Following the bizarre 1980 death of Ian Curtis and the remarkable success of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” guitarist/singer Bernard Sumner and the two other remaining members of Joy Division transmuted into New Order, adding guitar/synth player Gillian Gilbert before recording Movement. Proceeding from a projected creative future of Joy Division, New Order sold million of records and became a global force, mutating from dance music to pop to rock (and back again) as fashions fluctuated. Their heady and uncompromising mix of dreamy meanderings and unforgettable techno-dance music can all be traced back to that memorable swansong, alleviating some of Curtis’ lyrical suffering while retaining the depth and unique musical personality he outlined. If Sumner’s lyrical imagination often pales in comparison to Curtis’s dark mysteries, he’s long since established himself as his own man with his own obsessions.
Movement, produced by Martin Hannett, wisely sidesteps the Joy Division comparisons by downplaying the vocals and emphasizing electronics; it may lack the former band’s sheer sharpness of vision, but maintains a fascination with decay and paradox, showcasing excellent guitar and synthesizer work.
The 1981 — 1982 EP consists of five songs taken from British 45s, and presents New Order’s first burst of pop, especially the magnificent “Temptation” and “Procession.” Coincidentally, New Order was already showing remarkable facility for making uncommon — but highly popular — singles, issuing a huge UK smash, “Blue Monday.” (Long unavailable on album, the song was later added to the cassette version of Power, Corruption and Lies. In 1988, the song was newly remixed and successfully reissued on 12-inch in America.)
Power, Corruption and Lies is a masterpiece, from the cryptic (but decipherable if you work hard at it) artwork to the eight lengthy tracks of state-of-the-creative-art electronic dance music. Blending moody strains of pseudo-strings with seemingly misplaced guitar bits and coldly kinetic rhythms, plus artless but engaging vocals and syncopated effects, deceptively simple tracks like “Age of Consent” and “Leave Me Alone” convey intense sensations that you can’t easily shake. An emotionally and physically moving record by one of the era’s most important bands. The CD adds two tracks.
New Order was formally introduced to America through the auspices of Quincy Jones, whose Qwest label put out Low-life and reissued Power, Corruption and Lies. One of the finest LPs of 1985, Low-life starts out with an ironic folk-form ballad, “Love Vigilantes,” that is utterly unlike anything the band has ever tried but scores brilliantly. “The Perfect Kiss” is very poppy, with lush synth strains and perfectly inappropriate froglike (!) sound effects. The other six tracks are almost as appealing, tentatively exploring other stylistic areas without abandoning the band’s essential format.
The lightheaded and seemingly half-hearted Brotherhood retreads the characteristic sound of Low-life but largely lacks the first-rate songwriting that gives purpose and significance to the proficient synthesizer/guitar musical machine. Only “Weirdo,” the downcast “All Day Long” and the magnificent “Bizarre Love Triangle” intertwine the delicately rising and falling electro-beat tides with melodies that fix themselves firmly in your head; the rest shimmer with the same near-folk veneer but are just not as memorable.
Fashioning their own version of a career retrospective, the enigmatic and retiring quartet gathered six years’ worth of 12-inch singles (some appearing in special new mixes) on two vinyl discs under the title Substance. If one needs a reminder of New Order’s unique genius, this album (also released on DAT) has it all: “Blue Monday,” “Perfect Kiss,” “Shellshock,” “Confusion,” “Bizarre Love Triangle” and seven more. (The double-CD issue boasts a dozen B-sides as a bonus and extremely harsh, clattery sound.)
Along with “Touched by the Hand of God” (also on the “Blue Monday 1988” remix 12-inch), New Order contributed four instrumentals (“Salvation Theme” is quite nice) to the soundtrack album of Salvation!, Beth B’s scathing satire about televangelism in which Exene Cervenka made her dramatic film debut.
