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‘Regret’: How New Order’s Classic Single Turned Turmoil Into Triumph
Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

‘Regret’: How New Order’s Classic Single Turned Turmoil Into Triumph

They were tired of the music business, yet New Order still created one of their greatest guitar-based songs in the shape of Regret.

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New Order are rightly revered for creating innovative music by deftly blending rock and electronica. However, while their landmark synth-pop hits such as Blue Monday, Bizarre Love Triangle and True Faith usually receive the critical plaudits, the band has also amassed a rich catalogue of guitar-led rock songs, with 1993’s Regret sitting right up there with the very best of them.

Here’s the story of how New Order overcame adversity to come up with a classic no one regretted recording.

Listen to the best of New Order here.

The backstory: “We were trying to save the Haçienda and Factory”

First released on 5 April 1993, as the lead single from the band’s sixth album, Republic, Regret has long since earned its place in an enviable lineage of guitar-driven New Order songs tracks from Ceremony and Age Of Consent through to Waiting For The Sirens’ Call and Restless. Heard for the first time today, the song still sounds admirably fresh and its execution feels effortless – a remarkable feat considering it was created during an especially low point in the Manchester group’s career.

Republic was the first [album] we did for London Records,” bassist Peter Hook told The Irish News in 2019. “And we did it under great pressure because we were trying to save the Haçienda and Factory.” Indeed, financial concerns were mounting over both the group’s collectively owned nightclub and the record label that had supported them from way back in their pre-New Order days as Joy Division.

“Nobody wanted to do it,” Hook continued. Bernard [Sumner, singer/guitarist] wanted to carry on with Electronic [his side project with The SmithsJohnny Marr) and none of us wanted to get together to do Republic, so it was made under very difficult circumstances.”

“We were making the record to keep the record company afloat and we were all just a bit jaded and sick of the situation we found ourselves in,” drummer Stephen Morris furthered in a separate interview with Noisey. “Even though it was so bad, we managed to write a song as good as Regret, which I think on an album like Republic is amazing really.”

The recording: “Hey presto, we… had the best track on the album”

Indeed, while New Order have freely admitted that the Republic sessions were gruelling, they’ve also retained their collective fondness for Regret. Unlike most of that record’s songs – which were co-written in the studio with producer Stephen Hague – Regret came together organically during a fruitful initial writing session that Hook shared with Morris and his wife, New Order keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, at their farm complex in Macclesfield, Cheshire.

“We were working well at the farm on one particular track, which would later become Regret,” Hook recalled with fondness in his memoir Substance: Inside New Order. “Then Barney turned up, added some great guitar and, hey presto, we… had the best track on the album.”

Certainly, Regret benefitted from the band’s collaborative approach, and it brought out the best in all concerned. Led by Hook’s ultra-melodic basslines and augmented by Sumner’s ringing guitars, Morris’ insistent drums and Gilbert’s lush keyboards, the track was steeped in the glorious, uplifting melancholia that epitomised the best New Order songs. The angst in Sumner’s lyrics (“I was a short fuse/Burning all the time”) hinted at the turbulence the band was experiencing, but even that couldn’t dent the song’s inherent radio-friendliness, ensuring it was chosen to introduce Republic to the world.

The release: “It would be funny to combine New Order with ‘Baywatch’”

Indeed, Regret was so good that it ended up being promoted by two videos. R.E.M./Cabaret Voltaire filmmaker Peter Care shot the song’s stylish official promo in Rome, but the band also performed a memorable version of the song for Top Of The Pops. Filmed live at The Doors’ old stomping ground of Venice Beach, in Los Angeles, as part of an episode of the hit TV series Baywatch, the clip also featured the show’s star, David Hasselhoff, and a clutch of bikini-clad actresses. New Order’s performance was captured by feature-film director Thomas Mignone, now known for his later work with Slipknot, and Peter Hook later singled the shoot out as a notable day in the band’s history.

Writing in Substance, the bassist recalled: “Top Of The Pops had developed a habit of letting bands on twice if they were in a glamorous location on tour and we fulfilled that easily. Tom Atencio [New Order’s US manager] knew one of the assistant directors of Baywatch – which was huge at the time – and thought it would be funny to combine New Order with Baywatch, to broadcast it on TOTP as an ‘in-live’ performance.

“I liked Regret, though liking the song didn’t necessarily mean I wanted to perform it on a beach, but that’s what we did,” he added. “It was a lovely day and as soon as we met David Hasselhoff, we realised it would be an interesting one, too. He was running up and down the beach, screaming and shouting and being a real character. The day went very well, with me ending up playing topless in my leather trousers on the beach, surrounded by these beautiful girls.”

The legacy: “The last true New Order track”

New Order’s immersion in mainstream pop culture would have been unthinkable during their early days as Joy Division, but the group’s profile was arguably at its highest in the US throughout the early 90s, and Regret had a lot to do with that. Following their Baywatch exposure, the song peaked at No.28 on the US Hot 100, rewarding New Order with their biggest US hit, in addition to a No.1 success on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart.

In Europe, Regret also made significant waves, going Top 10 in several territories, in addition to peaking at No.4 in the UK. First performed live on the tour in support of Republic, this highly accessible pop song exuded a broad appeal which still endures today. As shown by a riveting performance filmed at London’s Alexandra Palace in 2018, and released on the live concert film education entertainment recreation, Regret remains a part of New Order’s setlists, and its creators still view it as one of their finest achievements.

Not only calling Regret the best song on Republic, Peter Hook has claimed it to be “the last true New Order Track”.

“Why?” he wrote in Substance. “Because it was a genuine collaboration – in my opinion, the last we would ever do. Barney’s input turned it into the wonderful tune it is today.”

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