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New Order

+ {Bad Lieutenant}

The advent of the 80s marked a tragic and transitional time for former JOY DIVISION alumni Bernard Albrecht (now Bernard Sumner), Peter Hook and Stephen Morris, having been left desolate after the shockwaves left from the suicide of their frontman/buddy, Ian Curtis, who hanged himself on 18th May 1980. But through adversity comes strength, and the re-formation of the Manchester-based group soon afterwards as NEW ORDER (guitarist Bernard also assuming vocal duties) was indeed a masterstroke. Sticking with Tony Wilson’s Factory Records, producer Martin Hannett and retaining manager Rob Gretton, the group finally got into gear (and the Top 40) in March ’81 with a former JOY DIVISION cut, `Ceremony’; fans could soon compare both versions when a raw live take of the track was unveiled on JD’s posthumous “Still” album, released that October.
A much-needed boost to both their sound and visuals was the introduction of Gillian Gilbert, a sultry-looking female who embellished the quartet’s music with cutting keyboard/synth swathes, evident on the `Everything’s Gone Green’ double-header flipside of sophomore 45, `Procession’. In reality, these early recordings weren’t much of a departure from the rumbling, melodic bass and beat sound of old, critics, too, were unimpressed with Sumner’s rather brittle vocals – but what were they expecting?
However, the release of NEW ORDER’s debut album, MOVEMENT (1981) {*8}, the band were beginning to crystallise their own unique sound; as like many of their early works there was no room for the singles. One could hear ghostly echoes of Curtis via Sumner on the likes of the lyrical `Truth’, `Senses’, `Chosen Time’ and `I.C.B.’, although the bass-lines of “Hooky” and the percussive paddings of Morris maintained its darker side. The remaining three tracks, `The Him’, `Doubts Even Here’ (like opener `Dreams Never End’ with Hook on lead vox) and `Denial’ were of the highest quality.
A subtle dance feel was also edging its way in via the release of Top 30 breakthrough single, `Temptation’ (“up down turn around, please don’t let me hit the ground”), the following year, while NEW ORDER had begun experimenting openly with sequencing technology. The single married the raw cut ‘n’ thrust of alternative rock to danceable rhythms, echoing hip hop’s similar experimentation with European electronica (think AFRIKA BAMBAATAA’s seminal KRAFTWERK-sampling “Planet Rock”) and creating sonic waves that would ripple through the eclectic musical free-for-all of the 90s and beyond.
Fittingly then, NEW ORDER’s tour de force `Blue Monday’ – production by way of cult US hip hop producer, Arthur Baker. The best selling twelve-inch single in the history of rock, the record was dominated by compelling, almost militaristic dancefloor beats behind Sumner’s introspective, melancholy vocal musings and Hooky’s insidious bass melody. A true crossover single, the now overplayed record appealed to indie fans, B-boys and club posers alike, cementing NEW ORDER’s reputation as one of Britain’s most street-cred acts.
The accompanying album (spoiled slightly by an inferior demo-like version of the Top 10 smash in `5-8-6’ form at the expense of the original), POWER, CORRUPTION & LIES (1983) {*8} cracked the Top 5, confirming NEW ORDER’s commitment to electronic experimentation via a hypnotic, slightly hazy set. Getting past Sumner’s squeaky but nevertheless effective lines of opening salvo, `Age Of Consent’, the gloom-laden `We All Stand’ takes the prize here as it drifts between some apocalyptic romance; their KRAFTWERK influences were there for all to hear on `Your Silent Face’, while indie-pop values were accepted on `The Village’.
A further Arthur Baker-produced 12 incher followed with `Confusion’; the New Yorker also collaborating on its 1984 Top 20 companion follow-up, `Thieves Like Us’. But it wasn’t until the acclaimed LOW-LIFE (1985) {*8} that NEW ORDER successfully integrated the various strands which made up their inimitable sound. Previewed by the affecting `The Perfect Kiss’ single (which abandoned their idealistic non-inclusion singles approach) was arguably their most consistently listenable NEW ORDER long player, the record convincingly welded driving, bass-heavy rock onto dance rhythms as well as featuring some interesting stylistic diversions; `Sub-Culture’ and `Shellshock’ stretched the group’s singles chart appeal, albeit to a lesser, minor placing extent.
