Dreams Never End: A New Order Retrospective
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New Order is my favourite band, being one of the first post-punk and new wave bands to make an imprint on me. “Ceremony” became, and still is, my favourite song, and others such as “Transmission” and “Age of Consent” were hugely influential in making me a fan of modern rock. Naturally I also became a huge fan of their predecessor band, Joy Division, and the start of this profile picks up from the end of my profile on them, so if you haven’t read it you might want to check it out first.
In the summer of 1980, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris were dealing with the sudden loss of their leader, singer, and band. Ian Curtis’ suicide was especially painful given the band seemed on the cusp of gaining a larger audience, especially with the planned North American tour. The trio understandably took some time to gather themselves and assess their options. As much as the entire band contributed to their distinctive sound – indeed each player had a unique approach to their instrument – Curtis had been the driver of Joy Division’s creative force. He had helped the band find and refine their sound, and of course provided the compelling lyrics and now brand-defining vocals. Who were they and what would they be without him?
Dreams Never End
Doubts Even Here
Everything’s Gone Green
Age of Consent
Your Silent Face
Leave Me Alone
Thieves Like Us
The Perfect Kiss
State of the Nation
Bizarre Love Triangle
All Day Long
Touched by the Hand of God
Round & Round
World in Motion
Turn My Way (feat. Billy Corgan)
Waiting for the Siren’s Call
Love Will Tear Us Apart
Joy Division had made a pact to not retain the band name should any member depart. So once Barney, Peter, and Stephen decided to carry on the first matter of business was coming up with a new name. Their manager, Rob Gretton, pulled “New Order” from a magazine headline regarding a political story and they liked the obvious fit to the band’s situation; and despite the risk of it re-inviting the accusations of Nazi affiliation that had plagued Joy Division, they stuck with it.
Again, a singer was needed, same as when they’d first formed. This time they were more seasoned and confident musicians and the idea of finding a new front person who might alter their creative dynamic was not a happy prospect. They also had a postponed tour obligation to fulfill in North America, so they set out to chase away the blues and start to find themselves on the roads of North America, and figure out which of them would sing (all three would give it a try). The need for new music in order to not be faced, night after night, with the sound and lyrics of their fallen friend, grew in urgency.
Ceremony \ Non-album single (1981)
New Order’s first single was, however, not an original but a Joy Division song that had been performed live but not yet recorded (a live version by Joy Division appears on the album Still, recorded at their last ever show). Thankfully they chose to give this song new life either as a transition or simply because it’s a brilliant song. Regardless, the trio’s rendition delivered what I think is New Order’s best tune and my all-time favourite song – this blog is called Ceremony after all.
The song was more polished, powerful and relentless than anything Joy Division had recorded, and perhaps no longer distracted by the sombre sound of Curtis’ vocals, the music shined through. A wall-of-sound of guitar, a rumbling bass (that made the walls of our house shake) and pounding drums with the vocals buried in the mix (Barny was singing and not the least bit interested in standing out), it was an incredible pop song. Even after 35 years of listening to this song, it's sound is still unlike any other I know. The bass intro alone was simply one of the most exhilarating, incredible, distinct, and legendary song entrances that I have heard. Barney’s vocals were not great (they never were) but were perfect for the song and being deep in the mix contributed to the whole-band sound. Frankly, I’m not sure I would have loved this song as much if it had been Curtis’ lower register rumbling through. Barney’s voice lightened the mood, which along with the guitar created a balance against the rhythm section. His guitar work throughout was also exemplary, utilizing his picking and strumming in ideal combinations – never dominating the song, but creating an entrancing effect throughout. The interplay and shared leads between guitar and bass were a mesmerizing feature, as was the repeated guitar sequence from about the three minute mark through to the fourth minute, a bit I’ve watched Gillian play several times in subsequent years. And then there was the ending, like a symphony with all its parts coming together – guitar, bass, and drums – in the wall-of-sound approach that would become emblematic of New Order, riding on a powerful wave to be brought to its cathartic conclusion with the final guitar sequence and a power chord, settling to rest along with the bass all at the same time. The song was evenly paced and never took a rest, leaving the listener deeply satisfied. I still get chills every time I listen to “Ceremony.”
The band would, oddly, re-record the song later that year but this time with new band member Gillian Gilbert, who was Stephen’s girlfriend. Needing an extra set of hands in their performances she was able to contribute both guitar and keyboards, and perhaps most importantly come into the band as a known entity and a most subtle, unassuming presence both in studio and on stage. The second version of “Ceremony” was inferior to the first, losing much of the power of that initial recording. The new version would be the one used on their Substance compilation years later and thus the version most fans would become familiar, leaving the original harder to find. My brother bought me a copy in Los Angeles in the 1990s, finally scoring a copy of my own and not just a cassette recording of his version. The original would become available widely again when released on cd as part of the Singles compilation in 2005.
The band would also continue recording with Tony Wilson’s Factory label, which as a business was also fearing its future after the loss of Joy Division. From this respect, the pressure on New Order to continue on and be successful for the sake of the label was an added dynamic, yet to their credit the band would – almost laughably so – not take a very financially driven approach to their work.
Procession \ Non-album single (1981)
The next single would be the first with Gillian on board. Barney was into electronics and made his own equipment from kits. He was into experimenting and pushing the new sounds one could achieve with these tools. “Procession” was an excellent example of how the band was blending the new electronics into their sound. The distinctive bass was there, Barney’s sparse picking and furious strumming, and Stephen’s kinetic drumming, but here it rode waves of synth that lightened the sound and brought the band fully into the new wave era.
