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Artist Spotlight: New Order

by Napster

Artist Spotlight: New Order

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Few bands have unhappier origins than New Order. Formed from the shards of seminal Manchester post-punk band Joy Division after frontman Ian Curtis hanged himself in 1980, they were newly led by guitarist and self-confessed non-singer Bernard Sumner. Wisely, Sumner, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris didn't try for long to reproduce Joy Division's gloomy jitters, which stemmed from the urgent transmissions of Ian Curtis' anxious head. Where the band once carved out stony spaces for Curtis' apocalyptic baritone using cascading beats and crisp, metallic guitars, as New Order they shifted to building icy, gleaming dance rock.

[Movement], New Order's 1981 debut, captures these sounds mid-shift. Like Joy Division's final album, Closer, it harnesses dark post-punk guitars to a restless, obsessive stutter. Sumner does his best Ian Curtis, which is more or less as good as yours. New Order's debut single, "Ceremony," had been performed live by Joy Division before Curtis' death, and the patter of drums that drives "Senses" is a millimeter from the oppressive loop of Closer's "Atrocity Exhibition." But the beats of the new "Ceremony" were rounder and its squall of guitars were warmer than Joy Division's, while the clanging, metallic atmosphere of "Senses" is closer to industrial than anything Joy Division ever did.

Later in the ‘80s, the lovesick likes of [Power, Corruption & Lies] and its stately, pulsing and legendary single "Blue Monday" led New Order to a sound of its own: a lush blend of British indie's knotty, sour guitars and synth-pop's shimmering melodrama that sounded as if Johnny Marr had joined Tears for Fears. On songs like "The Village," Sumner abandoned his attempts at Curtis' inimitable deadpan for a reedy voice that skimmed lightly across the fat crests of waveforms. By the time of 1987’s sprawling singles collection, Substance, Sumner’s thin, modest croon had become as suited to New Order's romantic rush as Ian Curtis' caustic drone had been to Joy Division. And on Brotherhood and Technique -- the latter recorded on the DJ-strewn island of Ibiza during the late-’80s peak of British acid house -- Sumner's voice was nearly submerged in dense swells of synth and guitar and became yet another instrument in the throbbing mix.

Having reached a commercial peak far beyond what Joy Division had aspired to, New Order faded in and out of hiatus for the next two decades while its members dabbled in side projects such as Electronic. Early 2000s albums Get Ready and Waiting for the Sirens' Call re-emphasized guitars over the clubby beats that had dominated Technique; Sirens' Call in particular was an album of punchy, muscular pop rock whose layers of shimmering guitars recalled contemporary work from fellow '80s survivors U2 and R.E.M.. (New Order had always been groovier than the former, and twinklier than the latter.) In 2015, the vigorous Music Complete marked the return from another hiatus, this time without founding member Peter Hook. Thankfully, the ingredients hadn't changed: There’s ample swollen, rolling bass; Sumner's nimble guitar and earnest vocals, now improved by the roughness of age; and, supporting and surrounding everything, the restless electronic pulse that made them “new” in the first place, following the tragedy that spurred their inception so many years ago.

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