New Order Album Review: Power, Corruption and Lies

Contrary to the ill-informed opinion of fans who should know better, New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies is not their debut album, though it probably should be. After all, history states that a band’s sophomore album isn’t supposed to outshine their debut album, especially when the first album is one of the best albums of the year.

New Order made a huge leap forward with Power, Corruption and Lies. Anyone listening to this album for the first time directly after listening to the two Joy Division albums which preceded the deaths of both lead singer Ian Curtis and the band itself would have a difficult time figuring out that three of the four members were involved in all three albums. Whereas the Joy Division albums were guitar-heavy Movement was, as its title implies, a move away from that and toward a more electronic sound, Power, Corruption and Lies is techno gone wild. Although the current CD includes as part of the album both the groundbreaking 12 inch single Blue Monday and its instrumental remix The Beach, this review will consider the album as it was originally released on vinyl in 1983.

The album kicks off with a roar, courtesy of the almost manic Age of Consent. If you saw the original trailer for Marie Antoinette, directed by Sofia Coppola, then you are familiar with this song. Its driving rhythm was used to great effect in that trailer. It’s a masterpiece of a song, currently the ringtone on my cell phone, and it’s also an apt opening number for this album because it is guitar-heavy with almost none of the broad wash of keyboards that almost every song that will follow contains. The lyrical centerpiece of the song is a theme that New Order would visit even more successfully in the single Blue Monday. “I’m not the kind that needs to tell you/ Just what you want me to.” Age of Consent is the perfect lead-in song because in a way it’s a goodbye to the guitar dominance of the band. New Order albums would be dominated by the synthesizer until the turn of the century.

It is a testament to the brilliance of this album that it could even be considered among New Order’s best despite the fact that it also contains the worst New Order song ever. My advice is to skip past We All Stand and pretend it was a nightmare.

Things get back to stunning with the odd little medley The Village and 586. On the vinyl album these two songs seamlessly blend into each other; on the CD there is an annoying moment of silence between the two. Another piece of advice I have is to seek out the vinyl album to go along with the CD. The Village is the more bouncy and upbeat of the two songs. These two songs, along with Blue Monday, reveal how quickly New Order mastered synthesized pop. Stephen Morris’ very human timekeeping is integrated with a drum machine and those broad keyboard waves permeate both songs. When listening to The Village, it’s easy to picture an image of something hopping in your mind. There’s a bop-BOP kind of ping-pong element to the song that just sounds like music that is hopping. Difficult to explain, but see if you don’t agree.

586 is tougher. It is sort of a mini-Blue Monday, having the same kind of feel to it. From that opening repetition of the lyrics “I see dangerâÂ?¦danger..danger” it pulls you into its grip and never lets go. It’s a muscular sort of song, something not usually associated with synth pop, and there’s also a deep sense of paranoia to the song, much like with Blue Monday. Both The Village and 586 are deeply responsible for the ascension of New Order to the position of Godfather of synth rock. These two songs have a similarity about them even though they really don’t sound very much alike. When one thinks of a New Order sound that stands apart from the New Order sound associated with Peter Hook’s melodic bassline, these two and Blue Monday are the exemplars.

Things slow down a bit, while remaining every bit as synthesized, with the next song, Your Silent Face. This song manages to start out with probably the best opening line in any New Order song while ending with undoubtedly the best closing line of any 80s song by any band. The opening: “A thought that never changes remains a stupid lie.” The closing: “You’ve caught me at a bad time/So why don’t you piss off!” In between those sentiments, the band treats you to a hypnotic musical sound punctuated by cryptic lyrics about shame and sound forming in a vacuum.

My favorite part of the next song, apart from its title filched from A Clockwork Orange-Ultraviolence-is the lyric “Everybody makes mistakes/Everybody makes mistakes/Even me.” Try repeating that every once in a while and see what of reaction you get. Ultraviolence, as well as its instrumental follow-up Ecstasy, is a kind of New Order lite. They aren’t quite up to the level of The Village/586, much less Blue Monday, but they are both crucial to the band establishing itself on its own terms and cutting itself loose from its history as Joy Division.

The album closes with the somewhat downbeat Leave Me Alone. However, the song isn’t downbeat because of the lyrical content, which is certainly no more alienating than Your Silent Face, but rather the music. The guitar makes it return appearance on this song, though not nearly in the same way as it said goodbye on Age of Consent. The song also gives an indication of the playful lyrics to come from the band: “From my head to my toes/From the words in the book/I see a vision that would bring me luck/From my head to my toes/To my teeth, through my nose.”

Power, Corruption and Lies represented a jump in quality from their debut album Movement, though not nearly as great as other critics might have you believe. In addition, it was the next big leap forward in their attempt to completely distance themselves from the shadow of Ian Curtis, something that would take another two albums to fully accomplish. Although the greatest songs on this album are among the greatest New Order songs ever-and by virtue of that among the greatest rock songs ever-the distance between the albums heights and its depths is so great that it is difficult to call this the band’s greatest achievement album-wise.

That honor probably goes to their next album, Low-Life.

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