Dreams Never End; Doubts Even Here; Denial \ Movement (1981)
New Order’s first album still carried the Joy Division cloud over its head. Helmed once again by their Joy Division producer, Martin Hannett, it unmistakably bowed its head towards their previous incarnation’s sounds and tendencies. Despite the direction suggested by “Procession” there was a surprising lack of keyboards on it, relegated mostly to the background. Barney had taken most singing duties, though Hooky took the lead on “Dreams Never End” and “Doubts Even Here,” in which even Gillian provided a bit of background vocal. While much of the album moved through the usual moody arrangements and held it short of being a great album, these three songs stood out as leading examples of the post-punk sound that Joy Division and New Order helped define.
Let’s talk about Barney and his guitar work. Most New Order songs could be defined as ‘pickers’ or ‘strummers’ given he usually stuck with one more than the other in each song. His picking was usually sparsely played in songs to give it character, melody, and distinctive sounds and pacing – often when electronics or Hook’s bass were driving the song. His strumming was often fast and persistent, giving songs strength and the wall-of-sound treatment in which New Order would become known. In these songs we got a nice showcase of these combinations. “Dreams Never End” alternated between both, “Denial” was a rip-roaring strum-along riding on a frenetic beat, and “Doubts Even Here” had guitar hints, flitting in and around a melancholy bass (as always) and ominous synth lines. This album made it clear that even without Ian, there was still great music coming from this act.
Everything’s Gone Green \ Non-album single (1981)
Over the next eighteen months the band would work on their next album while releasing three singles that would note the maturation of their song writing and a musical evolution away from Joy Division. “Everything’s Gone Green” would be released in tandem with Movement, a pattern they would repeat of not putting their singles on the albums. This was the first song I remember grabbing onto (it was on a mixed tape my brother had made and that I listened to death – “Temptation” was on it too) and though it’s a cliché, I distinctly remember thinking it was simply unlike anything I’d ever heard before (it would have been 1982 and I was listening to Men At Work, Culture Club and Def Leppard’s Pyromania album as comparisons, so… yeah). It was a strummer and had electronics that defied the normal concept of what could be played by an instrument (recall most synth at this point was clearly identifiable as originating from hands on keys). It was danceable and had an otherworldly, echoey bass and vocals. This wasn’t something immediately identifiable as Joy Division, but still held a similar vibe.
Temptation \ Non-album single (1982)
With its distinctive ‘oohing’ vocal intro this is a song that has grown to be one of the band’s most beloved. In the YouTube playlist I chose the version I grew up with, which appeared on an EP that had gathered the recent singles and B-sides; though this song has appeared in many incarnations in many different places over the years (Google and Spotify only have the shorter single versions). A side note on that EP (image on the right) – the cover featured a painting by Martha Ladly, who once was in the Toronto band Martha and the Muffins (but is not that Martha), was a girlfriend of Hook’s, suggested to OMD the titles for “Tesla Girls” and Architecture and Morality, and is today a professor at OCAD. I painted this picture on our front hallway wall (with mom’s permission) when I was about 21, where it stayed for twelve years until we painted it over before selling the house.
Marked by a pulsating synth rhythm, strumming, and Barney’s most confident vocal performance to date, it even started to bring vocals into the fore: “Oh you’ve got green eyes…” Though Barney has said the song is about lost love, I can’t help thinking there’s melancholy towards Ian in the opening stanza: “Heaven, a gateway, a hope / Just like a feeling inside, it's no joke / And though it hurts me to see you this way / Betrayed by words, I'd never heard, too hard to say / Up, down, turn around / Please don't let me hit the ground / Tonight I think I'll walk alone / I'll find my soul as I go home.” This was one of those moments when it’s tempting to unfurl a list of superlatives. “Temptation” was (and is) an epic song in which New Order was taking the Joy Division sound to a more developed, polished, and fuller place, and the results were spectacular. Today, with modern equipment and PA systems, the song is simply massive and explodes in any venue, never failing to get the audience jumping. This song was one of the greatest entries of the post-punk period, showing new wave music could still tough while still being arty.
On that note, before moving on let’s get it out of the way – Barney is not a good singer. As a friend once noted, it’s astounding a band of such talent and success got by with such a weak vocalist. However, to me this was part of the band’s charm and probably a big reason why I love them so much. While I like a good voice, I tend to focus more on the music. I’m notorious for being oblivious to the lyrics, or liking a vocal because of how it sounds far more than whether it’s well sung or not. Songs I tend to like most often have the vocals buried into the mix or an unremarkable voice that doesn’t get in the way of a great musical performance. Likewise, songs and bands that are built around the singer tend to lose me as I long to hear the music. I’ve never been much for the singer-songwriter performers, or the blues or other genres in which the music is stripped down and the voice is the focus. Of course, that’s great on occasion as a nice change, but I’ll take a full band, wall-of-sound performance any day – and generally that’s what you get from New Order.
Blue Monday \ Non-album single (1983)
I’ll never forget the afternoon in the summer of ’83 when my brother came home with this 12” single in hand. After noting the unique album jacket, we put it on the family stereo, cranked it, and sat there listening. I’m not sure if he’d heard it before and just bought it since it was the new single, but I certainly hadn’t heard it before. The song ended and we looked at each other with raised eyebrows, noting “that was different.” I’m not sure either of us were sure if we liked it, not being dance music enthusiasts. There was no guitar? We then flipped it over and listened to the B-side, “The Beach,” which was essentially a variation of the A-side. We weren’t very used to 12” singles at that point and the concept of remixes and multiple versions of songs. This time we frowned at each other, “isn’t that the same song?” It was an auspicious start for me and New Order’s most iconic song, and I have to admit even after 35 years of listening to it, I still haven’t warmed up to it.
The lore goes that the band, notorious partiers and generally lousy performers, were looking for a way to get off the stage early while not completely pissing off their fans (New Order’s live sets were notoriously short). Barney had been playing around with sequencers and had been demoing an all-electronic song that could be played ‘live’ but automatically by the electronics on stage. They started playing it as a closer and then leaving the stage while the song continued on for several minutes while the band started boozing it up in the dressing room. They never did encores so the song would simply play out the show. However, fans loved the music and the band evolved it by adding lyrics and thus turned it into “Blue Monday,” still the best-selling 12” single in UK history.
