Both more and less than what a partnership of Sumner and Marr would promise, Electronic's debut has weathered time much better than might have been thought upon its release, but ultimately only half works. When it does, though, it's fantastic, sometimes shifting from okay to fantastic within the same song. Opening number "Idiot Country" is a bit like that -- the beginning sounds a little too rushed, Marr's heavy wah-wah riff OK enough but Sumner's semi-rap/semi-sung vocals a bit ham-handed. By the time the full combination of gentle keyboards, crisp rhythms, and the gentle, reflective chorus comes to bear, though, everything feels just great. Perhaps understandably Electronic leans much more toward New Order than the Smiths -- Marr had already proven his desire to work in dance-crossover since his previous band's breakup, while Sumner's immediately recognizable, melancholic vocals call to mind New Order's rich history. With synth bass and Rolands standing in for Peter Hook's own unique way around the low end, though, Electronic stands out more on its own. Marr's guitar work throughout tends towards the subtle via soft, brisk strums or the occasional repeated key riff; as he's credited for keyboards as well, it's likely much of his work ended up creating the pleasant synth melodies. There's nothing bad per se on Electronic, merely mediocre or a touch forced time to time -- "Gangster," for instance, has a great, cinematic tension undercut by Sumner's attempt at social relevance. The three singles from the album remain the highlights: the delicate, acoustic guitar-led slow groove of "Get the Message," "Feel Every Beat" and its appropriately slamming rhythms, and, in America, the group's brilliant debut effort "Getting Away with It." Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, who memorably guested on that last number, brings bandmate Chris Lowe along to help on his excellent, sly duet with Sumner -- "Patience of a Saint," another standout.
by Ned Raggett