New Order – Low-Life (1985): Review


Produced by New Order
Label – Factory

“Low-Life” was the deliberate statement that made sure every listener was aware that there would never be a re-incarnation of the Joy Division shadowy post punk past. As if to further relieve New Order of the ghostly presence of Ian Curtis on their previous records, Peter Saville’s radical album art is the first to show each member of the band, as if to offer a new visual identification to justify the seismic musical changes that were taking place. Their ambition to execute the transformation would earn critical respect, and the shackles of their past would be replaced by an invigorated dance rock sound that would eventually lead them to the sun drenched beaches of Ibiza for 1989s “Technique”. The new sound was more confident, less understated, and steered towards a greater pop sensibility that had first been evident on “Blue Monday” two years previously. “Power, Corruption And Lies” from that same year had seen the first steps to a true identity, but with exception to the haunting instrumental “Elegia” (assumed to be a final tribute to Curtis), “Low-Life” sees ambition and a clear vision, ushered in by the whip cracking snares and melodica rush that introduce “Love Vigilantes”. It’s obvious that the band learned a great deal from their work with New York producer Arthur Baker, and the upfront, harder rhythms owe much to his influence.


Barney Summers clipped, chopping guitars play out their own rhythm perfectly, particularly on the Velvet Underground styled art rocker “Sunrise”, and although his higher pitched vocal is at times strained, at least he attempts to resist the urge to slip into the doleful lower register tones that only Curtis could deliver effectively. Peter Hook’s swooping basslines dominate as ever, whilst Gillian Gilbert’s synth and programmed sequencer additions are authentic, highly melodic, and surprisingly warmer than they should be. It’s difficult to single out any individual highlights as there’s a consistency throughout, but the truncated version of “The Perfect Kiss” sets the bar, and the startling stylistic change from the crunching “Sunrise” to the languid “Elegia” exemplifies a band unafraid to completely change aural atmospherics in a switch. The former has the urgent energy of a band bursting from fearless, determined ambitions and the latter has the mysterious yet grand themes that hint a probable theme to a dark psychological thriller.

The quality of songs, performance and arrangements are powerful, but the diversity of the material is the revelation. New Order had set their own agenda, and “Low-Life” is the blueprint for everything that followed.


Track Rating
1 – Love Vigilantes (8)
2 – The Perfect Kiss (8)
3 – This Time Of Night (8)
4 – Sunrise (9)
5 – Elegia (8)
6 – Sooner Than You Think (7)
7 – Sub-culture (7)
8 – Face Up (8)

2 responses to “New Order – Low-Life (1985): Review

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