Credited with restoring disco in nightclubs and making dance music cool again, it was a definite departure for the band. It also featured the interesting pairing with the legendary Quincy Jones as producer. I’m not a fan of their more electronic sound (per my comments above) so this ranks well down my list of favourites, but it is undeniably one of their most iconic and recognizable songs. DJs are still using the machine gun beats in dance mixes to this day.
On the YouTube playlist I chose their performance on Top of the Pops for a few reasons. First, we’ve heard the recorded version plenty enough, so a live version is a nice change (though it’s not much different except for the vocals and the bass). Second, it shows how awful the band were in performance, especially for a song in which none of them have much to do. Third, New Order was one of the first bands to perform live on Top of the Pops since they refused to lip synch. And fourth, an appearance on Top of the Pops was undeniable indication that the band was moving out of the ranks of the obscure and were gaining larger attention, and not just as the band that used to be Joy Division.
This is also a good time to focus on Peter Saville, who designed almost all of the record sleeves for all the Factory Record artists and has designed all albums and singles for Joy Division (except for the first EP) and New Order, right up to this day. For New Order especially, given the band’s desire to promote themselves as a whole rather than individuals (all credits for their songs were “performed and written by New Order”) and therefore not put their pictures on any albums, Saville had a blank slate to work with. His, and the band’s, reputation for intriguing and distinctive artwork started with the now famous Unknown Pleasures cover, but gained new notoriety with “Blue Monday” and the sleeve designed to look like a floppy disc. The design was reflective of the emergent technology in music and elsewhere at the time, and was representative of the digital influence on the song. Due to the design – the circle and lines in the jacket are die-cut holes to reveal the silver sleeve within – the album cover was so expensive to make it supposedly resulted in every copy sold actually losing money, which was especially bad given it was the band’s best selling song to date. I’ve also heard this is a myth, but its charm and perfection in capturing the spirit of the band – art over commerce – keeps it alive.
Age of Consent; Your Silent Face; Leave Me Alone \ Power, Corruption, and Lies (1983)
The second album, which of course had no singles, also had a great title and an enigmatic album cover. The jacket featured the same colour-block code invented by Saville that spelled the catalogue number as seen on “Blue Monday” – the decoder was on the back of the album. The release continued to quietly build a loyal audience for the band. While Blue Monday was attracting the attention, the LP added to the solid line-up of songs in the band’s arsenal (which would be performed terribly in concert).
“Age of Consent” was another standout track harnessing the full power and beauty of Barney’s melodies and Hooky and Morris’ rhythm. “Your Silent Face” offered a first ballad of sorts, held aloft by rich synthesizer passages offset by soft and sardonic lyrics: “The sign that leads the way / The path we can not take / You've caught me at a bad time / So why don't you piss off.” In “Leave Me Alone” Barney performed one of his loveliest guitar performances, layering his picked melodies over each other into a crescendo while Hook laid a path of undulating basslines. The album would also be their heaviest use of electronics to date, including full-on dance tracks such as “The Village.” It would appear electronics would be an ever-increasing companion to the murky, mysterious, and gloom-ridden sounds of their early work and the Joy Division legacy.
CONTEXT: Chart toppers in the UK & US around the time Power, Corruption & Lies was released.
True – Spandau Ballet
(Keep Feeling) Fascination – Human League
Beat It – Michael Jackson
Pale Shelter – Tears for Fears
Church of the Poison Mind – Culture Club
Maneater – Hall & Oates
Down Under – Men at Work
Billie Jean – Michael Jackson (for 7 wks)
Come on Eileen – Dexys Midnight Runners
Let’s Dance – David Bowie
Flashdance – Irene Cara
Confusion \ Non-album single (1983)
Indeed, the next single, partnering with DJ and hip hop producer Arthur Baker, was a full-on electronic dance-club track. I considered it right up there as one of their worst songs since it lacked their musicianship, melodies, and edge that had set them apart from the field. True, they were leaders in forging the new world of new wave electronic music, but for me it was a worrisome sign of where they might be headed. However, it did well in the clubs and following “Blue Monday,” continued to build their audience in North America.
Note the album cover continued to use the coloured block code. ‘93’ referred to the catalogue number, FAC93. Factory Records assigned a ‘FAC’ (for singles, posters or other items) or ‘FACT’ (for albums) number to everything they issued, including The Haçienda Nightclub (FAC51), the Haçienda’s resident cat (FAC191), and eventually founder Tony Wilson’s coffin (FAC501).
Thieves Like Us \ Non-album single (1984)
Any concerns about the direction the band was headed were alleviated by the next single and its sublime balance of the electronics and their traditional rock sound. A little bit new wave, a little bit pop, a little rock and roll, this song was a consummate New Order track and I loved it. It also had the song “1963” on the B-side, which had originally been debated for the A-side and was eventually released as a single in the 1990s.
Love Vigilantes; The Perfect Kiss; Sunrise \ Low-Life (1985)
The third full-length album brought to fruition New Order’s growing prowess in combining their punk-indie sound with new wave and dance-oriented keyboards and drum machines. The first side started with the sharp drum opening of “Love Vigilantes” and its even-keeled pacing and finished with the screeching guitar finale of “Sunrise.” Side two started soft with the enticing electro-instrumental, “Elegia,” before finishing with a duo of electro-rock “Sub-culture” and the electro-dance-rock of “Face Up.”
Low-Life diverged from their habit not having singles on their albums by releasing no less than two: “The Perfect Kiss” and “Sub-culture,” the latter of which became another nightclub success. Another ground breaker for them was including, if not their individual names, at least their faces as the album jacket and sleeve included out-of-focus and up-close pics of each band member (Stephen is on the front cover). The look was further affected by the album being wrapped in a grey plastic sleeve, similar to a book jacket.