BROTHERHOOD (1986) {*7} was a harder-edged affair, enjoyable enough and boasting the brilliant `Bizarre Love Triangle’, the follow-up to the album’s other hit, `State Of The Nation’. Adopting a new fanbase through their adaptability to stay on par with the indie-dance scene, a dance scene that they helped create from their embryonic Hacienda and Factory gigs, the more disconcerting fan had seen too much of a slide into this genre; tracks `Way Of Life’ and `Paradise’ probably the exceptions.
By manner of their highest chart placing so far, `True Faith’, was another landmark NEW ORDER single, their first co-written and produced by Stephen Hague (who’d worked wonders on the PET SHOP BOYS’ early material). The platter was a hauntingly infectious piece of dance-pop, possibly the most commercial material NEW ORDER had ever released.
Following the release of the best selling compilation, SUBSTANCE 1987 {*9} later that summer (an ‘88 re-mix of `Blue Monday’ hit Top 3) the band went to ground, finally resurfacing in 1989 with TECHNIQUE {*8} and quashing rumours of an imminent split. Heavily influenced by the house explosion of the late 80s and partly recorded on the Balearic island of Ibiza, the album fully indulged the band’s dance-ier leanings with a verve and passion that, on reflection, was missing from much of their later work. Deservedly, the album rode into the No.1 spot on the back of the club zeitgeist, a scene NEW ORDER had a major hand in creating. The single `Fine Time’, almost cracked the Top 10, an uncharacteristically humorous ditty featuring parodic mock-medallion man, BARRY WHITE-esque vocal rumblings; with a profoundly TV-theme beat, `Round And Round’ and the MOR-esque `Run’ kept up their chart and video momentum.
The following year, Sumner, Hook, Morris and Gilbert were back at No.1 with their World Cup theme tune, `World In Motion’. Nationalist prejudice aside, this song seemed to set the trend for the nauseous, “Enger-land”-lite that the LIGHTNING SEEDS would update six years later for the European championships. Maybe NEW ORDER felt the same way, as the various members soon drifted away to their respective side projects; Hook to the muscular REVENGE (subsequently stiffing with 1990’s `One True Passion’), Gilbert and new hubby Morris by way of The OTHER TWO (with the belatedly-issued `The Other Two And You’ in 1993), getting lost in the ether when Factory went belly-up. Meanwhile, Sumner was creating another disco-fied indie sensation with ELECTRONIC, alongside ex-SMITHS guitarist Johnny Marr and occasionally Neil Tennant (of the PET SHOP BOYS). By far the most successful NEW ORDER-offshoot, the group scored three Top 20 hit singles, including the pop wistfulness of `Getting Away With It’. They also narrowly missed No.1 with their 1991 eponymous album, their sound akin to a breezier NEW ORDER, fusing house and indie-pop with wry, intelligent lyrics.
With Tony Wilson’s Factory hitting the skids following HAPPY MONDAYS’ bank-breaking Sunshine & Love-set debacle, a belated NEW ORDER follow-up REPUBLIC (1993) {*7}, was subsequently released for Centerdate (a subdivision of London Records). A strangely muted collection, the record nevertheless spawned a succession of Top 30 singles led by the aptly named Top 5 hit `Regret’ (also a smash in the US); `Ruined In A Day’, `World (The Price Of Love)’ and `Spooky’ were the set’s biggest hitters.
Rumours of tensions within the group persisted and after a final appearance at the 1993 Reading Festival, the various members soon went off to do their own thing once more. ELECTRONIC charted with another set, `Raise The Pressure’ (1996) and Hook came up with the highly-NEW ORDER-esque MONACO project (with Sumner-like David Potts) the following year. In 1999, ELECTRONIC returned with a third set, `Twisted Tenderness’ – featuring the UK hit `Vivid’ –
while MONACO again delighted the pop world with their eponymous follow-up in 2000.
