Song Analysis #14: New Order – Bizarre Love Triangle

Title: ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’
Where to find it: ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ 12″ single (1986, Factory Records)
Performed by: New Order
Words by: presumably Bernard Sumner

I have a great love of ’80s New Wave. Even before I could comprehend who the bands were that were responsible for songs I heard on the radio, I loved them. Sometimes I wish I still had that innocent, wide-eyed ability to listen to songs without any preconceived notions because now as a music editor, I usually have some background knowledge of a band and/or can compare new artists coming out with some group that’s come before and that colours the way I will receive the music.

‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ was a song I fell in love with initially for the electronics and synths, so it’s quite funny that my first radio run-in with Steve Lamacq live on 6music included him calling me “the sucker for the synth”, which used to describe me very well. (These days, I listen to a lot more back to basics rock ‘n’ roll – it’s a long and sordid story – and synth-driven dance music has taken a backseat in my life.) But I will still queue up this New Order track and remember those childhood days when all that important to me about a song was a beat you could dance to.

First, the words:

Verse 1
Every time I think of you
I feel shot right through with a bolt of blue
It’s no problem of mine
But it’s a problem I find
Living a life that I can’t leave behind
There’s no sense in telling me
The wisdom of the fool won’t set you free
But that’s the way that it goes
And it’s what nobody knows
Well every day my confusion grows

Every time I see you falling
I get down on my knees and pray
I’m waiting for that final moment
You’ll say the words that I can’t say

Verse 2
I feel fine and I feel good
I’m feeling like I never should
Whenever I get this way
I just don’t know what to say
Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday
I’m not sure what this could mean
I don’t think you’re what you seem
I do admit to myself
That if I hurt someone else
Then I’ll never see just what we’re meant to be

Chorus x2
Every time I see you falling
I get down on my knees and pray
I’m waiting for that final moment
You’ll say the words that I can’t say

Every time I see you falling
I get down on my knees and pray
I’m waiting for that final moment
You’ll say the words that I can’t say

Now, the analysis:

I should start this analysis with the fact that many New Order fanatics think this song is about drugs. However, going on from my introduction to this post, I’m going to assume this isn’t true and go with what was my gut feeling once I tried to grasp the song’s meaning when I was a teenager.

I’ve been involved with a couple love triangles that I would definitely call bizarre. And frustrating. But this post will describe what I went through when I was in school. I don’t know if it had to do with my maturity or my introvertedness, which has admittedly gotten better over the years by forcing myself to interact with like-minded music fans and the bands I have grown to love. But much of my high school life revolved around acting as a young Dear Abby to my friends, guys and girls who were in emotional turmoil because they weren’t sure if they should ask Girl X out on a date or they were scared to death about asking Guy Y if he wanted to go to the homecoming dance. The phone in our kitchen would ring when I was doing my maths homework and I’d answer, knowing that inevitably on the other end of the line would be a friend needing relationship advice. Why they came to me, I don’t know. Maybe they knew they could trust me (I wasn’t a gossip) and I wouldn’t judge.

This is something about my personality that continues to this day. I guess that’s why my interviews with bands always come out well. Some bands have told me that talking to me is like coming to talk to a therapist and they’re willing to tell me their innermost thoughts because they can sense they can trust me. And hearing that feels quite good that I am trusted.

Often times with my school friends, I’d be facing a difficult internal battle inside, especially if the boy in the situation, either the one asking me directly for advice or the one who was going to be asked, was someone I borderline fancied. In such a situation, you start to wonder why you’re not the one being asked and it can be quite hurtful. At the time, I took it very badly internally but had to keep a brave face on the outside because at the time, my self-esteem had taken such a hit: I had been very ill as a child and I never considered myself attractive or worthy of anyone’s attention.

“But that’s the way that it goes / And it’s what nobody knows / Well every day my confusion grows”: a lot about being in love has to do with the mixed up way it makes you feel. I was never in love with any of these boys I knew in school; when you’re that age, everything tends to be really superficial and the attraction ends up being about looks and popularity and the thought that “going out” with someone meant fun times. I was a bookworm boffin and not popular, though oddly I was friends with several jocks who came to me needing help with their German or calculus. In particular, there was one guy I knew who was known as our school’s track star and everyone liked him.

I have no idea why he would hang around me in the early mornings before class began and he certainly never showed any romantic interest, but boy was I upset inside when I saw him going to dances with other girls. And I just accepted he’d never ask me. “There’s no sense in telling me / The wisdom of the fool won’t set you free”: does this translate to “ignorance is bliss”? Not sure. But even back then, hearing the words “there are plenty more fish in the sea” would make my blood boil. It provokes the same reaction in me. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t fall in love very often. In fact, I’ve fallen in love exactly 3 times in my life. I think when I was younger I just assumed that the Right One would come along and I would know it, but the first 2 times, I’d made a horrible mistake. This third time remains to be seen…

In ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, I particularly like the chorus for not just the way Bernard Sumner sings it – which in my opinion is as emotional and full of longing as you’re going to get in a dance song – but for what it says to me. “Every time I see you falling”, every time you’re in a bad spot and you might need my support, “I get down on my knees and pray / I’m waiting for that final moment / You’ll say the words that I can’t say”, you’ll realise that what you needed and wanted all along was right in front of you and you’ll be able to say you love me. How many times have you wished such to happen and it never did? How many times have you prayed or asked a divine being for guidance because you really wanted something or someone and you were hoping for assistance?

Maybe it is something about specifically about childhood, about not knowing about what adult life is all about, that makes us think things that happen are total and final. I recall my brother saying, “no one is going to care about your high school GPA after you get into college. Let it go.” But young minds don’t work that way. The kids that came to me for relationship advice? They thought their lives would be over if they asked out someone they liked and the other person said no. Because we had next to no experience in rejection. And what constituted “love” for that matter. If only we all knew back then how little things these things would mean in the whole of our lives.

Who said electronic couldn’t be emotional? They certainly haven’t listened to New Order.

Lastly, the song in two forms, first with its strange trampoline-centred promo video by American artist Richard Longo, and second, video of when I finally got to see Sumner perform this song live with his then band Bad Lieutenant at Roskilde 2010. (My less great video is here.) Let’s just say about the latter that I was verklempt.

5 thoughts on “Song Analysis #14: New Order – Bizarre Love Triangle

  1. I have a feeling this is coming from the perspective of the individual at the centre of the triangle. They can’t seem to make the final decision to break it off with someone and feel an enormous amount of guilt regarding their own indecision. “Every time I see you falling, I get down on my knees and pray. I’m waiting for that final moment you say the words that I can’t say.” They know that this other person is falling in love with them and can’t bring themselves to make the decision to cut it off for the good of everyone involved, so they’re hoping he/she will make the decision the break up and relieve them from having to do it themselves.

  2. Great analysis! I’ve always thought it’s from the perspective of someone in a committed relationship who is in love with someone else who, in turn, loves him, too. The problem is that they’re reluctant to go down that path due to that conflicting commitment. I also disagree that drugs are that 3rd element of the triangle 😉

  3. Well, everyone here is wrong. Despite the song’s name, it’s not a love song at all, but the band’s reaction to the loss of their lead singer years earlier (when they were Joy Division). He had epilepsy, so “every time I see you falling” is referencing his collapse on stage (and off) at times.

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