“Perfect Kiss” was also accompanied by a video of them performing live in their studio and was directed by Jonathan Demme (who would release the fantastic movie Something Wild the following year, which included “Temptation” on the soundtrack). The album version is shorter but the video had them playing the extended mix (on the YouTube playlist), including an incredible two-minute climax that presented New Order at their absolute finest. Barney alternated between picking and strumming, Gillian and Stephen layered a wall of beats and synths, and Hooky laid down his most melodic, thrilling and prolific lead bass of any of their songs. The song exhausted you by the end as you were brought to bear on the full power of their synth-rock sound, aptly culminating in the sounds of a car crash. If Ceremony was their best song, “Perfect Kiss” offered New Order’s greatest musical moment.
I saw them for the first time touring this album at the International Centre out by the Toronto airport and with label mates A Certain Ratio as the opening act. It was a small crowd in a big, empty room. They played for one hour and then walked off the stage, only returning for a one song encore, which was “The Perfect Kiss.”
Shellshock \ Pretty In Pink Soundtrack (1986)
“Shellshock” was how I felt when their next effort, a contribution to the soundtrack for the John Hughes teen flick, Pretty in Pink, resorted back to the melody-free and electronic style that had made “Confusion” so loathsome. Once again flitting keyboards, soulless electronic beats and an annoying contrivance of sound effects made the song practically unlistenable. But again like “Blue Monday” and “Confusion,” the song built their audience through dance clubs, making New Order seem to North American audiences mostly like an electronic club band – which I suppose they were if it weren’t for the fact that ninety per cent of the rest of their music wasn’t that style.
State of the Nation \ Non-album single (1986)
Returning to their old form, this next single was released the same month as the Brotherhood album but wasn’t on it (but was later included on the cd release of the album). Restoring the balance of edgy guitars and grinding bass with the dance beats (and weak vocals), it was another solid song in their now genre-defining style.
Weirdo; Bizarre Love Triangle; All Day Long \ Brotherhood (1986)
New Order was finally able to break through to a wider audience with this, their fourth album. This time the songs were more clearly divided between rockers and dance tunes, with the first side being guitar and bass heavy and the second more purely synth-driven. “Weirdo” was a great, deep track example of one of their rockers, with the wall-of-sound and evenly paced markers of their brand, and of course a lead bassline from Hooky. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about New Order was the use of bass out front, of which so few bands can do effectively. “All Day Long” was another deep track example but of the second side synth sound, throwing off symphonic and grandiose melodies. It was a beautiful song that, like so many of their songs, lifted you with a big crescendo after having embraced you with sublime moments and flowing, melancholic basslines.
However, it was the single from the album (second album in a row to feature a single) that grabbed all the attention. From the electronic second side, “Bizarre Love Triangle” become one of their best known songs. Another huge club hit, like “Perfect Kiss” the album version is shorter while the extended version (YouTube playlist) airs out the huge melody and builds up a powerful dance-synth crescendo. Avoiding the pitfalls of “Confusion” or “Shellshock” this was unabashedly pop, embracing its melodies and leaning into them. Like their other electro-songs, it is ridiculously boring when performed live – the band might as well step out for a smoke – but in a club or your car it’s undeniable. Check out Billboard’s piece on why it’s “one of the greatest songs of all time.”
I saw them for the second time, this time at Massey Hall where they played two shows. It was a better performance than what I’d seen the year before and featured a great set list. New Order was, by a significant margin, my favourite band and I listened to their albums daily while doing homework and hanging out in my room. Low-Life and Brotherhood were the soundtracks to my early teen years.
True Faith \ Non-album single (1987)
New Order had also established themselves as a favourite band of many others, and though never a huge selling band, did generally chart well in the UK. The three prior albums had all cracked the top ten. In the US they were still less well-known though had a core following. Low-Life had cracked the top 100 but Brotherhood did much less well. Their singles usually charted in the UK but not in the US, and only “Blue Monday” had cracked the UK top ten. In Canada, and Toronto especially, New Order had a strong following through local radio station CFNY, where New Order’s releases usually cracked the top ten of the station’s year-end lists – Low-Life scored the #1 spot for 1985. This middling success was about to change.
Continuing to refine their rock-dance sound, the next single “True Faith” was a verifiable hit, reaching #4 in the UK and #32 in the US. It featured a surrealistic video directed by Philippe Decouflé (who would choreograph the opening ceremonies for the Albertville Olympics in 1992) that helped make New Order an MTV staple.
They played their first stadium as a headliner during their tour that year, in Toronto at no less than the 20,000 seat CNE Grandstand with Gene Loves Jezebel and Echo & The Bunnymen as openers. The Toronto show was their biggest audience yet. Looking back, I’m sick that I skipped this show (my brother went), but at the time I was a moody and broke seventeen year-old and thought seeing New Order in a stadium, especially after the two smaller shows I’d seen in the years prior, was just too uncool for me. I liked “True Faith” but like the other dance songs of theirs, it didn’t excite me a lot. Regardless, missed that show to my eternal regret.
The move to stadiums was driven by the release of the band’s first compilation album – bolstered by “True Faith” which was included as the featured, new single. Substance was issued supposedly to provide Tony Wilson with a cd of New Order’s singles for his car. Cd’s were still very new and only the albums of his most prominent band had been released in that format. Arrogantly assuming no one would buy it, figuring their fans already had all their music and wouldn’t re-purchase it, the band agreed to take a smaller royalty so Factory Records could gain some extra cash flow. Of course, it became the band’s biggest selling album.
