As was their wont the band once again had a problem with names – with no eye on the future they renamed their first classic album at the last minute from the genius of “Piss Off You Shitheads” to a load of coloured blocks.
New Order - Back Catalogue
Following the death of Ian Curtis the remaining members of Joy Division decided to follow a pledge they had made several years previously – namely that "if any member either left the band or died, the others would only carry on under a new name". To this end Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris decided to take the sound of their band and run with it – to this end they became The Witchdoctors of Zimbabwe. The rest is history.
Sadly, and in what can only be described as an incredible oversight, that particular history only lasted about 30 minutes before Hook threw a strop and threatened to walk out if they carried on with the moniker. New Order was born instead and the group took their musical pointers from where their old band left off – Isolation, Atmosphere and, in particular, the unreleased demos of Ceremony and In A Lonely Place. They had the name but there was still the issue of who should replace Ian Curtis as singer. They trialled Kevin Hewick (of Factory Records) along with their own drummer Stephen Morris but eventually settled on a slightly unsure Barney for their debut single, a rerecording of the unreleased Joy Division demos. The single gave the band an instant hit when released in March 1981 but it took sometime for the band to develop their own song writing skills whilst still under the shadow of their former leader.
Movement (Nov '81)
Named in a fairly futile attempt to differentiate themselves from JD (their rarities collection Still was in the charts at the time of release) Movement was actually a step back from the heavily programmed single Procession. Starting off on a high with Dreams Never End - a classic synth-pop tune that gets away with sounding worryingly like The Cure - it all goes downhill from there. It progresses into a dodgy endeavour to recreate the atmospheric sound of their old outfit but suffers from vocals lost in the mix, poor production and suspect lyrics. The dark nature of this record offers little of the underlying optimism contained in the Joy Division LPs. Lacking an identifiable sound the band seemed to be heading downhill until they took the group's interest in proto-electronics to a new level...
Power, Corruption & Lies (May '83)
As was their wont the band once again had a problem with names – with no eye on the future they renamed their first classic album at the last minute from the genius of Piss Off You Shitheads to a load of coloured blocks. Apparently you were supposed to decode them or something. Anyway, take your mind away from this great historical mistake for a minute and lose yourself in this near perfect proto-dance release. Hooky's bass is shoved back where it belongs – at the top of the register - and his liquid playing filled every gap with rich melody. There is a certain innocence present on tracks such as Age of Consent where beautiful fills are draped over a classic indie sound, setting up the album's celebratory feel from the start. All attempts at dark, brooding poetry are out in favour of pure, joyous naivety. From house to goth to rock and back again this is the one true New Order album to combine all their sounds in one.
Low-Life (May '85)
Getting stuck into this great band's golden era it becomes harder and harder to find fault – no matter how many times you hear Blue Monday or Temptation there is no denying that they were, at heart, an albums band and by 1985 were at the height of their game. This, their most electronic collection, does little to discredit that theory. While it hasn't aged as well as their other LPs this is when things took off commercially – fired up from the success of PCL and recent dance-heavy singles they gained new confidence, there for all to hear in the stomping climaxes of Sunrise and The Perfect Kiss. All this AND the best ever use of a melodica in Love Vigilantes.
Brotherhood (September '86)
By this time it just seems to be getting easy – knock out another fantastic album, do a world tour, and repeat. Suffering from worries over musical direction they decided to split the album in two: electronic beats on one side of the vinyl and stripped back, slower, pop songs on the other. Or alternatively, if you only listen to the CD version, you get a confused record lacking direction. In addition to the classic Bizarre Love Triangle the real eureka moment comes with Every Little Counts when Bernard sings a little ditty on love (in a one-take-then-down-the-pub style), chuckling throughout at the absurdity of tenderly singing "Every second counts, when I am with you/I think you are a pig, you should be in a zoo". Utterly daft, but wonderfully endearing.
Technique (January '89)
And lo, it came to pass that they peaked with possibly the best rock/dance album ever. Released after spending most of their label's money on excess in Ibiza, it, as the history books tell us, coincided perfectly with the Daily Mail getting in a stress over that 'rave culture' thing and the rise to fame of the money haemorrhaging Hacienda. Having already become megastars on the back of the True Faith single two years earlier Technique shot straight to the top of the album charts. It's no mean feat for a band in their mid-30s to be riding the crest of the latest youth movement, but after a decade of trying they had finally managed to combine all their varying sounds into one, seamless release. Try listening to Round & Round and deciding whether it's dance, pop, ballad, indie or experimental ambient Krautrock. It's easier to just accept it as genius. The lyrics are still pure 6th form poetry but "It doesn't take a genius / To tell me what I am" can be transformed into a call to arms with the aid of such compelling tunes.
Republic (May '93)
After messing around with the likes of Electronic, Revenge and the England football team for a few years they returned to the studio with their world in tatters. The band were falling apart due to 'internal differences', Factory had gone bankrupt and the 'Madchester' scene had imploded. Under this cloud Regret is odd: a collection of eleven, 4 minute long electro-lite tracks. From the slick, Hollywood inspired cover to the smooth production and major label release this is a long way from the band of old. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. In many ways this attempt at writing a straight pop album was an interesting, if unsuccessful, experiment. In taking an alternative approach to the classic formula they risked alienating their fanbase but Republic - in parts at least – managed to keep them onside. Regret is probably the only track ever to sound equally at home whether played in a scenesters-only club night or on Radio 2 daytime. As it was, an argument on a US tour ended in acrimony and the group went their own ways for the rest of the Britpop era.
Get Ready (October '01)
Reunited following the death of manager Rob Gretton the reinvigorated group, aided and abetted by former Marion guitarist Phil Cunningham (20 years their junior) set about chucking out the sequencers and drum pads in favour of a full kit and a classic rock sound. It opens with the strongest song, a crashing, and wonderfully simple melodic track named Crystal. Building into a crescendo with the help of some of the daftest lyrics ever put to tape Crystal seems more at home on Movement than on any of the 'classic' electronica albums. However things go off track with dull MOR such as 60 Miles An Hour and Rock the Shack - songs that wouldn't seem out of place next to Hotel California on a ghastly small town American radio station.
Waiting for the Sirens' Call (March '05)
And so we finally find New Order coping with middle age. Still following the rock template but unafraid to let the electronics have their place the sound harks back to Technique-era tracks such as Run and All The Way. The title track, Turn and Krafty are their best songs for fifteen years. Dracula's Castle (named, apparently, without any Spinal Tap-esque irony) unsurprisingly is not. They cope with adapting to a new audience and middle age with ease on Working Overtime, the song a dead ringer for a Girls Aloud track. On the other hand an awful, shoehorned, attempt to seem 'relevant' with the appearance of Scissor Sisters' Anamatronic is unwelcome – they do it best when they don't try and effortlessly lead the crowd. A good album then, apart from being too long and self indulgent...
Never an easy band to pigeonhole there's yet to be the definitive New Order compilation. Ignore The Peel Sessions for being too heavy on Movement's material, The Best Of... for focusing only on singles from 87-93, International for going too far in correcting that imbalance and The Rest Of... for consisting of the worst cash-in remixes ever made. Retro fails as a boxset by focusing too much on the well-known songs that every music fan owns and neglecting the rare alternative versions that those buying it were clamouring for. The best attempt comes from Substance 1987, an essential collection of their first twelve true 12" singles and the twelve b-sides. The album approaches brilliance with unedited versions of True Faith and Temptation while giving new light to rarities such as 1963. More recently, Singles has spread every 7" released over a 25-year period over two discs.
Words: James Waterson.