#262: Power, Corruption & Lies, New Order
When I was working my first job, I fell in love with a band called the Manic Street Preachers. The reason I fell in love with them (and this is about as embarrassing an admission as a Fake Music Fan can make) is because I listened to a podcast about Richey Edwards, MSP’s lyricist and guitarist. After releasing their magnum opus The Holy Bible, Edwards disappeared, with some strong evidence pointing towards him committing suicide.
I bring this up not because they don’t grace RS’s precious list with their presence (but I probably need to write a whole article about MSP…), but because the Manic Street Preachers share something with New Order: they had to realign themselves after a departure of a key member. Manic went on with the same name and made several critically acclaimed albums after Edwards vanished, and never replaced him. (Though he didn’t actually sing or play that much music for them, so you could argue it wasn’t a great loss.) (I take that back, sorry.)
Joy Division faced a similar dilemma after the release of their final album, Unknown Pleasures (#211), coincided with the suicide of their frontman Ian Curtis. Curtis was their driving lyrical force, just like Edwards, so it makes sense how they would want to change their whole identity. New Order is a completely different band than Joy Division, even though core members Peter Hooks, Stephen Morris, and Bernard Sumner remained. They added keyboardist Gillian Gilbert and made a home outside of goth rock, settling into electro-rock comfortably on their second record.
In the RS blurb, Sumner, who took on the role of lead vocalist, is quoted talking about how touring America influenced their recording of this album: “[In] America, they played the Clash, funk, a great mix of black and white music, and … early electronic music.… We were right there, and this new sound found us.” That surprised me, because I thought they sounded quite European at times, like on “Ecstasy,” a jam that feels like a predecessor to Daft Punk and Kraftwerk with its electro vocals and four-on-the-floor beat. (By the way, that’s spelled with an “s” everywhere but on Spotify, where it’s spelled as “Ecstacy.” Can’t find any reason for it, so I assume it’s a misspelling. I love when the big guys screw up.)
What’s American about New Order is how fun they are, how they encourage you to dance and move. “Age of Consent” has a weird name but has a catchy guitar-and-synth combo. Stephen Morris confirmed that the drums for this were essentially ripped off from “Love Will Tear Us Apart” on Twitter, which is the only good thing Twitter has ever brought to the world. “The Village” is a fun, optimistic love jam, calling out the flowers that are pictured on the album cover.
Other songs were fun for me to take notes on for a different reason. One of my favorite things about this project of going through the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums List are the connections you make that you don’t expect. “5 8 6” could have been on #261, the Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head, and “Ultraviolence” reminded me of U2 — Sumner even sounds like Bono.
Speaking of Sumner, I found that his voice was so pleasant to listen to. “Your Silent Face” shows off his even timbre and subtle emotive ticks, like when he says You caught me at the right time/So why don’t you piss off? And “Leave Me Alone,” the album closer, features just enough whininess for it to work. It’s a great closer, too. Those timeless guitars. Even the very first time I played this record, I knew when it was about to end.
Power, Corruption & Lies is definitely more fun than your average Eurodance record (Kraftwerk certainly spends some time in the darkness) but when they slow down, they’re a little intolerable. “We All Stand” was especially a bummer because I tried running to it. Three miles to go/At the end of the road/There’s a soldier waiting for me. That was not motivating.
Joy Division is a depressing band, and maybe that had something to do with their brilliant, enigmatic frontman. New Order is something different, something new (har dee har har). I appreciate the fact that they went to the trouble of changing their name, of refusing to walk in Curtis’ shadow, or besmirch his memory by taking his band into a radically different direction simply because he’s no longer around.