This is a logical time to talk about the band’s prolifically poor financial management. The band, like their writing and producing credits, worked as a single entity. All revenue was pooled back into the band or Factory Records and the band members were paid small salaries which were usually barely enough to live on. So as the band grew in popularity and sales the band members were still living hand-to-mouth. They persistently poured money into the purchasing of the newest electronics – they were one of the first to have their own Fairlight synthesizer, which at the time cost thousands of British pounds. Also, Factory Records had few successful acts, so New Order carried the label on its shoulders, funding the recording of many other bands. Perhaps all this sounds reasonable and democratic, but their problems had more to do with the decisions they made with their pooled money. The band and the label invested heavily in the Manchester nightclub The Haçienda, which was a perennial money-pit since the customers were all on drugs and didn’t buy any booze. Hook wrote about this later in his book, The Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club. The club is one of the most notorious, famous, and storied night clubs in Europe through the ‘80s and ‘90s, but never helped New Order or Factory Records make money.
Touched by the Hand of God \ Salvation! Soundtrack (1987)
The band contributed several instrumentals and a couple of new songs to a low budget, indie movie called Salvation! “Let’s Go” and “Touched by the Hand of God” were the songs of note. “Touched…” featured a video directed by Kathryn Bigelow (soon to be married to Canadian director James Cameron and a long way from her successes, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty). It comically had the band parodying a heavy metal band. The song was a weak entry for them. It seemingly had all the elements of their synth-rock sound but lacked a compelling melody or any distinctive playing. Barney’s vocal performance was especially weak, and that’s saying something. It’s the sort of throwaway song you give to a low-budget indie film. The video got a lot of play on the video channels though.
At this point the band had been together ten years, survived the death of their original leader, forged a new and distinctive sound, was carrying a record label and nightclub on their back, and had completed several world tours over the prior three years. Things were starting to strain. Sumner was asserting himself more and more as the primary song writer (including a request to alter the credits and royalties from their historical equal shares to reflect this), which meant more electronics and dance songs, while Peter Hook was a belligerent drunk and druggie that was resenting the increasing prominence of the synthesizers and perceived sidelining of his bass. He was still a punk at heart and wanted to keep the aggression in their music. Morris and Gilbert, who were still a couple and would get married in 1994, were quiet and passive and simply stayed away while Sumner and Hook fought for control of the band. It was time to take a year off for the first time in their career.
Fine Time; Love Less; Round & Round; Run \ Technique (1989)
The band regrouped after their break on the island of Ibiza, Spain in 1988, hoping the change in scenery would reinvigorate them. Factory, always in need of money, had released “Blue Monday ’88,” a remixed version of the original which maintained the band’s presence in the world’s dance clubs. If the band needed a place to pull themselves together, Ibiza probably wasn’t the right place to do it given it was a haven for drugs (ecstasy was taking flight) and featured a prominent nightclub scene. Hook, now with a wife and child, wanted to work during the day while the rest of the band preferred to party and then record through the night. They struggled to come together.
Yet amazingly, they put together a fantastic new album – their first in three years – influenced by the Balearic dance beats of which Ibiza was known and that would play big in European nightclubs throughout the 90s. “Fine Time” was the prime example of this sound. Like the Brotherhood album, Technique was a mix of electronic and rock songs as Hook and Sumner battled for their pet sounds. But when they come together, in true New Order fashion, the result was larger than the sum of its parts. “Round & Round” and “Vanishing Point” are prime examples. The band could also still put together lovely, low-key acoustic pop songs such as “Love Less” and “Run.” The album was an impressive effort on its own, without even taking into account the increasingly bitter environment of the band. While it was their first album to reach number one on the UK charts (and hit a respectable #32 in the US), it was to be a last hurrah in more ways than one.
World in Motion \ Non-album single (1990)
New Order was asked to provide a theme song for England’s team in that year’s World Cup. Building off a TV theme song that Sephen and Gillian had written, the band put together what would become their first number one single. The English Football Association wasn’t thrilled with the song (nor the original title suggestion, “E for England,” because it sounded like advocacy for ecstasy) and ended up using another song. It didn’t stop fans from adopting the New Order song which also included participation from the England football team and comedian Keith Allen (father of Lily Allen).
Although I’m not sure the band intended it this way, the lyrics at this point somewhat aptly described their ethos and most likely where their heads were. They were singing about football (soccer) but the lyrics could easily have been about them as individuals and the band: “Express yourself / It's one on one / Express yourself / You can't be wrong / When somethings good / It's never gone.” What about football involved expressing oneself? And in a team sport, why the emphasis on “one on one?” Further, they appeared to take stock of the band at a time when they were in the most successful yet precarious spot in their career: “Now is the time / Let everyone see / You never give up / that's how it should be / Don't get caught / Make your own play / Express yourself / Don't give it away.” New Order, always expressing themselves, making their own play, never giving up, yet…
“World in Motion” would be a brief bright spot for the band during this time. After a successful tour, promoting Technique, playing once again at the CNE Grandstand with openers Public Image Ltd and The Sugarcubes (which I missed due to being at College in New Jersey at the time), the band again took time apart.
This time the break resulted in side projects. Sumner, desperate to be free of Hook and to be able to fully explore his electronic and dance sounds, joined with Johnny Marr from The Smiths to form, not surprisingly, a band called ‘Electronic.’ They issued an excellent first single, “Getting Away with It” in 1989 that also included Neil Tennant from Pet Shop Boys and followed that up with a solid album in 1990 that also featured a standout single, “Get the Message.” There was also a second song including Tennant and Chris Lowe (all of Pet Shop Boys), “The Patience of a Saint.”
Peter Hook formed the band Revenge, issuing their only album also in 1990. They had some solid songs that unsurprisingly sounded like the rock-tinged songs of New Order, though lacking Sumner’s penchant for melody. It’s a bit surprising though the amount of electronics in it, given Hook’s growing disdain for them (perhaps that’s not fair, he didn’t mind the electronics as long as the band still rocked and his bass was given a fair hearing).
Gillian and Stephen put out a song, ‘Tasty Fish,’ in 1991 under the cheeky name “The Other Two.”