Technique, New Order’s first new album in more than two years, contains a sonic postcard from Ibiza, the Spanish island where the momentary dance fad known as Balearic beat flashed amid the first flowerings of acid house. While half of the songs go the crazy rhythms route (synthetic bongos pitter-patter throughout “Round & Round”; the thundering “Fine Time” throws electronic sheep into the mix; with blips and percussive blasts, the powerful “Mr. Disco” hammers a beat into a dreamy song), other numbers wisely mine the group’s pop faith. In “All the Way,” Sumner encourages self-reliance over a tart blend of acoustic guitars and Peter Hook’s thrusting bass; the ripping electric leads and martial drumming that cut through “Run” leave the summery tune sounding like Donovan fronting the Jesus and Mary Chain. Adding new ingredients to a familiar recipe makes Technique most effective. (Also available on DAT.)
New Order’s first Peel Sessions 12-inch (the initial release in the UK series) was recorded in June 1982 and contains four songs; the second hails from January 1981. Both are combined on the 1990 LP.
After Technique, Sumner, Hook and drummer Stephen Morris put the group on hold and set off in different directions to do other things. Hook assembled a trio called Revenge and whipped out the wretched One True Passion. (The title enthusiasm apparently refers to buxom leather-and-chain-clad women.) Restyling New Order’s formula with a thicker, warmer sound and second-rate vocals, the oversexed Revenge could almost be a clumsy tribute band. New Order’s flimsy concepts are one thing, but Hook’s macho black leather bluster is aggressively dumb. (Song titles include “Surf Nazi,” “Kiss the Chrome” and “Fag Hag.”) No prizes for solving witless lyrical conundrums like “Kiss the chrome / Why am I alone?” Gun World Porn, unveiling a reconfigured group in which Hook doesn’t play bass, adds four murky new songs — still sounding like New Order’s thuggish alter ego, with a side order of Nine Inch Nails — to Revenge’s worthless oeuvre, tacking on three remixes and a phone message to fill the time. That done, Hook launched another side project, Monaco.
Sumner and ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, initially in collaboration with Pet Shop Boys singer Neil Tennant, formed Electronic, which issued a single in 1990 and an album in mid-’91. Electronic is a strange but entertaining meld of electro-pop dance music with guitar, blipping sequencers and a strong Tennant vocal/keyboards influence. (He sings two cuts.) With Marr’s creative role not strikingly evident, Electronic also sounds like New Order (especially due to Sumner’s distinctive voice and rhythmic patterns), only taking a breather in a parallel universe ruled by the Pet Shop Boys. Five years later, Sumner and Marr reactivated Electronic for Raise the Pressure, an album with all the sprightly melodic pop no longer guaranteed by New Order. The duo occasionally descends to formulaic dance drive or deficient simplemindedness here, but more often than not their marriage of style and sensibilities is uncannily productive, filling one another’s voids to strike a smart balance between guitar warmth and techno coolness, between pop heads and moving feet.
That leaves the other two — real-life couple Gilbert and Morris, who dubbed themselves the Other Two and found work doing soundtrack music for film and television. (One of their clients is/was America’s Most Wanted.) On The Other Two & You., Gilbert sings the direct lyrics of their percolating dance-pop originals in a sweet, breathy air-pop voice over layers of lush/stuttering keyboards, busy rhythms and minimal bits of guitar. As Stephen Hague co-produced, it’s a fair companion piece to New Order’s contemporaneous Republic®, underpinning an equally appealing surface with greater variety and marginally more creative depth.
Republic®, the only new New Order album released the 1990s, is pleasantly diverting and lightly inflected techno-pop. (Credit co-producer/co-writer Hague for both attributes.) Taking unspecified assistance from guest instrumentalists, the record gets off to a great start with the richly guitar textured “Regret” and the peppy, vocally active “World.” The songs don’t remake the New Order sound so much as add useful stylistic ideas and instruments to the mix, bringing out the essential tunefulness with deliriously seductive results. Other than those two and “Special,” however, the record is prosaic, flat and dull. With Sumner still caught in Tennant’s thrall but lacking the garish musical determination to make anything original (or even vivid) from the influence, the band winds up sounding half-hearted and misguided, hamstrung by flimsy songs, derivative stylings and wan arrangements.
