Steve Osborne had a completely different approach to producing the band. He loved the band best when they were allowed to produce themselves and set out to give the production a classic New Order sound. Unlike Martin Hannett, he had no desire to experiment with their sound to the detriment of the bands power, and unlike Stephen Hague, did not get bogged down clothing the groups sound in perishable contemporary dance styles. Instead, he used the precise, non-linear editing capabilities of Protools (obviously not available in Hannett's day, and still in its infancy when Hague was producing Republic) to turn all the elements of the song into a series of loops and beats. He could then re-arrange the song completely at will, or create extended remixes of the song revealing layers of instruments which normally get buried in the mix a practice which died out in the early 90s when remix engineers started burying original songs under their own compositions for the sake of getting their names on club remixes. With protools Osborne had the power of rock instruments tamed by the precise editing capability of sequencers. (On top of this, he did not have band feuds or record company collapses to contend with and so the sounds are mainly the bands own.)
Crystal, like the other songs on the album, was written and well-rehearsed in advance of the recording. The album version of Crystal is the first track and opens gradually like the opening arrangement on a Pink Floyd album. It starts with a melodic, Kraftwerk-style synth piano and a soulful female vocal melody increasing in strength and drama while luscious synth-strings swell up behind it until a crescendo is reached. The vocalist sustains the final note, going into vibrato just as Morris's dirty, pounding drumbeat and Sumner's overdriven guitar come bulldozing through for the real song intro 42 seconds later. This opening was probably the producers idea, but as it heightened rather than diminished the entrance of the band itself, the band would not have objected.
The song was recorded and layers of overdubs were added. Osborne added some of his own elements to the mix such as synth washes and some heavily treated, looped Joy Division synth samples.
Then he started working creatively with the bands recorded instruments. He made several alternative sub-mix loops of Morris's repetitive drum pattern minus the cymbals, each treated differently. One would be distorted, one would be very bass-heavy, one would have a prominent snare sound and so on. He then ran the different mixes simultaneously so that they acted as components in the final drum mix. This created powerful dirty pounding drum sound that I described earlier. The sub mixes may have been produced by the other engineers under Osbornes direction, and the loop would have been created by the Protools engineer.
Cymbals are occasional and muted, apart from the extended section towards the end of the album version, which allows Morris trademark shimmering cymbals to shine through. There are however two nostalgic elements which are mixed proudly up in the production. One is the rapid sequenced hi-hat that the band used on their 1989 acid-house single Fine Time. The other is the same rattling electronic cymbal that was used in Martin Hannett's production of Isolation 20 years earlier. The rattling electronic cymbal is used in force on the first beat of every chorus, and again about halfway through the choruses when Sumner repeats the lyrics.
Then the trademark bass line was recorded. As is fairly well known, Hook played the bass like a lead instrument so it was not always appropriate to have the part prominently in the mix throughout the entire track. The bass line for the bridge section was made very prominent, and treated to Hook's customary chorus effect which created a metallic chiming resonance to the sound. The bass line for the rest of the song was divided up into different sections and treated differently. In some sections, it had the same treatment as I have described but mixed lower down. In other busier areas of the song, Hook plays a less defined droning bass line. Osborne gives these sections depth and distortion, has them looped and puts them low in the mix to add some rumble and texture to the song. In the absence of a more conventional bass line, Bernard Sumner would have worked with the programmer Pete Davis to put together the synth bass line to bolster the groove of the song. (This would not have offended the bassist; it was common practice in the band and one of the reasons Hook plays the way he does.)
Sumner's vocal was recorded with backing vocals by himself and Dawn Zee, the same soulful singer on the intro (who ended up touring with the band in 2001). The backing vocals are looped and brought in at appropriate points in the song. The lead vocals are the only part of the production that do not get looped by the Protools engineer, and even then the choruses are cut and pasted from the best take.
Layers of guitar were recorded and given some very strange treatments. One part was reversed, phased and looped and sounded nothing like a guitar and another part was a slow, distorted tremolo guitar part. These parts are only very faintly audible in a couple of sections of the final mixes. I imagine the producer was pleased with the effect but that it didnt fit very well anywhere in the radio edit or album mix. Otherwise, the guitars were looped, EQd and crisply overdriven in a very commercial manner.
Before the single was released in the shops, New Order allowed the world to download the song from the internet free of charge. Then after the single was released they went further and allowed all the loops from the Crystal sessions to be put on the internet for a limited time for fans to download and remix in a competition run by Sonic Foundry and judged by the band.