In the liner notes to Get the Message: The Best of Electronic, Johnny Marr, guitarist of the Smiths and half of the band Electronic (along with Bernard Sumner of New Order), writes they formed to create dance-y, 12” club cuts on the down low. “We were a bit naïve in thinking we could put out white-label tracks and pretend we were an obscure acid house outfit,” Marr continues, “but we loved the new dance music and new recording techniques.”
Listening to the 15 tracks on Get the Message, the first collection of Electronic singles, released in September by Rhino Records, this naivety seems like a gross understatement. Every track is infused with some semblance of either Sumner’s or Marr’s sensibilities as a musician and the fingerprints of their respective bands. A song like “Imitation of Life,” for example, has a heavy electronic, chunky drum sound that’s geared more towards the dance end of the pop spectrum; in other words, it’s very New Order. This is contrasted with “For You,” a Smiths-esque track that’s literate in its lyrics, telling a story rather than adding another layer to the dance track, with a more straight-ahead post-punk rhythm.
The two tracks that Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys contributed to, “Getting Away With It” and “Disappointed” sound like they could be lost Boys cuts: the tinkling piano that kicks off “Getting Away With It” is a Pet Shop Boys staple, and “Disappointed” plays like “What Have I Done to Deserve This?,” with its epic backing vocals and post-apocalyptic synth beats. How could anyone listening to these tracks not realize that someone from the Smiths and/or New Order (and/or Pet Shop Boys) was involved?
This is hardly a bad thing. For newcomers to Electronic, coming to this hits package as an introduction to the band, the foundational similarities to the Smiths and New Order (and Pet Shop Boys) will make listening to these tracks for the first time easier. Conversely, listeners already familiar with Electronic will be free to appreciate how smoothly the rather radically different sounds of The Smiths (sarcastic melancholia) and New Order (fine-tuned synth pop for the clubs) come together on these singles. In fact, listeners might find themselves wondering if perhaps something was missing from The Smiths and New Order. Maybe the latter could have used an infusion of the former for more substantive pop, and maybe the former could have done well with some elements of the latter in an effort to take itself less seriously.
If this was all to gleaned from listening to Electronic, Get the Message would be an exercise in a delayed reaping of benefits from the post-punk revival that has all but fizzled out. But the music on the disc, besides sounding great thanks to Rhino’s keen remastering, is good, and not just their big singles, “Disappointed” and “Get the Message.” While the songs range in tone from straight-ahead dance to post-punk rockers, there isn’t an out of place cut among the 15 tracks in this collection. And when you consider that Electronic’s entire output over their three albums — Electronic, 1991; Raise the Pressure, 1996; Twisted Tenderness, 1999 — is a whopping 35 songs, this hits package is a fairly good representation of their sound and their quality.
Perhaps Rhino could have gone further and added a second disc, completing the Electronic catalogue. This would have made for a decent little anthology. But why quibble? Get the Message is a fine overview — and a long-overdue collection — of Marr’s and Sumner’s output outside of the bands their best known for.