Evidently unwilling to move forward, New Order returned to its past for further retrospective releases in 1995. The 17 songs collected under the title (the best of) don’t overly overlap Substance, and therein lies the problem. While omitting early essentials like “Ceremony” and “Everything’s Gone Green,” the indulgent anthology finds room for the first album’s Hook-sung “Dreams Never End,” three Republic® songs (enough to obviate any but a true fan’s need to own that album), “Touched by the Hand of God” (from the Salvation soundtrack) and “World in Motion,” the band’s absurdly sincere 1990 English World Cup team theme. “Blue Monday,” “True Faith” and “1963” all appear in different versions than on Substance; the vocal rendition of “Let’s Go (Nothing for Me)” was co-written and co-produced specifically for the record by early collaborator Arthur Baker. If not an especially useful package, (the best of) still packs such gems as “Love Vigilantes,” “Age of Consent” and “Bizarre Love Triangle,” allowing it to serve as a handy highlights reel for newcomers.
Typical of the band’s recycling efficiency, a third compilation was issued in the UK: (the rest of) spins further afield to offer alternate mixes of such songs as “Confusion,” “Blue Monday” and “Touched by the Hand of God.”
The new millennium brought a return to activity, as Sumner, Hook and Morris regrouped for Get Ready. Not many bands can take the better part of a decade off and then make a great album, but New Order is the apparent exception: Get Ready is brilliant in every way. The fine single “Crystal” and “60 Miles an Hour” set Hook’s bass at center stage to glorious effect. Sumner’s vocals have a knowing tone; these are no spring chickens, and they know it: “We’re like crystal / We break easy.” Eschewing dance floor experimentalism for visceral rock and roll, Get Ready is consistent, compelling and a bit surprising. Billy Corgan, who makes a guest appearance on vocals, played keyboards on New Order’s subsequent tour, standing in for an ailing Gillian Gilbert.
International is an adequate if needless best-of. With little to offer the hardcore fan, it spans New Order’s career, including three tracks from Get Ready. Ownership of that album plus Substance renders this one superfluous.Back to Mine is from a series of albums that allow bands to remix their favorite artists; unsurprisingly, New Order’s picks are diverse and idiosyncratic. Drawing on tracks by Captain Beefheart, Can, Primal Scream and Missy Elliott (among others), the songs say less about New Order’s actual influences and more about their musical tastes, but that doesn’t make it a bad album.
The box set Retro takes a typically left-field approach. The four discs are distinctly different, as a journalist, a fan, a DJ and Primal Screamer Bobby Gillespie picked, respectively, the band’s best singles, album tracks, remixes and live performances. The cover is by Peter Saville, and the liner notes are great. A delightful deviation from formula.
Defying the long odds against creative endurance in rock, Waiting for the Sirens’ Call is another good ‘un, an extremely catchy collection of solidly crafted pop songs in the familiar New Order idiom. Sumner’s lyrics remain completely useless — virtually every line announces precisely what the next one will be, with rhymes that would not be beyond the ready imagination of any average 10-year-old. Still, the songs work in spite of the remedial writing, whether for a great hook (“Turn,” the dreamy infection of “Krafty,” the cascading chorus of “Who’s Joe?”), surprising sincerity (the title track), musical invention (the excitingly layered “Morning Night and Day” and “Working Overtime,” a hectic guitar-rock banger that in no way resembles the stark mechanics of Low-life or Power, Corruption and Lies) or simply a dead solid beat (“Guilt Is a Useless Emotion,” which also appears on the US edition in a bonus remix). With its extraordinary aptitude for motivating motion, New Order at 25 remains the Woody Allen of dance music, the whitest club thumpers this side of Johann Strauss. Although the album contains when the band kicks into gear, its irresistible rhythmic pulse beats as strongly as it ever has. There are duds here, like the silly airport realism of “Jetstream” and the inane condescension of “Hey Now What You Doing” (“You have the brightest future / Writing songs on your computer / But you couldn’t walk the extra mile / And now your life is running wild”). Still, the fact that New Order can still bring the beats and a song or three at this late stage of the story is proof that they were right all along. But when will they get around to making their Wish You Were Here?