If you’d told my teenage friends and me that we’d one day watch a 56-year-old Bernard Sumner prance around Toronto’s posh Sony Centre stage singing: “How does it feel, to treat me like you do,” not one of us would have believed it. Of course, Rick, Dan and I saw that exact thing in October 2012. The band we most associated with our 1980s youth has followed us into adulthood.
New Order always meant the most to us. Their backstory – for a brief time as Warsaw and then Joy Division – inspired plenty of earnest chats about what could have been. But by the time “Blue Monday,” and then Power, Corruption & Lies landed, it was clear they had a future brighter than their past. (The best-selling 12-inch single of all time, “Blue Monday” reportedly cost a fortune. The cover’s unique die-cut design meant every single copy sold at a loss to Factory Records.)
Here’s my take on the full catalogue of LPs, ranked best to worst.
- Power, Corruption & Lies (1983). “Sound formed in a vacuum may seem a waste of time; it’s always been just the same.” Pointing to 1983 as New Order’s high-water mark feels a bit dismissive. Still, it’s hard not to see this record – along with “Confusion” and the aforementioned “Blue Monday,” neither of which appeared on P, C & L – as New Order at its best. “Age of Consent” is an absolute monster; a quintessential track from the period that still grooves 34 years later. And then there is “Your Silent Face,” the only answer I’ve ever needed when a knucklehead tried to tell me electronic music lacks emotion.
- Low-Life (1985). “You just can’t believe the joy I did receive when I finally got my leave and I was going home; oh, I flew through the sky, my convictions could not lie; for my country I would die, and I will see it soon.” By the mid-1980s, we were reading New Order lyrics just as carefully as Joy Division’s. Was the soldier in “Love Vigilantes” really home on leave, or had he died as the telegram in his wife’s hand reported? “The Perfect Kiss” and “Sub-Culture” were big crowd pleasers, but Low-Life was more than just 1985’s best party record. Tracks like “Sunrise” and “Face Up” captured the band at its frenzied, kinetic best.
- Brotherhood (1986). “I saw you long ago though you never let it show; every little counts, when I am with you.” Appreciating this one meant you were in for the long haul. The album is packed with those crescendo moments the band had become famous for by 1986. All New Order’s signatures are here, executed with finesse and authority. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but it has stood up as one of their best.
- Movement (1981). “Oh, it’s a strange day, in such a lonely way; I saw some children dance, I watched my life in a trance.” The closest thing we ever got to a follow-up Joy Division album. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to produce these eight tracks after the loss of Ian Curtis. “Ceremony” and “In a Lonely Place” actually originated as Joy Division songs. I still love that this extraordinary comeback album begins with “Dreams Never End.”
- Technique (1989). “How can I ever forget you; you don’t know just what I’ve been through.” Not as good as Brotherhood, but still a solid album. Two stand-out tracks – “Round and Round” and “Fine Time” – proved the band could still pack a dancefloor. But there’s no filler here. Another solid release for the fans.
- Get Ready (2001). “Rock the shack, rock the shack, rock the shack, rock the shack.” Warmly received in 2001, not just because it was the first proper release from the band in almost a decade. The disc features a ho-hum vocal collaboration with Smashing Pumpkins lead Billy Corgan on “Turn My Way.” As a set, this one is uneven by New Order standards. “Crystal,” “60 Miles an Hour” and “Vicious Streak” all rank with the band’s best. “Rock the Shack” makes me want to pull out what’s left of my hair.
- Waiting For The Sirens’ Call (2005). “Turn your eyes from me; it’s time for me to go.” Strong, very Elegia-ish, opening minute. From there, it’s a bit of a yawner. The album has its moments. “Dracula’s Castle” pushes Peter Hook’s bass up in the mix where it belongs. “Turn” is as good a pop song as any that Sumner’s Electronic turned out. Mostly though, this one will be remembered as the precursor to Hookie’s departure in 2007.
- Lost Sirens (2013). “That’s not the way that I want to be; but I can’t explain just how I feel.” A compilation of tracks that didn’t make the cut for Waiting For The Sirens’ Call. Better than you might expect, but mostly forgettable.
- Music Complete (2015). “I can’t get any higher; there’s nothing I desire.” To release an inoffensive album mid-career is seldom a deal-breaker. You can count on the fans to see you through a bit of a slump. Put one out 34 years after your debut and you’re playing with fire. Features a spoken-word contribution from Iggy Pop on “Stray Dog.”
- Republic (1993). “There’s something wrong you could say; ruined in a day.” Pop music has a long history of great bands producing last albums that suck. In ’93, this one looked and sounded very much like it would be New Order’s contribution to that tradition. Given the excitement around Madchester at the time, Republic came off as stale and uninspired.