Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every New Order Album

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Easily one of the most impressive second acts in rock’n’roll history, New Order rose from the ashes of a band that was legendary and wildly influential in its own right, Joy Division. Following the sudden suicide of that band’s frontman, Ian Curtis, shortly after the band scored its biggest hit with the indie-rock classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” the band’s remaining members – keyboardist/guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, and drummer Stephen Morris – would bravely decide to keep the band going under a new name, with the addition of female keyboardist (and Morris’ future wife) Gillian Gilbert, and New Order was born. The band was initially dogged by comparisons to its former band, but New Order would soon come up with a sound all its own, an exciting fusion of its indie-rock past with electronic dance music, and the band would go on to massive commercial success, being courted by no less than Quincy Jones to be one of the artists on his own Qwest label, becoming a regular fixture on the U.K. singles charts (and even scoring a pair of Top 40 hits in the notoriously-hard-to-crack U.S. market) and even landing on the soundtracks of big mainstream movies such as Pretty in Pink and Bright Lights, Big City. At the height of their fame, they even owned and managed one of the hottest and most legendary dance clubs in all of Britain, the Hacienda. While the original lineup may no longer be intact – Peter Hook has since departed, though the other three all remain in the band – the band continues to surprise critics and re-emerge every few years with a pleasantly solid outing, as you will see from reading on …  

Movement (1981, Factory)

C –

The band is still developing its sound – the opening forty seconds of the album could just as easily be mistaken for R.E.M., and two cuts (including the opening cut, “Dreams Never End”) are actually sung by bassist Peter Hook (who sounds vaguely like the Human League’s Phil Oakey) – so, if not for Hook’s instantly-recognizable bass work and Bernard Sumner’s equally distinctive voice, this would nearly be impossible to identify as a New Order album. Neither Hook nor Sumner really seems up to the task at this point of serving as lead singer (though Sumner would steadily improve as a vocalist with every subsequent album), and hardly any of the songs here actually sound as if they were written before going into the studio (you get the impression that the band just did a lot of jamming and then tried after the fact to put melodies and lyrics on top of the tracks), which means that the songs aren’t exactly all that memorable, though “Dreams Never End” is a keeper and “Senses” is fairly good as well. It’s an awfully fascinating album to listen to in light of what the band would become down the road, but it’s more of a curio piece than essential listening.

Power, Corruption, and Lies (1983, Factory; reissued in 1985 by Qwest with “Blue Monday” and “The Beach” added to cassette and CD copies)

B – for original vinyl edition; B + for Qwest reissue  

A dramatic improvement on their debut, nothing on here is quite as catchy as the best songs from the albums that would follow it, so the songs take a while to really start sinking in and the album tends to be awfully overrated for that reason (the album sounds fantastic and even thrilling, but it’s fairly hard to remember individual songs), but the songwriting has still improved since the last disc all the same, and the band sounds a lot less tentative and much more certain of themselves here as they offer up an innovative and exciting new take on dance music. There are moments where the band still seems a little unsure of its direction (“We All Stand” doesn’t really fit in here at all, and the opening two minutes of “2-8-6” are downright avant-garde by New Order standards), but most of the album gels quite nicely, and you can also clearly hear the roots of the band’s now-distinctive sound, be it in the rock sounds of “Age of Consent” (the catchiest song on the original eight-track LP) or the more club-oriented “The Village,” arguably the album’s two best cuts (though “Your Silent Face” is a minor gem as well.) Later American cassette and CD pressings of the album would add two extra cuts to the album, including the band’s commercial breakthrough, the non-LP single and massive club hit “Blue Monday” (most easily identified by the phrase “Tell me how does it feel …”; New Order, for the uninitiated of you out there, seldom ever employed song titles in their early years that actually showed up in the lyrics themselves), which is catchier than anything on the original album, so bypass the vinyl edition of this one and get the CD instead.

Low-Life (1985, Qwest)

A

The album that more or less gave birth to what’s come to be known as the distinctive “New Order sound,” this is the band’s true artistic breakthrough, an adventurous yet still quite commercial affair that creates the perfect hybrid between the band’s indie-rock beginnings and their newfound love of synth-driven dance music. The catchiest song here (and their catchiest song to date, actually), the album opener “Love Vigilantes,” is also one of the more unusual songs in the band’s catalog: a harmonica-laden story-song-styled rocker (with just a hint of country to it) sung from the perspective of a soldier who returns home to a wife who was mistakenly told that he had died. Everything about the cut sounds like a bad idea on paper – at least for a New Order song, anyway – but it surprisingly succeeds wildly and remains one of the band’s finest moments. The band explores much more traditional territory on the dancefloor-minded and hypnotic “The Perfect Kiss,” which boasts an inventive intro that absolutely must be listened to in stereo to be fully appreciated. Nothing else on the album quite equals the majesty of those first two cuts, but it’s all well-crafted, and the album’s closing trilogy of “Sooner Than You Think,” the club-oriented “Sub-Culture,” and “Face Up” is especially great.

