Monday 16 January 2023

How does it feel? (Blue Monday 2023)

It is THE Blue Monday, so I'm going to use that as an excuse to talk about all things Blue Monday. I don't think there's many singular tracks I could make an entire post out of - I know I've done it or similar for Kraftwerk's The Model way back when - but that is a testament to the lasting impact some of these tracks have.

Blue Monday is nothing short of iconic, and not just in the electronic music world either, much like The Model mentioned above, BM is one of the early examples of electronic music breaking through into popular culture. A quick breakdown for those unaware: New Order was formed from the tragic end of Joy Division, and would continue in a similar sort of style until around 1983 where things would take a decidedly electronic turn.

It's from this era that Blue Monday comes about, and it made a massive splash - with the original '83 pressing, the '88 re-release and 1995 version selling a cumulative total of approximately over 10 million. And it's not hard to see why, if there were a recipe for 80's synthpop, this would be it: the opening kickdrum flurry sets the stage, a moment that has become a pop culture icon on its own, and the catchy melancholy is of course another defining feature, and one that comes back into fashion every now and then (see: Electroclash around 2002). It's a bit of a pain to find a legal stream of, so I'm doing my usual routine of the crimped soundcloud player (which to be fair in this instance at least plays one of the most prominent bits of it), and then the whole thing on YT. The video is at least pretty cool for this one rather than just a static thumbnail!

And that could have been enough for today on it's own, a celebraation of this sepcific track. But I'm feeling a little inspired so I thought I'd put a couple more examples down just off the top of my head. First things first we have Flunk's cover from their debut album For Sleepyheads Only. Covers can be a divise topic at the best of times, something that is especially true with a track as massive as Blue Monday.

I can certainly see people crying blasphemy at this trip hopped version but it's pretty inoffensive, once it breaks free of the breathy-indie intro around 1:25 it becomes a lot less cliché and sets into a nice groove. Even so, it's very much in that vein of early 00's 'chillout' which has sometimes dated things a little more than usual, I have a well documented love for that style, plus added nostalgia glasses for this one so you'll have to take my opinion with a grain of salt!

It would spawn an accompanying EP of remixes, expanding the genres to include Drum & Bass, Electro, Disco and more. A couple of my favourites ended up on the compilation remix album Treat Me Like You Do, the remix album is pretty unique in that some of the tracks still mix together seamlessly rather than being standalone, so I'm using the EP for this next bit for a cleaner cut. Of them all, the second mix by Jori Hulkkonen might take the cake.

It turns it back around in the direction of the original with some 80's throwback synth to start off with, all coming to a peak with a re-interpretation of that kickdrum kick-off. It'd be easy to turn the whole thing into a retrofit remix and just emulate the original to a T, but after than initial nostalgia burst it does find it's own feet, bursting into a funky house infused number that's more Disco than it is New Wave. An interesting approach to take, but I like the inclusion of the knowing wink to the original before going off in a new direction.

And finally, HEALTH's version made for the Atomic Blonde OST, which I have very mixed feelings about. I've loved the new electronic direction HEALTH took since 2015's Death Magic, and on paper a version of BM with that sound would be very nice indeed, it could put quite an aggressive spin on things. In reality though I was expecting something more in line with the poppier approach they took for their cover of High Pressure Days made for the GTA V OST.

The end result though is a pretty by-the-numbers cover, incorporating all the key identifiers of the original - those kicks, that melody and even the synth choral accompaniment, just filtered through a HEALTH lens. The vocals feel a little flat, which I guess is in line with the original, but I feel like given some of HEALTH's other output it could have been a little more dynamic. There's a great breakdown in the middle section which spices things up a touch and gives it a little more of the edge, but otherwise it's played pretty straight - given that it's only appeared on the OST album that could be at the label's request, but that's conjecture on my part. Not my favourite cover, not my favourite HEALTH track either, but still fine.

Not to end on such a dour note, but then again I suppose that is on brand for the 'Blue Monday' after all. The concept itself might be total tosh but I'll take any and all opportunities to talk about a bit of New Order and relations. This one was a little off the cuff and I feel like it's gotten a little long, but that's OK as the next post in the pipeline is going to be a fair bit shorter, no ETA on it as of yet but you can probably expect it by the end of the week if all goes well. Until then, as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


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