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Electronic Get Back Groove With Twisted Tenderness

 © 1999 SonicNet, Inc. All rights reserved.

Duo of ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and New Order's Bernard Sumner returns with a third album.

Contributing Editor Gianni Sibilla reports:

MILAN, Italy -- The pop duo Electronic may boast two bona fide stars -- former Smiths guitar Wunderkind Johnny Marr and New Order singer Bernard Sumner -- but don't call them a super group.

Though a former collaborator likened them to a "Blind Faith of the '90s," a reference to the short-lived Eric Clapton/Stevie Winwood band of 1969, Marr and Sumner downplay the comparison -- even if their upcoming third album, Twisted Tenderness, does happen to include a cover of Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home."

"OK, we're famous and we're in a group. Does that make us a supergroup? We went on for years denying we were in [one], but then we ended up making a cover of Blind Faith," Sumner said with a laugh.

"[But] we didn't know the song before we made the album," Sumner added.

A major difference between Electronic and all-star outfits of the past -- such one-album wonders as Souther-Hillman-Furay, Kooper-Bloomfield-Stills and the aforementioned Blind Faith -- is that the Marr-Sumner dyad proves to have some longevity.

Eight years ago Electronic released their self-titled debut disc. In the interim they released a second album, Raise the Pressure (1996), which included the single "Forbidden City".

The new album -- along with its single "Vivid" -- continues the duo's tradition of mixing the dance-groove elements and the jangly guitar pop that Sumner and Marr, respectively, purveyed in their previous bands.

Guitarist Johnny Marr, 35, first caught the attention of rock fans and critics in the mid-'80s, when he co-headed '80s rock superstars the Smiths with lyricist/singer Morrissey and gave the group its colorful, intricate, guitar-based sound. After the band split in 1987, a few days prior to the release of its last studio album, Strangeways Here We Come, Morrissey embarked on a solo career.

Marr became a much-in-demand session player who worked with Brit-folk singer Billy Bragg, new-wave pop acts Talking Heads and the Pretenders, among others.

Singer/guitarist Bernard Sumner came to prominence in the late '70s as one of four members of Joy Division, the influential, gloom-infused new-wave band whose brief run ended when their charismatic frontman, Ian Curtis, hanged himself in 1980. Sumner and the other surviving bandmates reconvened under the name New Order, ultimately becoming one of the most successful UK dance-rock acts of the '80s.

After a long pause due to internal conflicts, the group re-formed last December for series of UK dates. According to Sumner, New Order will soon enter the studio to begin work on their first album since 1993's Republic.

The longevity of Electronic, given its side-project status, is a source of some surprise even to its own members. "When you are in a band, and you hang around all the time, you have the idea that you can go on for five or six records," Marr said. "But in Electronic it's different, because it's like an experiment. We never thought it was going to be one album or it was gonna be three."

Both Marr and Sumner attribute their successful collaboration to a combination of friendship and musical compatibility. "Our previous groups sounded very different," Marr said. "[But] as musicians [we find that] the things that count are the same. And it's that music has to be emotive, it has to have some passion and it has to be honest. It can't be a pose. This has made it work.

"[But] as important as music and our career are to us, it's not as important as being a good person and having a good friendship."

Despite some live TV appearances in support of the new record, the duo won't be touring, due to the high costs of recruiting and rehearsing a full band.

But to fans of Marr's and Sumner's previous bands, and of the current duo, the new album should satisfy the need for new noise.

"Of course I knew their original bands, and I know Electronic as well, which is a good [mixture] of their previous experiences," explained Marco Benni, 26, who recently spotted the two in a Milan bar. "It's good to see them back with a new record."

"It's like climbing a mountain," Marr said of the process of making an album. "When you get on top, then you see other mountains to climb. Personally I feel very grateful every time a record is finished. And that goes to everything in my career."

© 1999 SonicNet, Inc. All rights reserved.