Thirty years ago today, it was the early 1980s. Something about hair and shoulder pads – you can pick whatever stereotypes you need to transport yourself back there. And New Order had just come back with their second album Power, Corruption and Lies.
By 1983, they had pretty much shaken the shadows of Joy Division, and were much more clearly a band in their own right. They hadn’t actually managed any hits yet – the debut album only reached number 30, and the biggest single to date had been the previous year’s Temptation. But things very much changed with this album.
While much of its predecessor Movement was tempered by the tragic end of Joy Division, their second album saw New Order taking a much more electronic, and at times even more experimental direction. They may not have quite been up to, say, hits of Blue Monday‘s calibre, but they were clearly starting to work out what it was they were doing.
The first track is Age of Consent – rhythmic and throbbing, if perhaps a little dull and overlong. Bernard Sumner‘s vocal is, as it so often is, a little weak, and his lyrics somewhat poor, but it’s still rather charming. We All Stand follows, and again you wonder if Sumner’s early attempts at vocal acrobatics might have been better saved for their live performances, which I’m sure were particularly captivating at this stage.
As with their debut, the album has an unusual gimmick, in that none of the tracks were singles – until the 1997 CD release of Video 586 at least. The Village might have been one of the more appropriate standalone releases, although it does contain one of Sumner’s worst lyrics on record (“Our love is like the flowers / The rain and the sea and the hours” – you have to wonder slightly how he ever thought that was an acceptable rhyme).
The experimental semi-instrumental 5 8 6 follows, bringing Side A to a close, and sounding not unlike a partly finished version of Blue Monday, and clearly using many of the same sounds, but lacking the general moodiness and atmosphere.
As with every one of New Order‘s releases, the artwork is worthy of a special mention – Peter Saville‘s flower imagery was so iconic that it was picked by the Royal Mail in the UK for a 2010 stamp.
The best track on the album is Your Silent Face, somewhat slower and more plodding than some of the other tracks, but also rather more powerful and full of atmosphere. The rest of the album is pleasant but generally unremarkable – Ultraviolence has a bit of oomph but fails to blow you away. Ecstasy has a fun bluesy synth riff to back it up but is largely instrumental and a little lacking in the melody department. Finally Leave Me Alone is a little more meaningful, but really lacks a strong vocal hook. I want to believe that the reason for the lack of singles was artistic, but you have to wonder slightly whether there just weren’t any candidates on there.
But others have disagreed – Slant Magazine in 2012 named it as the 23rd best album of the 1980s, a couple of places higher even than the eternally perfect Computer World, so maybe I really am missing something fundamental here. Or maybe not.
Whatever you feel about it, Power, Corruption and Lies is very clearly an early New Order album, a world away from even the next album Low-Life (1985). It shows a lot of promise, but is also very naïve at times. Of course, it was a matter of months later that Blue Monday was released, and things would never be the same again.
Buy Power, Corruption and Lies on iTunes (or the collector’s edition from elsewhere) and you’ll also get a whole package of extra tracks from the singles of the era, including Blue Monday and others. See here. And whether you agree or disagree with this week’s review, I suspect you’ll also be interested in next week’s.