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‘Republic’: How New Order Reasserted Their Independence In The 90s
In Depth

‘Republic’: How New Order Reasserted Their Independence In The 90s

Despite Factory Records’ demise, New Order prevailed and completed a classic album in the shape of ‘Republic’.

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It’s probably fair to say the success of New Order’s sixth album, Republic, tasted bittersweet. The record topped the UK chart in 1993 and yielded a personal best of No.11 on North America’s Billboard 200, but while the stats suggest a work born of halcyon days, the band members don’t recall it that way.

“I find Republic very difficult to listen to objectively these days,” Stephen Morris wrote in his memoir Fast Forward. “It just reminds me of all the trouble and the angst that surrounded its creation.”

Listen to ‘Republic’ here.

“Having to make an album purely for financial reasons is the death of creativity!”

The “trouble” Morris refers to was the precarious financial state of their original label, Factory Records, in the early 90s. Indeed, things became so bad that after New Order went on hiatus while each member concentrated on solo projects following 1989’s Technique, the four band members were effectively forced to reunite in an attempt to stave off disaster.

At this pivotal time, The Haçienda, the Manchester super-club the band co-owned with their label, was losing money hand over fist due to a variety of drug- and gangland-related issues. As a result, New Order were informed that if they didn’t produce another album, Factory would go bankrupt, and the band – who had guaranteed loans for both Factory and The Haçienda – would be financially ruined. Taken at face value, these were hardly the ideal circumstances in which to create a classic album.

“I was quite enjoying the enforced session”

Frontman Bernard Sumner “was livid”, bassist Peter Hook wrote is his book Substance: Inside New Order. “‘Having to make an album purely for financial reasons is the death of creativity!’ he said, and he was dead right.”

Despite this, writing sessions leading up to the recording of Republic proved highly productive. Indeed, Hook remembers this time at Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert’s farm in rural Cheshire with fondness.

“Me, Steve and Gillian were getting on the best I’d known in ten years,” he wrote in Substance. “Also, my efforts, be it advice on the music or playing bass and creating basslines, was welcomed. After the torment I’d felt during the recordings of [the singles] True Faith and World In Motion, I was starting to get a good feeling about this and was quite enjoying the enforced session.”

However, at least on a personal basis, the situation deteriorated when the band began laying down their new songs for real at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, outside Bath. New Order had successfully completed Technique at the same facility, but they’d worked with their long-time engineer Mike Johnson on that record. For Republic, they’d been paired up with a full-time producer for the first time.

“Nothing less than a striking reinterpretation of traditional pop-music”

The man behind the console, Stephen Hague, had previously helmed hits for Pet Shop Boys and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, but his presence on Republic didn’t suit every member of New Order.

“Hague did everything, and whatever you suggested, nothing ever changed,” Hook later recalled. “The whole thing was very unsatisfactory for me, to say the least.”

Nonetheless, while it’s been widely documented that the recording sessions were both stressful and fractious, it’s a testament to New Order’s creative powers that they stayed the course long enough to not only get Republic over the line, but to ensure it contained material that still stands among the best New Order songs.

After kicking off with the glorious, melancholic sweep of its lead single, the guitar-based Regret, the album barely set a foot wrong. Subsequent singles World (The Price Of Love) and Ruined In A Day showed just how adept Sumner and co had become in crafting sublime, synth-pop hits, while the energetic, club-friendly Spooky harked back to the best of the Balearic-flavoured Technique, and the hypnotic Everyone Everywhere even introduced a little dreamy psychedelia into the mix. Indeed – with hindsight – what’s particularly striking is that Chemical’s acidic lyric (“This is how it feels to be on the payroll company/Your every scene is in the round/And all the men are falling down”) offers the only tangible clue to the duress New Order were under while they pieced the album together.

“This compelling sound has become a genre unto itself”

Despite the band’s most valiant efforts, Republic couldn’t save Factory from its fate. In the end, this most singular of independent labels went bust in November 1992, seven months before the album was finally released. By that time, New Order had found a new home with London Records, who issued Republic in the UK, on 3 May 1993, while Qwest/Warners did the honours in the US.

Ironically, the record performed just as Factory had hoped it would, topping the UK chart and going gold on both sides of the Atlantic, in addition to picking up a nomination for the UK’s prestigious Mercury Music Prize. In retrospect, it seems especially poignant that New Order were so burnt-out by the experience that they were unable to benefit from the success, but, in the long, run their efforts weren’t in vain, for Republic quickly established itself as a landmark release which still ranks among the best New Order albums.

“Only Madonna absorbs as much from dance music as this group does, but Republic doesn’t settle for strict genre compliance,” Rolling Stone declared in their four-star review. “New Order knows what it’s after, and as always, there’s nothing less than a striking reinterpretation of traditional pop-music verities… This compelling sound, simultaneously soothing and rollicking, has become a genre unto itself.”

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