They made it happen.
Sometimes a musical pairing is just so damn good that I have to drill down and find out why two people share a creative magic that is unique unto them. That was the thought that crossed my mind as I caromed and careened around town, listening to Electronic’s third album. Twisted Tenderness at an unsuitably high volume.
Electronic was originally conceived as an eighties alternative supergroup of sorts with Neil Tenant (Pet Shop Boys), Bernard Sumner (New Order) and Johnny Marr (Smiths). The first two records featured all three, while Twisted Tenderness was pared down to just Sumner and Marr. It was a less is more arrangement as Tenant’s deadpan was almost so overpowering that the first two records seemed like The Pet Shop Boys on HGH. But with Tenant out of the fold, Sumner and Marr crafted one of the great, unknown records of the nineties.
Marr’s guitar playing is absolutely incendiary, possibly some of the best work he’s done since The Smith’s salad days. It’s so good, I could almost live without Sumner’s vocals, almost, but his song writing deserves more credit than critics of the album give it. It’s been labeled “cheeky” and “cheesy” but at certain times it’s deeply understated and insightful, pulling back the curtain of failure, zooming in on mid-life crisis, kicking life in the groin on the way down and trying like hell to quell unfulfilled longings. Their cover of Traffic’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” features turntable scratching, mid-tempo house beats, and Marr’s moody fretwork. “Make It Happen” kicks the record off with a furious mix of smoking electronic rhythms, Marr’s propulsive, lightning and thunder riffs. The overall sound of the album echos what U2 was doing around the time of Pop fusing beats and bass lines with vocals and guitars. Both Pop and Twisted Tenderness are the best of breed when it comes to “rocktronica.” But what really makes the record go, is the chemistry between Sumner and Marr.
So I decided to take a look at their planets to have a better understanding of what made this album, and other parts of Electronic really work.
Marr was born on Halloween, 1963 and as one might predict, he’s heavily tilted on the Scorpio tip; Sun conjunct Mercury, Venus in Scorpio and Neptune in Scorpio. His fiery moon in Aries is conjunct his Jupiter in Aries. With Mars in Sag at 3 degrees and Saturn in Aquarius at 14 degrees, rounding out his personal planets, Marrs’ chart is volcanic, like a deep sea vent where the heat of the Earth escapes through thermal fissures of light. He conjures immense sounds from this vulcan source, splintering notes like atoms, channeling the chaos of cacaphony into broad swells and crashing waves of ineffable awe. Doubt me? Get this album and a pair of headphones.
Sumner, with his Mars (not Marr’s!) in Scorpio at 23 degrees, in an exact conjunction with Marr’s Venus (sounds like a Russ Meyer heroine) taps directly into Marr and vice versa. Mars defines the form while Venus fills the space. One of the reason this record sounds good is the tacit and intuitive interplay between these two, exploring the depths of their Scorpionic connection between these two planets.
Sumner is a Capricorn (1/4/57) whis Venus in Aquarius rests directly on top of Marr’s Saturn in the same sign, conferring endurance and patience, the ability to tap into new technologies and wield them in the service of their craft. Sumner’s Neptune in Scorpio at 0 degrees lies just under Marr’s Sun at 3 degrees, adding a sense of destiny to their connection, one where they get to explore the limits of a dark spirituality that more than hints at the promise of redemption, which is the underlying theme of Twisted Tenderness.
Here’s a youtube video of “Vivid” one of the few songs that the band commissioned for Twisted Tenderness. Even though Bernard Sumner is horribly out of sync with his lips, you can get an idea as to how the two sound together.
Alas however, it looks as though Sumner and Marr have pulled the plug on Electronic, but their end of the century gem still sounds as strong as it did when it broke, now nearly a decade ago.