With New Order not producing music Factory Records relied on its newest sensation, The Happy Mondays, who were doing well as part of the Madchester scene. The success propagated greater profligacy from Tony Wilson in the manner of new offices featuring a suspended boardroom table that cost over £35,000 (and was promptly broken). In recording their follow-up album after 1990’s successful Pills’n’Thrills and Bellyaches, The Happy Mondays, like New Order, also chose a tropical setting (Barbados as opposed to Ibiza, though the Mondays had visited New Order in Ibiza too where they supposedly gained their taste for ecstasy), where they managed to spend a huge sum of money but, unlike New Order, came back with music nowhere close to the quality of their prior efforts. Bleeding cash and desperate, Factory settled on a deal to sell its catalogue and artists to London Records, a subsidiary of Polygram Records. Ironically, or maybe not so much given Factory’s deplorable accounting methods, Factory couldn’t benefit much since the artists owned their music and not the label. It had been a symbol of how independent and musically focused the label was but was their downfall when the bands decided to seek safer pastures. It was the end of a storied and prolific indie label.
And after fifteen years as an Indie band, New Order would be on a major label, if the band decided to come back together.
Regret; Everyone Everywhere \ Republic (1993)
Indeed, it was a bit surprising when the band did come together again in 1992 to record a new album. It came across more like a Barney solo album or another Electronic release. It was their weakest effort after an unblemished run of five albums (seven if you include Joy Division). Hook’s bass was almost absent on many songs. This was during the heyday of grunge and lovely, but light, songs such as “Everyone Everywhere” simply paled in comparison to acts like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, or My Bloody Valentine. While I still loved New Order my fervour for them was admittedly at its lowest.
From this album, however, they gave us “Regret,” possibly the tightest and most complete pop song of their career. Opening with one of the nicest guitar strums of his career, Barney set the tone for a great tune that perfectly gathered the New Order ensemble sound. The first video humourously drew from a performance the band did on an LA beach as part of an MTV show and featured Baywatch cast members and bikini-clad girls as part of a cross-promo. It’s a far cry from the dark and moody band that was once Joy Division (Gillian looks particularly out of place). Another video was later done to replace it.
The band came to Toronto and played the Kingswood Amphitheatre at Wonderland. I was so turned off by their album that I skipped them once again, dismissing the band as a poor version of their former selves. Looking back it baffles me how I missed three consecutive tours, especially since the band wouldn’t come to Toronto again for another nineteen years.
Despite the decline in the band’s sound, Republic was their most successful release to date and “Regret” broke the top 10 in the UK. Despite their increasing success the whole recording and touring experience for this album did nothing to convince the band they should carry on and they parted. Barney went back to Electronic and released another album in 1996. After marrying, Gillian and Stephen put out an album, The Other Two & You, in 1994, before Gillian retired to focus on raising their children (they have two). Hooky put together the band Monaco, having some success with albums released in 1997 and 2000 and with the single “What Do You Want from Me?”
Brutal \ The Beach Soundtrack (2000)
Poor Rob Gretton, the band’s manager since the beginning, was lost without his band. He convinced the four to meet in 1998, five years since they had last been together, and after a meeting they agreed to re-enter the studio. One of the first efforts was this song, included in the soundtrack for the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Beach. It’s a pure New Order song, though very safe, remaining in the well-trodden paths of their signature sound. It was a welcome sound to the band’s fans, but nothing that would set the world on fire. It was a tentative and decent first step back into being New Order again.
Crystal; Turn My Way \ Get Ready (2001)
The band proceeded to record their first album in eight years. I have to say I was not prepared for what was coming. The keyboard and soul vocal opening built to a crashing beat and a signature strum from Barney, launching into a guitar driven, bass rumbling rocker called ‘Crystal.’ Wow! It was the best song they’d released in fifteen years!! I recall being at my (future) wife’s condo and just cranking this album over and over. I’m not sure she fully understood (she would in time) but I think she appreciated my passion for this band, which was fully restored after such a long absence (and maturity on my part).
Perhaps influenced by the rocking 90s and Manchester sounds like Oasis, the album featured more guitar than anything since Low-Life. Now as the respected, influential old guard of Manchester and England’s music scene, guests came to New Order to burnish their image such as Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins, who contributed to “Turn My Way.”
After having missed the last three times New Order had come to Toronto, not realizing they were almost literally “last chances,” I was so keen to see the band live again. I was steeped in remorse for having forsaken them during their dance infused late 80s period (oh the fickleness of youth). I’ve selected their appearance on the Jools Holland show as evidence that their live act was much improved from their shoddy attempts in the 80s. But at this point they seemed content to stick to the UK and Europe, and their only appearances in North America were at major festivals like Coachella. They did play a 5-date tour of the west coast that included Vancouver in 2001. I fantasized promoting a festival in Toronto just to get them here (hey, I figured, where there’s a will there’s a way).
Also of note during this reformed version of the band was they were playing Joy Division songs for the first time since their very first post-Joy Division tour in 1980-81, finally able to come out from the cloud of Ian’s death. Gillian was no longer in the line-up and was replaced by Phil Cunningham, a local Manchester guitarist. It was the first line-up change since Gillian had joined the band in late 1980.
Waiting for the Siren’s Call; Krafty; Turn \ Waiting for the Siren’s Call (2005)
New Order held together to put another album on the books four years later. This was the work of a mature act fully in control and in comfort with themselves. While they were not settled in the studio, often coming and going at different times during recording and writing, all members knew their part and seemed to effortlessly produce slickly written, well-produced, impeccably played songs that could only come from this group of musicians. It wasn’t the surprise that “Get Ready” had been, but for us fans it was nice to be getting new music.
Those that grew up on their ground breaking, punk origins and dark moods may have decried this middle-aged version of the band, but the quality of the music couldn’t be denied. Yes, it was safe, it was familiar, there were no boundaries being pushed, but it was a lovely album to sit through or listen to in the car. Indeed, I once again subjected my wife, Julia, to many listens of this again while on a car trip through New England in the fall of that year (she was acclimated by then to the frequent appearance of Joy Division and New Order songs on our stereo).
