Album : Power, Corruption & Lies – New Order
Review : Rolling Stone, 18 August 1983
Author : Steve Pond
Few rock bands have had as daunting a past to live up to, and overcome, as New Order. But Power Corruption & Lies is a remarkable declaration of independence; for the first time since lead singer Ian Curtis hanged himself three years ago, the survivors of Joy Division have shrugged off the legacy of that band’s grim, deathly majesty and produced an album that owes as much to the currents of 1983 as to the ghosts of 1980. This record is a quantum leap over Movement, the band’s first album, and over most of the music coming out of Britain lately.
Leap is the appropriate word, because on the surface, this is largely a stirring, jumpy dance record. Forget about New Order’s reputation as gloom mongers or avatars of postpunk iciness; forget about the artiness and mystique that envelop them. Just put this stuff on the radio, in clubs or on American Bandstand: you can dance to it, it deserves a ninety-eight, and a song like “Age of Consent” merits heavy rotation, not reverence.
That’s not to say New Order have turned into A Flock of Vultures or anything. But there’s a newfound boldness on Power that was sorely missing from Movement. On that LP, New Order were tentatively trying to break free of Joy Division’s style, if not their tone; too often, the result was turgid and solemn and sprinkled with the kind of whistles, whooshes and beeps that suggest novices halfheartedly tinkering with dance-oriented rock.
Working on subsequent singles toward a surer control of the studio and a more ambiguous emotional stance, the band hit its stride with the epiphanic “Temptation.” A tenacious, gripping, rock-hard dance tune, it was also the first New Order song to suggest that maybe love doesn’t always tear us apart – that, in fact, it just might bind us together, though at great risk. (That song and four others make up the highly recommended EP New Order: 1981-1982.)
Though not as forceful as “Temptation,” the songs on Power glow with confidence – musical confidence, mostly. While Steve Morris‘ drums weave patterns around the unrelenting kick of an electronic drum machine, the band masterfully interlaces layer after layer of sound: Bernard Albrecht‘s alternately slashing and alluring guitar lines, Peter Hook‘s melodic bass playing, broad washes of keyboard color from Gillian Gilbert and such percussive effects as chimes. It’s a bracing, exhilarating sound, equally suited to feverish dance workouts like “Age of Consent” and “586” as to such murkier, more impressionistic outings as “Your Silent Face.”
Lyrically, New Order still rely too readily on emotional vagueness and stock portentous images. Having partially abandoned the frigid, nocturnal chill that permeated Curtis’ work, the band’s current viewpoint is closer to simple pessimism than outright despair. Still, the group likes to draw the drapes and usher in a little darkness at the end of its songs. Power has some of the most foreboding lines in rock: “I’ve lost you.” “Their love died three years ago/Spoken words that cannot show.” “For these last few days/Leave me alone.” And then there’s the jarring conclusion of “Your Silent Face,” a glorious, understated reverie that rails against passivity (and, perhaps, against Curtis) with lines like, “A thought that never changes/Remains a stupid lie.” As the tune closes, Albrecht turns contemptuously dismissive: “You caught me at a bad time/So why don’t you piss off.”
With spiritual anguish and failed redemption no longer an obsessive theme, it’s now easier to focus on New Order simply as a rock band as strong as any in British pop. And as has been pointed out before, once you get past the romantically murky stance, New Order are (just as Joy Division were) a terrific singles band–not a consistent one, but one whose best singles, “Ceremony” and “Temptation,” have been transcendent.
“Blue Monday” isn’t in that class, but in its own way, it’s a breakthrough, getting the band heard on radio stations and in dance clubs. Neither New Order’s boldest song nor their most telling, it is instead their best sounding. The drum machine pounds away with an appropriately inhuman thunk, the band pumps hard to keep up, and after seven searing minutes, it soars to a close with layers of lush keyboards.
That song is included on the cassette version of Power Corruption & Lies; by itself on the twelve-inch single, though, it’s backed by “The Beach,” its dub remake and a tougher, better version of the tune. The point of “Blue Monday” is sound, after all, and the second version takes more sonic chances and shows just what sure-handed producers and assured musicians New Order have become. For the members of a band once known for one man’s sensibility, that’s the last thing many of us expected and, in a way, the best thing they could have become.
JC adds : Possibly the most important record that I’ve ever purchased. It certainly contains, in the album opener, my favourite song of time. It felt like the right way to close off this series. Things return to normal from tomorrow.