Few could’ve predicted NEW ORDER would return at all, never mind return with as good an album as GET READY (2001) {*7}. Rather than cater to the whims of contemporary club tastes, Sumner, Hook, Morris and Gilbert unashamedly made a record on their own terms. As a taster single, `Crystal’ was perfect, a keening slice of prime NEW ORDER with the constituent parts (Hooky’s all-consuming bass-line, Sumner’s little-boy-lost vocals, a melody to die for) all present and correct. Even the collaborative efforts of PRIMAL SCREAM’s Bobby Gillespie (on `Rock The Shack’) and SMASHING PUMPKINS’ Billy Corgan (on `Turn My Way’) were subsumed under the record’s driving focus. Also, it was Gillian’s swansong as she duly chose to stay at home bringing up her and Stephen’s two young daughters; one of them Grace has transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder. Phil Cunningham (from Brit-pop outfit MARION) was subsequently recruited as the band’s new guitarist/keyboard player.
As the 80s revival kicked into gear – and any number of young, skinny-tied turks owing Hooky and Co a debt – the release of WAITING FOR THE SIRENS’ CALL (2005) {*6} was timely enough, with lead single `Krafty’ going Top 10. The album itself made the Top 5 and, while there was nothing new on the table – save for the quasi-white reggae of `I Told You So’ and blooze-chops of `Working Overtime’ – the record did spawn a couple of further hits: a more obvious choice might’ve been the classicist `Dracula’s Castle’, but both the title track and `Jetstream’ hovered around the Top 20.
It seemed the fate of NEW ORDER was in doubt in May 2007, when Hooky took his bow. However, time spent with new sidekick Cunningham (and Tom Chapman on bass) in the BAD LIEUTENANT project, resurrected Sumner’s career at least. Alongside Jake Evans, and guest spots for Stephen Morris, Alex James (of BLUR), the cathartic NEVER CRY ANOTHER TEAR (2009) {*6} was delivered to upbeat reviews. While the record was very much in the funky NEW ORDER mode (`Twist Of Fate’ the example), it recalled the halcyon summery days of mid-90s Brit-pop (`Shine Like The Sun’ and `Head Into Tomorrow’ accentuating the mood).
Another phase of NEW ORDER was in place by late 2011. With all but Hooky reuniting (Chapman and Cunningham graduated in his place), the quintet’s concert set, LIVE AT THE LONDON TROXY (2011) {*6} heralded a possible new beginning. Festival appearances at T In The Park were expected to draw in large crowds – not so pleased was Hooky who was perturbed enough to start legal proceedings as he himself, revamped the JOY DIVISION catalogue under the billing PETER HOOK And The Light. As if to exasperate the situation, another in-concert piece, LIVE AT BESTIVAL 2012 (2013) {*6}, was capped off by a couple of JOY DIVISION gemstones, `Transmission’ and `Love Will Tear Us Apart’.
Subsequently working with executive producer Daniel Miller at Mute Records (Tom Rowlands, Richard X and Stuart Price respectively roped in as needed), NEW ORDER resurrected their flagging careers with the release of MUSIC COMPLETE (2015) {*7}. Chalking up a near pole position, their high NRG would suit disciples of their driving disco beats, helped craftily by Elly Jackson (LA ROUX) on mirror-ball shakers, `Tutti Frutti’ and `People On The High Line’. Sparkling bright as a beam of light on the dancefloor, the single `Restless’ kicked off proceedings, while IGGY POP was no stooge on the chirpy and narrative `Stray Dog’. Alt-rock and indie fans might baulk at what NEW ORDER have become since their untimely re-birth three and a half decades hitherto, but their crafty post-krautrock melodies such as `Plastic’, `Academic’ and `Superheated’ (featuring BRANDON FLOWERS) were unanimously infectious.
An amalgamation of the past, present and possibly future vision of the band (and a 100% more aligned with Mute Records than the previous “Live Here Now” outing NOMC15 (2017) {*6}), the all-encompassing Σ (No,12k,Lg,17Mif) SO IT GOES… (2019) {*7} brought them back on a good footing; with their loyal fanbase at least. Recorded in concert at MIF/Manchester International Festival on 13 July 2017 (alongside visual artist Liam Gillick and a 12-piece synth orchestra), the homecoming album’s forte was the opening oft-underplayed triage of `Times Change’, `Who’s Joe’ and `Dream Attack’. The spirit of classic JOY DIVISION was in tact through `Disorder’, `Decades’ and `Heart & Soul’; annexed by attendant glowing interventions of `In A Lonely Place’, `Bizarre Love Triangle’, `Sub-Culture’ and relatively recent highlight, `Plastic’.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS May2012-Sep2015

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