“Krafty” (the title was a tribute to Kraftwerk, a huge influence on the band right from the Joy Division days) travelled the familiar dance environs of Barney’s later work, while the title track was the consummate New Order song with all members doing their thing. “Jetstream” and “Guilt is a Useless Emotion” joined those two to result in four(!) singles released from the album. “Guilt…” was nominated (but did not win) for the Grammy for Best Dance Recording. It’s the only time the band has been nominated.
However, rather than those last two I include in the playlist “Turn” because, true to my tastes, it’s more in the form of their traditional guitar-and-bass songs with less electronics and was simply a phenomenal song, especially for one that lived buried as an album track in a singles era. Barney sang with confidence and the song exploded with a great chorus, smoothly riding the full New Order wall-of-sound to the lyrics: “Turn your eyes from me / It's time for me to go / Across the hills and over the sea / I want you more than you know.”
Whether that lyric was intended to be prescient or not, it was because that would be it for the original New Order. In 2007 Hook decided he’d had enough with Barney and the band and announced in an interview that, much to the surprise of the rest of the band, New Order had broken up. Despite their two prior breaks, it was the first time any band member had definitively uttered those words. Sumner denied it and the band sat in limbo until in 2009 Barney admitted he had no interest in doing anything else as New Order.
Hook went on to build a notable DJ career before eventually forming a band, The Light, with his former Monaco bandmate, David Potts, and his son, Jack Bates. They tour and perform full album performances of Joy Division and New Order. Hook, easily the band member that enjoyed playing and touring the most, has decided he’s not going to regret not getting to tour and play all the great songs he had a part in creating. His band is great and the shows are fantastic, having seen four of them now and gotten to hear many early songs I (or anyone) never got to hear live. Hook has said it’s his intention to tour every album and play live literally every song they’ve ever done, and I can’t wait to hear it all.
Sumner briefly formed the band Bad Lieutenant (named after the Harvey Keitel movie) that included Cunningham and Morris and a few other Manchester artists. They produced an album in 2009 featuring the mildly successful single, “Sink or Swim.” Julia and I travelled in April 2010 to Chicago to see what I figured would be the closest I’d come to seeing New Order again, given there were three current members (two original) and they’d be playing New Order songs in the set list. A volcano eruption in Iceland grounded the group in the UK and their North American dates were cancelled, so we instead had a lovely weekend in the windy city and my hopes of ever seeing New Order again were dashed, for the time being…
Hellbent \ Lost Sirens (2013)
Despite the break-up this was not the last we’d hear of the band with Hook included. The band surprisingly reformed in 2011 to perform live dates. Gillian returned to the line-up after a twenty year absence, with Cunningham staying on as a second guitarist and Bad Lieutenant bassist Tom Chapman joining to replace Hook. They started playing at festivals and basking in the glow of their veteran status.
However, they were not content to leave it at that and in 2013 put out a short album of previously unreleased material from the Waiting for the Siren’s Call sessions titled Lost Sirens. It included this great rocker, ‘Hellbent,’ which had been released in 2011 as part of a compilation, Total: From Joy Division to New Order. Given the origin of the recordings, all the songs feature Hook playing bass and don’t include Gillian.
Peter Hook was not happy. Recall once upon a time they had a pact to not keep the band name if any of them left, thus the origin of New Order. As an original member – hell, as a founding member, Hook felt it was a travesty that the band should perform and record under the New Order name. Also recall the band operated as a business, with credits going to the band and members getting paid out of the revenue pool. Now out of the band, Hook was finding it difficult to get what he felt was his fair cut of the royalties New Order continued to enjoy (though undoubtedly less so in this age of streaming). The band was also unhappy that Hook was touring and playing Joy Division and New Order songs and drawing away from their cachet. There ensued a war of words in the media, autobiographies written with harsh words for one another, lawsuits levied, and an escalation to one of the more acrimonious relationships in music, mainly between Hook and Barney (it’s always hard to get a read from the inscrutable Gillian and Stephen). There would seem to be a snowball’s chance in hell of these two ever performing together again… but they’ve done it three times before, so who knows?
Outside of all this I had my happy moment when this new incarnation of New Order came to Toronto for two shows in October, 2012. Damned certain I went to both shows! It was a little sad to not see Hook on stage, but great to hear the band again, now cranking out a huge show with impeccable playing and great lighting and visuals (though Barney will always sound like crap live).
Also in each of 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2018 I saw Peter Hook and The Light and have gotten to hear full album performances of Movement; Power, Corruption, and Lies; Low-Life; Brotherhood; and both the Joy Division and New Order Substance albums in addition to all the singles over that period and an opening set of Joy Division material (regrettably I missed his 2011 appearance in which they played the two Joy Division albums). These shows have been nothing short of brilliant. His band is excellent and they pay attention to every detail to recreate the songs in their original form. It’s been a thrill to see them every time and the performances of the songs are better than New Order’s, I’d venture to say. After the 2013 show I hung around after and met Hooky and he signed my copy of his book about Joy Division. I also have Barney’s signature on a cover of Electronic’s first album but my brother obtained that for me, so I didn’t get to meet him.
Restless; Plastic; Tutti Frutti \ Music Complete (2015)
Fan purists will say this wasn’t a true New Order album since, for the first time in 27 years, Hook didn’t play on it. Some fans have divided into Team Barney or Team Hooky. Yet with three of the four original members, another that’s been in the band for seventeen years, and the name New Order on the cover, what should you call it? Listen to it! It’s a New Order album! I don’t know if it’s purposeful, but Tom Chapman does seem to be catching a Hooky vibe through much of his playing.
