Wednesday, 16 May 2018

New Order - Movement (1981)

Something or other had given me cause to wonder what those other New Order albums were like. It seemed strange that I'd never bought any of them, given how much I liked the first album. Then having a quick look on the racks I realised that actually I had bought a couple of them, specifically Power, Corruption and Lies and Technique, and with no idea as to how or when they came to be in my collection. I listened to Power, Corruption and Lies, and I already knew Age of Consent from somewhere, so the first side sounded familiar, and yet side two didn't for some reason. Otherwise, the best that can be said of Power, Corruption and Lies is that it sounds like a demo by one of those promising local bands featuring a bass player who clearly wanted to be Peter Hook, which was actually most local bands at the beginning of the eighties.

Technique was even worse, if marginally better produced, sounding like something you would hear played during the commercial for the new Nissan Micra. I'm not sure if New Order enjoy any sort of repute as the most boring band of all time, but they probably should do.

So where the fuck did it all go wrong?

I vividly recall the buzz surrounding Joy Division before I ever heard any of their music. Then one day my friend Graham got hold of Transmission, so I went around to his house for a listen.

It started off well.

'Is it an instrumental or something?' I asked after about a minute.

'Yes,' said Graham, straight-faced and enjoying my confusion.

'Radio… live transmission,' crooned the unusually deep voice at last, after what seemed like an absurdly lengthy introduction, then again, 'Radio… live transmission.'

'So there is singing,' I said happily.

'Yes, but that's it.'

'What? You mean that's the whole song, just those words?'

'Yes,' said Graham, trying not to laugh. 'That's the whole song.'

Obviously it wasn't, but the impression endured; and whilst I liked Joy Division enough to tape everything, even the bootlegs Graham occasionally got hold of, for some reason I never bought their records. At least, I had the singles, but not the albums. Curtis always sounded like a man doing a comedy deep voice, and it always seemed to get in the way; and I found Closer somehow empty and underwhelming, just nicely arranged marble statues not actually saying very much; and yes, Joy Divison were great, but…

Movement felt like the first proper Joy Division album to me, the one where they got it right - a perfect blend of pseudo-classical melancholia and the more wistful, cautiously uptempo moods which began to emerge on Closer, but were drowned out by a certain Orson Welles impersonator. Sumner's vocals are relatively weak but they suit the music better, at least on Movement, doing a job without ever dominating or upsetting the fine balance. Of course, it's terrible that it should have taken a death in the family to get them to this place, but then none of us are going to live forever, so it is what it is. For my money, Movement is magnificent and as such remains the greatest album made by any of those involved, not least Martin Hannett; and from now on I just won't think about what came after.

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