There is a point in many musicians’ careers when they go from having a cult following and cross over into the mainstream. With some it’s part of a gradual process. With others the focal point is razor-sharp.
With New Order, that point was the release of their first greatest hits album, 1987’s Substance, and the new track they recorded especially for it, True Faith.
You’ll know the song. And you’ll definitely know the video. Directed and choreographed by Philippe Decouflé, it features a set of dancers in colourful inflatable suits locked in surreal battle, intercut with flashes of the band performing the song at that summer’s Glastonbury Festival. (Incidentally, as far as I can tell the only other music video Decouflé ever directed was Fine Young Cannibals’ She Drives Me Crazy … which features a set of dancers in colourful inflatable suits. It’s déjà vu all over again.)
Supremely MTV-friendly and coupled with the song’s relentlessly catchy drum and guitar lines, it made for an irresistible combination that moved the band fully into pop’s mainstream.
It’s not that New Order were unknown beforehand. They had had three top 20 singles before True Faith – Blue Monday (the biggest selling 12-inch single of all time, fact fans), Confusion and Thieves Like Us – and three top ten albums. But True Faith gave the band their highest UK chart placing at that point (number four) and their first top 40 entry in the US. And while Blue Monday was their only top ten UK single beforehand, they would go on to notch up a further six top ten entries – including the chart-topping England 1990 World Cup song World In Motion (anyone remember John Barnes rapping?) – and two number one albums.
It’s a song inextricably associated with a transitional summer in my life. A pause for breath after finishing O-levels and hurtling headlong into A-levels and the quest for a university place. My dad, who I owe my love of music to, bought me Substance for my birthday just before the new school year started, and the double-album played on my Walkman and in my bedroom for much of that year, from Ceremony through Blue Monday and State of the Nation to True Faith and 1963.
New Order are frequently credited with being one of the most influential bands of the 1980s and in the history of dance music. They were certainly an influential part of my teen years. And, 29 summers on, I still adore this song.
A small footnote: True Faith‘s B-side, the often overlooked but haunting 1963, was remixed and released as a single in its own right in 1995, reaching number 21. New Order’s producer Stephen Hague described it as “the only song about domestic violence that you can dance to”. He’s not wrong. It still gives me the shivers.