This is probably the song that captures the true feeling of its title better than any other tune out there. The key is that regret isn’t necessarily a negative emotion. Instead, it can be disarmingly sweet, oddly but inevitably inspirational in an ephemeral sort of way; it certainly doesn’t have to be all distorted saxophones and droopy beats.
The word doesn’t have the most aspirational connotation because regret seems like a one-way ticket to self-pity, a coulda-shoulda-woulda pitfall for losers and sad sacks. Perhaps it often is, but for many others, regret is as much a fuel for human drive as hope – desire for self-discovery and self-improvement can be awakened by realization of one’s unfulfilled potential and the pain of lost years and opportunities. George Eliot said that ‘it is never too late to be who you might have been’, and if there is ever a soundtrack to that quote, ‘Regret’ would be it.
New Order don’t really beat about the bush here, and straight from the off they launch into an inspired and inspiring riff, a dream of a melody whose composed turns and disciplined adherence to its fixed baselines are something of a novelty for the band. However, New Order being New Order, those baselines are absolutely soaring (and soaring is not an adjective usually given to baselines!) while the wall-of-sound keyboards complement the immediacy of the central riff beautifully. All this helps the song escape easy categorization and means that, unlike many of the band’s usual electronic, dance-oriented fare, ‘Regret’ has not aged a second, sounding as fresh and loaded with excitement as the first hearing. And the line ‘You used to be a stranger/Now you are mine’ is as astute an observation of love as any made in popular music.