New Order – Brotherhood

This week sees the thirtieth anniversary of New Order‘s fourth album Brotherhood. The first side, famously the guitar-based half of the album, doesn’t include any singles, opening with Paradise (you would probably remember the sha-la-la-la-la chorus). It’s pretty good, although after Low-Life (1985) it might have come as a bit of a surprise.

Other tracks are less impressive – Weirdo is, bluntly, pretty awful, and As it is When it Was could probably have benefited from a little more work too. By the time Broken Promise comes on, your expectations will have dropped very low. Honestly, most of the tracks aren’t too bad – they’re just a lot more average than you might have come to expect from New Order.

So by the end of Way of Life, you find yourself halfway through a New Order album, but with very little to say about it. Hopefully the second side has something more to show for itself.

Well, of course it does. Opening this half of the album is the exquisite Bizarre Love Triangle. Is it the catchy chorus, with its brilliant vocoder line, or the huge eighties drums and pads? There’s just something about this that sounds entirely unique.

I suppose you can’t really criticise New Order for hiding this at the start of the second side rather than having it right at the top, as there’s nothing really wrong with that, but to have something this good after the last few tracks does make the whole thing seem a bit disjointed.

The next of the synth-based pieces is All Day Long, an understated song with some slightly daft lyrics about economics and a very long instrumental section. It’s pleasant – very pleasant, actually, but probably not worthy of being released as a single. The same is true for Angel Dust, for the most part a huge and masterful jam, which is entirely nice, but would have achieved little on its own.

The laughing vocal of Every Little Counts could have easily meant the whole track was a silly in-joke, but it actually works rather nicely, with its daft experimental instrumentation. Quite how they came up with this track is probably an article in itself, but somehow as a closer on a relatively mediocre album, this is actually rather good.

Some versions add State of the Nation on the end, even though it wasn’t there originally. Whether or not it belongs there is a matter of some debate which we’ll ignore for now. Ultimately, the verdict for Brotherhood has to be that New Order probably should have tried harder – the energy that went into Bizarre Love Triangle shines through, but the rest of the album struggles to make any sort of impact. Good, definitely, but perhaps not quite good enough.

As always with New Order‘s albums, it’s unclear which the right version to get is. I’d recommend the double CD reissue, but the original release suffered from dodgy mastering, so tread with care.

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