What was clear on this album is that Barney had become a great writer of dance music. In a hip hop age when melody seems to be an intrusion, it was nice to still hear dance beats with a great melodic groove. With Morris unfailingly contributing great beats, the band putting out catchy and consistently toe-tapping tunes, the album is fun and has a great groove. “Restless” was in the mold of a classic New Order strummer, and “Plastic” paid tribute to the Georgio Morodor/Diana Ross vibe of “I Feel Love,” and “Tutti Frutti” (with help from Brit singer Elly Jackson, aka La Roux) was a funky, New Order dance tune. She also elevated “People on the High Line,” another great dance song. Other guests on the album included Iggy Pop and Brandon Flowers from The Killers.
Since the release of that album there has been the release of a live album, NOMC15, and a recent set of shows at the Manchester International Festival with conceptual artist Liam Gillick and a synth orchestra. Certainly not content to sit back and ride on his laurels into old age, Sumner and the crew are continuing to, not quite push new boundaries, but certainly show those of the current era how its done and put out music that is familiar but fresh.
Last weekend I drove to Cleveland to see New Order headline the InCuya festival, and I will see them again this week in Toronto. No longer missing their shows, I am going to some lengths to see them as much as possible.
Love Will Tear Us Apart (performed by New Order, June 2002 – YouTube only)
I can’t finish this off with a Hook-less New Order song. It’s like giving Barney the last word and I aim to be fair. As I mentioned, the band started performing Joy Division songs again when they reformed in 1998. A nice benefit of this was hearing them explore those songs again and breathe new life into them. This performance was still three of the four original Joy Division members, indeed the three that created and played the original music. Their version of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ rocks, with more aggressive guitar right out of the gate and explosive breaks. The song jumps and reveals an energy withheld in the original. There’s a studio version done by the band as an iTunes Original in 2007 that is similar (the last music recorded with Hook?), but I love their live version (and how odd to say that!). It’s nice to see the band clearly enjoying playing the song after ignoring it for the prior twenty years. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing New Order and Hooky play Joy Division songs live on several occasions now, and it’s a treat every time.
Keeping a band together for thirty years is remarkable – so few do it. Add to that the suicide of their most distinctive member and what’s now understood as a remarkably caustic relationship of the two most visible players, and New Order’s story becomes more noteworthy. But all that means less next to the music and the impact they’ve had on modern rock and dance music. At first they were a unique sounding punk band, then an innovative progenitor of a post-punk sound, followed by the rejuvenators of club disco and then the genre-defining act of a modern, dance-rock sound. While doing that they held aloft a record label that launched an entire generation of British indie rockers and a world famous nightclub in which many DJs and bands launched their careers.
Today it doesn’t take long before you hear a song that utilizes Barney’s sparse picking guitar, or a driving, picked bassline with a melancholic lilt like Hook, or a pulsating, furious drumming and high hat like Morris, or a synth flourish that escalates a song to a new level like Gillian. I routinely comment to Julia, “hear the New Order in this song?” when listening to commercials, songs in TV shows or movies, or in new songs coming out on streaming services. Their songs are covered regularly by major and minor artists alike, and their music repurposed in samples and mashups galore. The process of picking songs for this playlist on YouTube was a startling discovery of covers and tributes of Joy Division and New Order by an equally startling array of acts.
As you listen to this playlist, the transition from Joy Division to New Order is minor at first, but as they defined their sound in the mid- to late-eighties the band settled into perfecting their brand, exploring their claimed terrain rather than striking out in new directions. Some lament the move from rockers to dance, and some perhaps don’t even know the band used to play without any keyboards and only know New Order as modern dance pioneers, but to me the sweet spot is in the middle – especially when both sides of the band are in the same song. I grew up listening to punk, rock, new wave, dance, and synth pop, and in New Order I found the one band that did it all.
I’ll end with a few comments on why New Order is so special to me. First, as has been evident throughout this profile, there is my brother, who passed away in 2005. Aaron was ten years older than me and was my musical mentor. New Order was, if not his favourite band, certainly among a select few of his favourites. He introduced me to this band, I saw them for the first time with him, and I listened to them in my early teens via his albums. New Order was one of the many ways in which he and I bonded, and I can’t ever listen to them without evoking his memory.
Second, when I reference New Order as providing the soundtrack to my youth, this is quite literal. While I certainly listened to a lot of music growing up, as is evident from this blog, none resonated with me as strongly and consistently as New Order. I have no end of memories associated with their music, whether it was travelling to school on city transit with their music in my Walkman, or playing their albums while studying, or even playing them in Aaron’s bedroom when I was young and he was home from university for the summer. I would crank their songs on his great stereo and pretend to perform a concert, using a wooden yard stick as a guitar and a lamp as a mic, imagining what it must feel like to play such music.
The third reason is that New Order was part of my identity. When I was young and finding my way in the world I was less interested in what was popular and sought the new and different. Trying to find my place in an all-boys Catholic school where we all wore the same uniform, my musical tastes (proudly emblazoned on my World Famous burlap knapsack) allowed me to stake my own territory, where I could be different than my peers. Because I am an individualist. My style is minimalist. I appreciate the art more than the artist (nothing is more banal than an interview with a musician, except perhaps an athlete). I have passion but respect when emotion is harnessed and crafted into brilliant expression and performance. What I liked about New Order wasn’t just the distinct music, it was the lack of artifice. It was the sparse music with ambience and space, the lack of names on the album sleeve and band pictures on the jacket. And then it was the overwhelming, full band sound in which no instrument, no individual, was set apart but rather all did their unique thing to create a greater whole. It was a different and inspirational approach to art and life, where the individual and the group could both exist contemporaneously, with neither succumbing to the other. In the end, New Order was undone by an inability to get along in the day-to-day struggle of personality clashes, and perhaps nothing is more normal and unremarkable than that. But I look past that, because I love the art more than the artist, and when they were together they created great art. And maybe it was those personalities – fierce individuals facing many challenges, loss, and pain – that raised them out of the bleak streets of Manchester and made them the most brilliant band of the modern rock era. My favourite band.