The year is 1983. Three years since the tragic suicide of Ian Curtis that brought Joy Division’s career to a standstill, on the eve of their first American tour. In the wake, the remaining members, with the addition of Gillian Gilbert on keyboards and guitar, formed New Order and released their debut album ‘Movement’ in 1981. A dark, moody affair that sounded like the 3rd Joy Division album that never was.Their sophomore album, however, is the sound of the band spreading their wings, rising from the ashes of Joy Division and finally finding their feet.
The album cover is a painting by Henri Fantin-Latour, entitled ‘A Basket of Roses’ and can be found in the National Gallery in London. There is no band name or album title, typical of the band’s ‘non-image’.
The album artwork being shown off in Paris.
The album begins with the now-iconic bass introduction of ‘Age of Consent’. I still remember where I was the first time I heard this song, and at the time, I had never heard anything quite like it before. Lush synths, fantastic guitar work and Bernard Sumner’s earnest, expressive vocals all come together to form what is one of the greatest album openers of all time. Five minutes and fifteen seconds of bittersweet bliss.
‘Bittersweet’ is probably the most accurate way to describe this album. A marked departure from the gloomy, cold atmosphere of the albums that preceded it, ‘Power, Corruption and Lies’ has euphoria and melancholy in equal measure.
‘The Village', for example, is pure joy; with bouncy synths and lyrics such as: “Our love is like the flowers/ The rain, the sea and the hours”, you’d have no idea that this was essentially the same band that wrote songs like ‘Heart and Soul’ and ‘Day of the Lords’. The album’s second song ‘We All Stand’ on the other hand, consists of a lurching bassline and darker lyrics: "Life goes on and on in this real-life fantasy/Forever to be still/Breath held tight inside of me”.
‘Your Silent Face’ is a shining moment, with the band embracing their electronic side. A drum machine is used in place of Stephen Morris’ live drumming, and gorgeous synth pads are used to great effect. Their punk attitude is still present, heard in the lyric: “You caught me at a bad time/So why don’t you piss off?” a line at odds with the relatively pretty music that accompanies it. There’s also a simple melody played on a melodica once owned by Ian Curtis, and it’s one of the most memorable moments in the album.
In fact, the beauty of this album is in its simplicity. Some of the songs only have two or three chords throughout, and the guitar parts are in no way flashy or virtuous. New Order proved, taking cues from bands like The Velvet Underground that music doesn’t have to be complex to be memorable and enjoyable.
The album ends with the introspective ‘Leave Me Alone’. Carried by another great bassline, the song serves to be a perfect conclusion to the album with swelling synths, simple but beautiful guitar parts and plaintive vocals with lyrics that conjure vivid imagery.
The far-reaching influence of this album can be heard in the music of bands to this day. The Charlatans’ ‘Oh! Vanity’ is a homage to ‘Your Silent Face’ and Arcade Fire covered ‘Age of Consent’ in their live shows. Countless modern indie bands have adopted Sumner’s simple, but effective approach to guitar parts and embraced their vocal imperfections. Its impact doesn’t stop at guitar music, either. Modern synthpop bands such as La Roux also take cues from New Order, with Elly Jackson appearing on their latest studio album ‘Music Complete’ and even performing live with the band.
To this day, ‘Power Corruption and Lies’ remains my favourite album of all time. There isn’t a single weak track, and every serious music fan owes it to themselves to give it a listen.
Written by Aaron Knowlden