Albums Which Changed My Life #1 : New Order – ‘Power, Corruption and Lies’

I got into New Order relatively early in their career, in that incarnation anyway. In my last year in secondary school, I had been listening to the poppier end of bouncy post-punk: The Specials, The Beat, The Human League, Ultravox, John Foxx, Kraftwerk and, obtusely and secretively, Mike Oldfield.

Then something happened. I had discovered John Peel and, through him, was exposed to the sounds of more marginal bands. In 1983, New Order released ‘Blue Monday’, a momentous single. Coming a year after their first real venture into electronic rock pop ‘Temptation’, ‘Blue Monday’ was a big-sounding slab of electronic funk comprising almost entirely of sequenced synths and drums. Full of riffs and tricks, the track was about 75% instrumental, lasted for 8 minutes and was released on 12″ vinyl only. When I first encountered it in my local record store, I knew I had to have it; the sleeve alone was so seductive….it looked like those mysterious black disk things we slotted into the Commadore Vic20 we used at school in Computer Studies (a 5″ floppy).

It sounded massive, like Kraftwerk on steroids. What’s more, while my friends liked dancing to it and thought it was “awright”, I understood it. Instinctively.

I was intrigued. I was aware of ‘Temptation’ through Peel. I liked its bittersweet pop hook and its skittering synth sequence. But I hadn’t been prepared for the sheer weight and otherworldliness of Blue Monday. A month or two later, Factory released the album with which this single was related.

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‘Power, Corruption and Lies’ seemed to obviously come from the same lineage as Blue Monday with its printer’s colour test barcode and technological allusions on the cover art. However, this time there was no up-to-the-minute cultural reference for the main front cover image. This time it was a seemingly tame painting of flowers (by Henri Fantin-Latour). But coupled with the barcode, etc it seemed unusual and fresh to my young untrained eyes.

Placing it onto my Fidelity Nine stereo deck, I anticipated more slabs of cold electro-disco. What I got was so much more.
Firstly, just let me say that for years, I mean about 20 years, I played the album in the wrong order. I had mistakenly believed that side one started with ‘Your Silent Face’ and side two with ‘Age Of Consent’. It actually was the other way round. Therefore, my take on the album was entirely different to how a majority (possibly) heard it and, for me, the dynamic of the album as a whole was entirely different to that intended. I still listen to it in that order….to the point of having re-ordered the running order on my MP3 version of the album. To hear it any other way now makes no sense to me.

‘Your Silent Face’ is still a favourite NO track. Having expected Blue Monday’s electro muscularity, I was confronted by a delicate, melodic and restrained song oozing with melancholy. The opening arpeggio recalled ‘Endless Endless’ by Kraftwerk, a canonic connection I understood and was aware of even then. Then those strings kick in…oh, those strings. Synthetic but incredibly lush and dense…and beautiful. The song was intense, sad, almost elegiac. It was also human. Something which I’d not really encountered in the two NO songs I was familiar with.

‘Ecstasy’ was a funked-up electro instrumental with chiming metronomic guitars and dream-like vocoded voice. Towards the end the 4/4 beat kicks in proper with a rocky/funky snare and kick combo, as opposed to the near tribal rhythm which Steven Morris hammers out on toms through a majority of the track. The track comes alive and rises to a crescendo before fading into nothingness.
What was beginning to strike me was that this was a band which was successfully merging electronic music (as I understood it at the time, a la Kraftwerk) with guitar-based post-punk (such as bands like Orange Juice and Joy Division, who I was marginally aware of at the time). There might have been other bands around at the time doing similar stuff, but to me this sounded so fresh and new.

The feeling of ‘humanity’ continued in the near-ballad ‘Leave Me Alone’ (which became a bit of an anthem for me in my teenage introspective moments!) and the rather miserablist ‘We All Stand’. The album had many colours and moods, both emotionally, dynamically and tonally.

What makes this album so important for me is that, prior to this, I’d listened to music either as an ephemeral pop fix (The Beat, Human League) or as a means of ‘escaping’ (in my teenage angst!) via imagination and imagery (Mike Oldfield, Kraftwerk). But had never encountered music which contained elements of both…..pop melody and surge with texture and imagery. I loved it and it was on a virtual loop in my head, if not in reality.
It also turned me on to the bass guitar…..I was totally enthralled by Peter Hook’s use of the bass as a melodic lead instrument and the way it contributed to the dynamic and surge of a song. That summer I bought a Casio PT-30 and a very cheap Antoria bass with an amp and started on a journey which I’m still travelling.

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