New Order: The 80’s

This is one of the most curious bands to me. When I first listened to one of their albums, what I heard was the aggressive post punk rock music that was popular but not very distinctive. Then with their next album I heard this heavy beat behind their music, programmed with synthesizers drowning out the angry guitars. It was quite an abrupt change of directions.

New Order is interesting for two main reasons.  First, they have been around for nearly forty years and still producing new material.  Second, they were one of many bands that made the sharp evolution from post punk hard rock to something quite different and engaging, the sonic soundscape of programmed synthesized dance beats.

New Order arose from the ashes of Joy Division, a band that embraced the Sex Pistols and elements of the post-punk musical form.  Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris from Joy Division joined with Gillian Gilbert to form New Order

The 80’s were drenched in various shades of synth-pop, much of it coming from England, a new musical invasion. But there were plenty of American bands that powered up the Korgs, Yamahas, Fairlights, Rolands or other keyboard devices. My problem with synthesizers has been the tendency for 80’s groups to make the music too synthetic and programmed, with no feel or intimacy.

Power, Corruption and Lies (1983) was the album of transition to electronic grooves and beats. Dance-rock somewhat defines this genre. It’s not my label, just one that others have called the music that fit the techno-dance beats. “Blue Monday” and “Age of Consent” were featured on this album.  With this album, songs were being mixed for 12 inch LP distribution to clubs and radio stations that not only lengthened the songs but kicked up the dance grooves.  Each New Order album to follow would included these special mixes.

Low Life (1985) offered the singles  “The Perfect Kiss” and “Sub-culture” which cracked the Billboard top 100 albums. Low Life and  Brotherhood (1986) were completely dance-rock albums, and the group was getting better at sowing melodic hooks into these groove-heavy songs to add different colors and textures. This genre can get old and predictable quickly, but New Order and Pet Shop Boys were probably the two best of this genre.  Brotherhood repeated the formula of Low Life and isn’t terribly original. “State of the Nation” and “Bizarre Love Triangle” are the best songs from the album.

In 1987 came the collection, Substance, which featured remixes of many previous New Order songs and the new song, “True Faith.”  The collection easily achieved platinum status and ranked 35 on the Billboard top 200 albums.  It is quite an amazing collection, a double-barrel shot of New Order heavy grooved, but this album really takes a lot of energy to listen to from beginning to end.

Technique (1989) was a slight shift in direction.  Not all dance beats are the same, and this one was influenced by a type of music in the area where it was recorded. Ibiza, a Spanish island had a very definitive club sound, and the group recorded there for four months. Review were very positive for the album and noted that New Order stayed very contemporary with their sound.  “Fine Time” and “Round & Round” are two singles from the album.

Republic (1993) reached number 11 on Billboard and dialed down the dance formula to let a more prominent rock sound come through.  This is a much as of a guitar album as it is a syth album.  “Regret” and “World” are two of the finer songs on the album.

Get Ready (2001) Seems like a repeat of past ideas but lesser versions.

Waiting for the Siren’s Call (2005) New Order seems to have caught a late career breath, this album is more creative and inspired. “Who’s Joe” and “Hey Now What You Doing” are two of the better songs.

Lost Sirens (2013) This album continues the vibe of the last album, still bringing energy and fine songwriting. Check out “Recoil” and “I’ll Stay With You.”

Music Complete (2015) “Restless” and “Academic” are two of the better songs although the album is uneven with about half of the songs never really taking off, just idling with beats and chords that don’t offer much.

When you look back on influential bands of the 1980’s, New Order along with Pet Shop Boys will be remembered for being leaders in the dance-rock genre of music.  It is much harder than it seems to create a set of songs with programmed beats and grooves, album after album, that are distinctive and interesting.  It is even more difficult to marry hard rock with electronic dance music.  These are usually very different audiences.

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