While no one would call Republic, the album on which "Regret" appeared, a work of timeless genius, the song might well qualify. Actually, no New Order album is particularly great in the committee's view. New Order was never an albums band: they're a singles band, and virtually unparalleled in that regard. Some of their best songs never even appeared on their albums.
Neutral Milk Hotel's an album band, and the album was initially panned by the mainstream music press (Rolling Stone said: "For those not completely sold on its folk charm, Aeroplane is thin-blooded, woolgathering stuff"). Allmusic.com described it more accurately as "either the work of a genius or an utter crackpot," which we think gets at the big question for you, the voters: work of genius or work of crackpot?
"Two Headed Boy" is a raw, unhinged, all-in endeavor: there's no dipping a toe into this song, addressed to a "Two headed boy / All floating in glass…I can hear as you tap on your jar." The song's entirely sung to him, the dead boy preserved in formaldehyde in the freak show jar, and gets increasingly obsessive and imaginative as it goes, arriving at the very last verse, which is where it cradles both the dead boy and also us: "Two headed boy / There's no reason to grieve / The world that you need is wrapped in gold silver sleeves / Left beneath Christmas trees in the snow / And I will take you and leave you alone / Watching spirals of white softly flow / Over your eyelids and all you did / Will wait until the point when you let go." Damn. Well, you can see: either you're in it or you're not. Either it's stupid or it's great.
"Regret" asks for less of a commitment from us: there's no crazy narrative situation to inhabit. We're insulated from the extremes of human emotion, and as such is more accessible. What we think's most interesting about it is that unlike the Big Romantic Gestures of many of the songs in the tournament, this is about regret, a less dramatic sadness. It's about beauty and polish, musicianship and production. "Raw" has never been an adjective used to describe this song. In a way it's a culminatino of training: after Ian Curtis killed himself and New Order formed from Joy Division's ashes, Bernard Sumner took over vocal duties, but wasn't particularly good early (see early single "Ceremony," in which he's doing his best Curtis impersonation, and you can track him getting technically better as they continued to create spectacular single after single). By 1993, when "Regret" was released, he'd improved a great deal as a singer. And unlike Neutral Milk Hotel, which requires a kind of mythologization of the individual genius of Mangum, New Order's never been particularly about "mythologization," "individual," or "genius." This isn't a song about the vocals or the personalities of the musicians: as noted in our previous coverage of "Regret," the band's always been self-effacing, perhaps to a fault, rarely appearing in their videos (this is an exception), and that has perhaps been largely why they've continued to put out music, sometimes great and sometimes not, to this day, where Mangum freaked out and disappeared for a decade or more.
Which story do you like better? I mean about the song. I mean about the band. I mean about the sort of sadness you're most drawn to, that you most remember.
(9) New Order, "Regret"
(1) Neutral Milk Hotel, "Two-Headed Boy"
Note: today, some folks are reporting an error when voting in our polls below. We're working on it, but note that it IS counting your votes, even if the error shows up; the software also filters out multiple votes, so you can't accidentally vote too many times. If the form below glitches on you, click HERE to vote and HERE for results. Or do the poll on twitter, if you'd rather:
Last of today's #marchsadness games: Neutral Milk Hotel vs @neworder: https://t.co/UNCQx6JVdb: which sad you got?— Ander Monson (@angermonsoon) March 14, 2016