Release Year: 1983
New Order rose from the ashes of Joy Division to become one of the biggest New Wave acts of the 80s. Now that they’ve released their first new material in a decade, it’s a great time to look back at one of their groundbreaking albums. Though their debut did fairly well, it’s their sophomore effort that got everyone’s attention. With more electronic and synth influences than before, the band helped usher in dance music into the new era.
One thing about the album is all the songs are catchy as hell. Even if you have no idea what the lyrics are about or even what’s being said, the pulsating music and ear catching synth riffs will get you moving. “Age of Consent” is a great introduction to the album with its upbeat music and bright synth putting you in a good mood. The music keeps adding new layers really fleshing out the sound especially during the bridge where each part begins playing off the main riff. The whole song has this great energy and vibe, though just try not to compare it to Joy Division. Luckily, this is the only song that will make you think of the iconic band.
It would’ve been easy for the band to stick with really catchy synth and repetitive beats, but there are several songs where they pay homage to the previous era of dance music. “We All Stand” has a killer bass groove ripped straight from a funkadelic song from the 70s. It’s sure to get you moving, but the lyrics will leave you scratching your head. They’re very ominous with an image of a solider waiting at the end of the road. Whatever he’s singing about you know it can’t be all that good. “5.8.6” sounds like it was inspired by disco with the energetic beats and steady rhythms, but there’s so much more to this track. There’s so much going on with the thudding scattered beat, stark synth that’s wonky and distorted, and some more funk flavor. The music has a lot of weird noises that lure you in to see where the band go next. And that’s part of what makes the album so great.
The problem with so many dance records is how repetitive it all gets after three or four songs. Sure, they may be catchy, but after a while it loses your attention. The reason New Order are so successful especially on this LP is they set up those initial beats and riffs to catch your attention and then the music evolves just when you think you have it figured out. Just listen to the insanely popular “Blue Monday.” There’s so much going on from the enigmatic lyrics to the deep bass grooves and the odd synth bridge; you don’t mind that it’s over seven minutes long. It’s the same thing with “Your Silent Face” with its dreamy music matched with snarky lyrics. Because they keep fleshing things out and pushing the music to different heights, it keeps listeners on their toes, but makes sure they never lose the beat.
Another thing that makes these songs so interesting are the enigmatic lyrics. On many of the songs you’re not always positive what’s being talked about, especially if you get lost in the music. “Ultraviolence” has some pretty ominous that sounds like he’s talking about something sinister: “Who felt those cold hands/Touch my skin/Deep within/Burn my soul/Fell to the ground” and he gets a little snarky on the closing track “Leave Me Alone” as he calmly sings “For these last few days leave me alone.” These are songs you can spend as much or as little time trying to pick them apart, which is a reason to keep coming back to the music.
This album helped New Order become the iconic band they are today. Not only did this album help usher in good dance music into the mid-80s, but it also changed the way people thought about synth and electronic music. The band proved it didn’t have to be repeating, pulsating beats that drone on and on. Instead it can be intricate, complex, yet still be catchy at the same time. Of course there are times where you can hear Joy Division’s influence, but it never sounds like they’re ripping themselves off. Also, you gotta admire a band that reformed themselves after a tragedy, which is something many groups can’t seem to do properly today.