and behind Sumneresque vocals. Potts is not Bernard Sumner, but you can't tell at all from the vocals. He delivers the lyrics, often positive but still a bit somber ("And the only thing I care about/Never will come true"), in a very Sumneresque manner, with such feeling and yearning that the sensuality of the bass never remains subtle. Words bump to the music like wallflowers to concrete in a loud, lonely club.

All the best songs here seem to launch from the point at which Technique left off; they have the same bounce, the same speed and many of the same hooks (especially in "Bert's Theme", "Kashmere" and "I've Got a Feeling") as that Hook-dominated New Order record. The generally happy lyrics are undercut a bit by the vocals and Hook's signature sound, but that's not a bad thing; melancholy plays well with pop, even when it's not earned through sad thoughts. For me, these cuts gave out the same rush I got from watching the lonely girl dance to "California Dreaming" in Wong Kar Wai's ChunKing Express. The sadness becomes exhilarating.

More telling, though, are instrumental closer "Marine", which states loud and clearly that it's Hook's guitar work that makes the songs go pow!, and "See-Saw", a salute to dance music with Hook (I believe) on vocals. (And of course, he too sounds quite like Sumner.) With "See-Saw", Hook makes plain the reason he attempted such full-fledged dance music with Revenge ("Every woman and man/Give it up/It's the music that we love"), yet plays the Chic-like exhaltation against New Order beats. Happily, he seems at last to have realized the crucial role his bass plays in the grooves of the Immortal Dance Record in the Sky.

-- Theodore Defosse
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