Brotherhood (1986, Qwest)

A +

This is a noticeably more rock-oriented affair than previous albums, heavy on the guitars and Peter Hook’s bass, the latter of which becomes even more crucial to the mix and the band’s distinctive sound than on past outings, which means that this isn’t quite as heavily dance-floor-minded a disc as the more synth-driven Low-Life. This isn’t to say that the album lacks for a club classic – in fact, the album sports one of the band’s most famous dance cuts of its entire career, the shimmering synth-pop of “Bizarre Love Triangle” (“Every time I see you falling / I get down on my knees and pray …”), which would become a minor radio hit again in the mid-‘90s in the form of a cover by the alternative band Frente! that successfully placed the song in a completely “unplugged”-style setting, which is a testament to just how strong the song’s melodic content is. But the song is a bit uncharacteristic of the rest of the disc, which features such fun and unbridled moments as the rock thrash of “Weirdo,” which finds Stephen Morris drumming with an intensity you seldom hear elsewhere, and “Broken Promise.” Even the album’s final cut, the richly-orchestrated ballad “Every Little Counts,” tries to be a throwaway (featuring some deliberately jokey lyrics, i.e. “Even though you’re stupid, I still follow you” and the sound of Bernard Sumner repeatedly breaking into laughter, while the cut ends in the sound of a turntable needle skidding across a record) but has such a strong melody and a clever, multi-layered arrangement that it ends up being a highlight of the album.

Technique (1989, Qwest)

A +

Famously recorded on the notorious party island of Ibiza, the band’s final album of the Eighties finds them largely exploring the sounds of house music, so this is easily the band’s most heavily dance-music-flavored album since Low-Life. But it’s never as superficial as it would appear to be at first glance, and this being New Order, you can still expect some pop/rock sensibilities to seep through, and there are some very solid songs and melodies underpinning the grooves of the more dance-oriented tunes here, particularly on the masterful “Round & Round” (“The picture you see / is no portrait of me …”) which is as impressive a fusion of house music and well-constructed pop as could be found in the late ‘80s, and “Mr. Disco.” The mostly-instrumental “Fine Time” is the most full-on excursion here into house music, and it’s a memorable one, the song culminating in a hilariously Barry White-like monologue. For those who prefer New Order’s more rock-oriented side, there are still plenty of Brotherhood-type tunes to be found here, such as “All the Way,” the surprisingly pretty “Love Less,” and “Run,” the last of which is such a note-for-note sound-alike of the John Denver-penned Peter, Paul & Mary Number One hit “Leaving on a Jet Plane” that you keep half-expecting Bernard Sumner to start singing, “So kiss me and smile for me / Tell me that you’ll wait for me …” at some point. (Sure enough, the band would get sued for plagiarism by the Denver estate over the song, but it’s still a great song.)

Republic (1993, Qwest)

C

New Order’s first full-length of the Nineties – arriving four years after its last outing and more akin to the house music and dance-pop of Technique than the rock sounds of Brotherhood – is shockingly forgettable by the band’s standards, and it takes a real dive after its first three songs. Fortunately, those first three songs are quite good, and the album opener is a monster. That song, the breezy guitar-rock of “Regret,” doesn’t sound completely like standard New Order fare – melodically, at least, it’s much more reminiscent of late-‘80s O.M.D., actually – but the song is fantastic and deservedly gave the band their second American Top 40 hit (the first having been 1987’s “True Faith.”)  “World (The Price of Love)” and “Ruined in a Day” are pretty strong as well, but from there on, it gets really spotty, and there’s not much at all on the second side you’re likely to listen to all that often, with the possible exception of “Special.”

Get Ready (2001, Reprise)

B

The band’s first album of new material in seven years is completely alienating upon first listen, for two primary reasons; first of all, the group has all but abandoned dance music here in favor of guitar rock, and keyboardist Gillian Gilbert is consequently all but invisible here, which might disappoint those who enjoy the band’s club hits like “True Faith” and “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and secondly, Billy Corgan shows up here – and more than once, at that. This isn’t meant to be a slam at Corgan, mind you – on the contrary, I both like and own quite a few Smashing Pumpkins albums – but he just sounds completely out of place on a New Order album alongside Bernard Sumner’s ever-distinctive voice, and the same could be said about nearly any other guest vocalist who’s ever appeared on a New Order album; the band simply sounds better when they’re playing by themselves. But give this album some time, and it eventually grows on you quite a bit. There’s also nothing here that’s nearly as much of a bona fide knockout or instant classic as “Regret” or “Round & Round” or “Bizarre Love Triangle,” though the album as a whole holds together much better than Republic does. While it’d be nice to have something as catchy as “Regret” here, the songs are still generally catchier than those on either of the band’s first two albums, and “Crystal,” “Vicious Streak,” and “Turn My Way” are all minor gems, while the acoustic gentle balladry of the album-closing “Run Wild” shows off a side of the band we’ve never seen before to surprisingly great effect.  

Waiting for the Sirens Call (2005, Warner Bros.)

