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New Order Back Catalogue Reissues
John Doran , September 12th, 2008 15:15

Movement

Power, Corruption and Lies

Low-Life

Brotherhood

Technique

When you listen to Movement by New Order it doesn’t really sound as if the Macclesfield band showed indecent haste in recording this after the death of Ian Curtis. In fact it actually sounds like it was recorded before his suicide, with him just having been bumped off vocals and down onto keyboards due to ill-health. Of course this actually is the third Joy Division album rather than the first by New Order; the name being a blackly ironic joke. As new member Gillian Gilbert commented some time later: "I just thought the name meant there was a new order in the group." New Order, new order: old sound.

Gilbert was already the fifth member of Joy Division (she'd played keyboards for the group live) – more so than Jon The Postman, Crispy Ambulance’s Alan Hempsall or any of the other people who tried vainly to fill Curtis’ roomy black DMs while he was having a fit – so it was fitting that she joined on the lowest rung, forcing Barney ‘Bernard’ Sumner ‘Albrecht' up to the top slot he probably didn’t want. It was probably the sight of poor Hempsall getting bottled and beaten while valiantly and stupidly standing in for Curtis and the brief and all but air-brushed-out-of-existence tenure of Kevin Hewick in JD that made the remaining three realize that it was a fool’s errand trying to replace the most enigmatic frontman of the post punk generation. This said an alternate future for the band can be heard in the sepulchral ‘Doubts Even Here’ as Gilbert intones blankly: "I missed his promised time again / For my friend . . . Has he remembered to not despise us? There, now now, don’t come to mind my deeds / And call out in defiance of times gone by." If Paul Morley had christened Joy Division the first gothic band, then New Order were quite happily becoming a goth act on their own. Elsewhere with ‘ICB’ and ‘The Him’ they predict the next few years of alternative music in general and specifically Faith and Seventeen Seconds by The Cure.

There is some debate to be had here as to whether all of the bonus material should be included with these discs. New Order were very much a fan’s band in their insistence on not having their name on the sleeve of the albums, not including singles and the like. Personally I think it’s good that Movement contains Ceremony, Temptation, Everything’s Gone Green, Mesh as well as other material. There’s only really been one good NO singles compilation and that was the original Substance in a double cassette box set. The 38 they’ve released since have all been terrible because of the inclusion of either ‘World In Motion’ or some God awful remix of ‘Blue Monday’. These reissues pretty much give you everything you need from the group bar weird esoterica like the 808 State remixes etc.

So it was with Power, Corruption and Lies that the quartet stepped out of the monolithic shadow of Joy Division for the first time. The efflorescence of roses on the front cover reflects the first splashes of colour outside the grey scale in the music especially in tracks such as ‘Age Of Consent’. Barney Sumner’s amazingly sharp eye for pop composition makes itself felt here as well. The clean separation of Hook’s liquid and lightly picked lead bass and Gilbert’s sparkling keyboard work on ‘The Village’ signposts the way to their future in dance music. Like other artists of the day such as Gary Numan (Dance), they’re keen to scrappily emulate the progressive funk of Brian Eno on the ominous ‘We All Stand’ as well. After the ‘Blue Monday’ off cut ‘586’ there is the ultimately more satisfying ‘Your Silent Face’. And on the bonus disc . . . well, what is there to say about ‘Blue Monday’? One of the greatest pop singles (sorry 12”s) ever released. It was written, so the mythology goes, round a pre-programmed rhythm on a store bought synthesizer’s drum machine. A pulverising Moroder synth bass line is combined with stentorian bursts of haiku like lyricism about death . . . and beaches. The serious business of cold war dancing signalled by the rat-a-tat of syn drums, the swoosh of ICBM missiles and the Ligeti 2001: A Space Odyssey drones signalling that we were truly in the age of satellite defence systems.

Recently Julian Cope said that he thought bands from Liverpool were destined to fuck up because they were Celtic and when you compare this to the Anglo-Saxon work ethic of Manchester bands (on the Factory label no less) you can see this is true. Industrious and industrial they churned out hits during this period (‘Confusion’, ‘Thieves Like Us’) like a Northern, overcoat wearing Motown act.

All really good bands worth their salt – or most at least - release a triumvirate of unbeatable consecutive albums, signalling a period where the creativity is at a peak and this is the middle album in New Order’s trio. Their vaulting ambition as a pop/dance act was only matched by Barney’s wild inability to hit the right note on songs like ‘This Time Of Night’, with his own backing (dis)harmonies creating something that could almost be classed as avant garde. (He is certainly in that classic tradition of the soulful English singer who has little in the way of technical ability – though he’s really not in the same league as Curtis, Billy Childish or John Lydon.) He had so much to concentrate on in terms of composition that perhaps this is not surprising. The band still didn’t rely on sequencers, choosing to play everything live (often leading to atrocious TOTP performances) still retaining that raw edge from their post punk days. Anyone who hasn’t seen Jonathan Demme’s video for 'The Perfect Kiss' should do to check out the band’s peculiar but well oiled functionality. (Watch out for ‘spooky’ cameos from Ian Curtis and Martin Hannett in the background.)

Brotherhood is the last of the ‘old-guard’ of New Order albums but not their last good album. Well, not quite anyway. It contains the most complete synthesis of the band’s sound, which only really diverged after that point. The galloping, tinny riffage, the skittering hi-hats, the sunburst of keyboard swells, the melodies picked out on bass . . . They also cast off the last remaining traces of Joy Division here – Peter Hook says goodbye to his past on ‘As It Is When It Was’ with a cheeky little riff from ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. It says everything you need to know about New Order to learn that such a tremendously moving song as ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ had its genesis in an LSD fuelled visit to a sandwich shop ("What’s a BLT? A bizarre love triangle?") I mean who eats sandwiches on acid anyway? This paves the way for the lush second side of the album that concludes with the Arthur Baker collaboration ‘State Of The Nation’. The extras are excellent but bizarre and not lovely in one respect – the knock about, but ultimately inoffensive ‘World In Motion’ World Cup Theme has been left off but the eye-wateringly bad ‘Blue Monday ‘88’ has been included. This is scant price to pay for the 12” mix of ‘Bacon, Lettuce And Tomato’ and ‘1963’ is included as well.

The fact that they had not just turned a corner but pulled a complete U-turn in 1989 can be heard on the opening track from Technique, ‘Fine Time’. At about 100 seconds into the track it sounds like the Cylon Jimi Hendrix is scraping a plectrum down his strings. It’s a noise (along with the pitch shifted voice saying “You’ve got that love technique”, the sharp, synthetic horn stabs, ironic sheep noises and the liquid 808 State riff) designed to make you feel like your brain is being kissed by God when you’re on drugs. Elsewhere dim wits were commenting on the band finally getting over the suicide of Curtis obviously not realising exactly how strong the pills were that year. As if to prove the point, they appeared on Top Of The Pops not long after dressed like children’s TV presenters dancing like Bez – Curtis and Hannett nowhere to be seen in the background this time. But they can’t help themselves really and featured is ‘Vanishing Point’ – their great lost single which still sounds like it was recorded on the roof of a castle during a storm, as all of their really great tunes do.

Essential really, but you knew that already didn't you?

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