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‘Twisted Tenderness’: How Electronic Bowed Out On A Creative High
Warner Music
In Depth

‘Twisted Tenderness’: How Electronic Bowed Out On A Creative High

Electronic’s third album was also their swansong, but ‘Twisted Tenderness’ contained some of Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner’s finest songs.

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To all intents and purposes, Electronic’s second album, 1996’s Raise The Pressure, was a roaring success. A high-profile collaboration with former Kraftwerk mainstay Karl Bartos, it followed the debut Electronic album into the UK Top 10 and spawned three Top 40 singles. But while that result satisfied former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and New Order frontman Bernard Sumner, the record’s laborious, two-year gestation period had frustrated them both. Indeed, they were determined not to repeat the process when they reconvened for their third album, 1999’s Twisted Tenderness – the record that would also prove to be Electronic’s final outing.

Listen to ‘Twisted Tenderness’ here.

The backstory: “We decided to write very quickly and with guitars”

“On Raise The Pressure, we were subconsciously aware of the attention we were getting as Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner, ‘formerly of’ The Smiths and New Order,” Sumner acknowledged in a 1999 interview with This Swirling Sphere. “We, in turn, paid too much attention to making the record and took too long doing it. We couldn’t spend two years making a record again – and [Twisted Tenderness] is all the better for that realisation.”

“We decided to write very quickly and with guitars”, Marr furthered in the liner notes for 2023’s Get The Message: The Best Of Electronic. “We could get together when we had riffs and songs. We decided to use a rhythm section, so we asked Jimi Goodwin from Doves to join us on bass and Ged Lynch from Black Grape on drums. We recorded the songs as a band… there was a freedom and spirit in those songs we managed to capture pretty well.”

The recording: “I’ve never done a cover version on record until this”

Rougher, edgier and certainly more aggressive than anything that had previously borne Electronic’s stamp, Twisted Tenderness was – and remains – an infinite thrill for those who adore the music Marr and Sumner craft when they plug in their guitars and play. Aided and abetted by Marr’s wailing, Hand In Glove-esque harmonica part, the album’s first single, Vivid, suggested Twisted Tenderness was going to be a vintage rock record, with exhilarating guitar-driven anthems such as Late At Night and the hypnotic Like No Other following through on that initial promise in style.

Yet, despite all that, it’s a little simplistic to suggest Twisted Tenderness is Electronic’s “guitar” album. As the beats and drum loops of the record’s Chemical Brothers-esque opener, Make It Happen, quickly make plain, Marr and Sumner were still keeping tabs on dancefloor trends, and their decision to engage veteran New York City-based producer and former New Order collaborator Arthur Baker (Confusion, Thieves Like Us) to helm the project significantly shaped the album’s overall sound.

The production: “They wanted to have loops running over the top of the drums”

Praising the role that Baker’s assistant, programmer Merv De Peyer, played in the making of Twisted Tenderness, engineer Jim Spencer told Sound On Sound: “Merv was one of the best things Arthur brought to that record. He’s a genius with Logic and Pro Tools, a very talented musician, and full of creative ideas; all the sound effects and keyboard stuff on Vivid are his.”

Describing his own role as the “fix-it-up” man on the team, Spencer also told Sound On Sound that everyone in the studio wished to balance the electronic elements with organic instrumentation on Twisted Tenderness’ most club-friendly tracks, Prodigal Son, the swaggering Haze and the mantra-like Breakdown.

“Ged [Lynch] is a great drummer, but they wanted to have loops running over the top of the drums, so the drums had to hook in with those,” he revealed. “I needed to do quite a lot of drum editing. I did a month and a half on my own at AIR [Studios, in London]; they shipped me ADATs [digital tapes] and I worked on fixing things.”

As Marr and Sumner revealed to This Swirling Sphere, Arthur Baker was responsible for Twisted Tenderness’ lone cover version: a lush and evocative reinterpretation of Can’t Find My Way Home, originally recorded by Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker’s short-lived supergroup, Blind Faith, in 1969.

“You know, I’ve never done a cover version on record until this,” Sumner admitted. “So I was a bit iffy about doing it, but when Arthur played me the track, I just liked it a lot.”

“It’s ironic, because we spent the first year and a half of being Electronic denying that we were actually Blind Faith,” Marr added. “Because [Pet Shop Boys’] Neil Tennant, in his infinite wisdom, had called us ‘the Blind Faith of the 90s’. The whole supergroup thing. And then, finally, the first time we ever do a cover version, it just happens to be a Blind Faith song. It’s weird!”

The release and legacy: “The duo’s best work… pop-rock of swaggering calibre”

Electronic’s fans were convinced that Marr, Sumner and Baker had gotten the sonic balance just right when Twisted Tenderness was released, on 12 April 1999. The record was greeted warmly by a brace of upbeat reviews, with NME suggesting that “Twisted Tenderness has moments that echo Smiths-ian melancholy as well as New Order’s snyth-y soul pop, the two influences suddenly making the sense they always threatened to”. More positive again, Q magazine triumphantly declared, “With Arthur Baker at the rudder, it marks the duo’s best work… Twisted Tenderness is pop-rock of swaggering calibre.”

On the back of these affirmations, Twisted Tenderness peaked inside the UK Top 10 and showed that Electronic were again hitting a new creative peak. However, while both Marr and Sumner were rightly proud of the album, they gradually accepted it would become Electronic’s swansong. Both men had relished working together for the best part of a decade – and they never formally announced that Electronic had split – but they instinctively knew the time was right to go their separate ways.

“As Bernard’s friend, I could see New Order needed to resume,” Marr reflected in a 2017 interview with Guitar.com. “I needed to do something else and get back to touring, which Electronic didn’t really do. But Twisted Tenderness benefitted from being made very, very quickly. There are a few songs – Haze, Vivid and Late At Night – which profit from the sense of a last hurrah”.

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