A

An impressive return to form, this is arguably the band’s best disc since Technique.  It’s never as dance-oriented as that album – it’s much more comparable to the guitar-driven sounds of Brotherhood – but the set of songs is substantially stronger and catchier than that on Republic or Get Ready. (Sadly, longtime keyboardist Gillian Gilbert was not involved in the album, having retired from the band to tend to her family. The quartet is instead rounded out this time by Phil Cunningham.) Lead-off single “Krafty” is the most driving rocker the band’s cut since “Weirdo,” while “Turn” is one of Sumner’s prettiest melodies in some time and the title cut as catchy and alluring as its title. “Guilt Is a Useless Emotion” and the killer dance cut “Morning Night and Day” are more club-oriented and should delight fans of Technique. Perhaps the album’s biggest surprise is the relatively straightforward but delightful hook-loaded pop of “Jetstream,” a duet with Ana Matronic from Scissor Sisters; while guest vocalists on a New Order record are usually a bad idea, Matronic actually fits in surprisingly well alongside Sumner, and the two sound like they’re having a lot of fun playing off of each other, their wordless vamps during the song’s instrumental sections quite inspired and hard not to sing along to.  The album’s not quite perfect – “Dracula’s Castle” in particular should have been excised – but the band hasn’t sounded quite this vibrant – or sounded like it was having so much fun, for that matter – in years, and this is a real blast to listen to.

Lost Sirens (2013, Rhino)

B

Technically a collection of leftovers from the Waiting for the Sirens Call sessions, it goes without saying that not everything here is a keeper – the awkward Technique-like “Shake It Up,” for one, should have stayed in the vault – but it’s a testament to just how creatively rejuvenated the band is that even these leftovers from the last album are as fantastic as they are. “I’ll Stay with You” really should have been included on Sirens Call and arguably would have made a finer opening cut for that album than “Hey Joe,” while the neo-disco of “Sugarcane” is just downright fun. The sultry “Recoil” finds the band unexpectedly incorporating a hint of Brazilian music into its stew, while “I’ve Got a Feeling” is arguably the most soulful and funky cut the group has ever attempted and the impressive “Hellbent” sounds like a great lost single from The Verve. The album’s biggest flaw is simply that, at eight cuts (one of them being nothing more than a remix of “I Told You So” from Sirens Call), it feels a little undercooked, and it might have been nice had the band recorded and included a new song or two to add to the seven fully-new songs here. Still, for a leftovers album, this is a surprisingly excellent package and shouldn’t be bypassed.  

Music Complete (2015, Mute)

A

In theory, this album shouldn’t be nearly as good as it is, if only for the fact that Peter Hook, the man behind New Order’s trademark bass work since the very beginning of the band, is no longer in the band’s lineup, having bitterly departed the band after the Sirens sessions. But Gilbert has come out of retirement, and the band has found an excellent substitute for Hook in Sumner’s former Bad Lieutenant bandmate Tom Chapman. Even better, the set of songs here is just as catchy and fantastic, if not even better, than that on Sirens Call, and the acoustic guitar-driven “Restless” is easily the band’s finest lead-off single from an album since Republic’s “Regret.” Just as fun are the club-minded “Tutti Frutti” (featuring La Roux’s Elly Jackson on backing vocals) and the frenetic “Singularity” with its skittering synths (oh, how we’ve missed you, Gillian!). The epic “Nothing but a Fool” clocks in at just under eight minutes and takes over two minutes to get to the first chorus, but it’s such a solid hook that the wait is completely worth it, and the song is so much catchier than you would expect it to be for a song its length. The closing cut, the lovely “Superheated,” features the Killers’ Brandon Flowers, who co-wrote the cut, sharing vocal duties with Sumner, though he holds back quite a bit and isn’t nearly as obtrusive as you might expect him to be. The album’s only real flaw is the presence of “Stray Dog,” the lyric of which is entirely spoken – spoken, not sung – by punk godfather Iggy Pop; Pop does a perfectly fine job, but the track just doesn’t fit in at all and temporarily halts the momentum of the album.

Compilations:

More recent best-of packages are available, but the most famous and iconic New Order compilation, outdated though it is, remains the much-loved Substance (1987, Qwest); because so many of the band’s earliest singles were non-LP items, the original vinyl edition is quite handy, rounding up such odds and ends as “Blue Monday,” “Ceremony,” “Thieves Like Us,” “Temptation,” “Confusion,” “Shell-Shock,” “State of the Nation” and the Top 40 hit “True Faith.” (CD and cassette editions double the length of the package, including all the B-sides of those singles, which might seem a little unnecessary, but some of those B-sides are quite good, especially “1963.”)  The 2005 Rhino package Singles is much less well-known, but includes nearly all the highlights from Substance, along with all the biggest singles from Technique through Waiting for the Sirens Call and more recent non-LP singles “World in Motion” and “Here to Stay”; it’s extremely well-done, and it’s a shame that Rhino didn’t get more attention for the package.