New Order

Looking back it’s almost hard to believe.

Three members of the quintessential post-punk band choose to carry on after the suicide of their lead singer and bandleader only to become dancefloor innovators, stumbling into exponentially greater fame and success, finding their way to arenas, FIFA theme songs, and everywhere in between.

To many, Joy Division was Ian Curtis. Upon his death in 1980, it made a certain kind of sense to lay Joy Division to rest as well, despite the fact the band was ending as their (hugely influential, impossibly important) second album was set for release, literally on the eve of their first American tour. Clearly there was unfinished business. Only two months later, surviving bandmates Bernard Sumner (guitar), Peter Hook (bass), and Stephen Morris (drums) reconvened on stage at Manchester’s Beach Club. The unnamed trio would become New Order.

The choice of name is telling. Despite an obvious surface similarity in sound, New Order were quick to step away from Joy Division’s abrasive minimalism. Incorporating new sounds and new ideas, New Order embraced the technology of the times — drum machines, samplers, sequencers, synths, and arpeggiators — and took cues from the burgeoning world of electronic dance before gradually learning to write pop songs. Post-punk, synth-pop, and dance music were nothing new at the time: New Order broke the mold by combining all three, striking a balance between sequenced compositions and those of an actual band playing actual instruments. Even at their most electronic, the songs feel organic.

Where Joy Division records were occasionally sloppy and frequently noisy, New Order presented a polished package every time. Bernard Sumner’s laconic guitar playing became even sparser than before, often conceding the melodic role to Peter Hook’s bass, operating as more of a rhythm instrument. And Peter Hook’s bass playing is something all its own. For a band that openly embraced ambiguity and seemed to take pride in depersonalization (they rarely did interviews in the ’80s, and their Peter Saville-designed album artwork was often unlabelled), Hook’s bass provided the single loudest “voice” in the band: driving and immediately recognizable, consistently moody but expressive.

It’s easy to look at New Order as a singles band — the singles are massive, domineering things (I’m sitting here at my desk trying NOT to chair-dance to “State Of The Nation” as I type this) — but ignoring the twists and turns of the often-brilliant studio albums would paint an incomplete picture. Listening to the early classic, Power, Corruption & Lies, straight through shows an entirely different band than you see on the original singles comp, Substance 1987. And that’s half the fun with New Order — they’re nothing if not adaptable to your needs. With a new album out just this week — their first in eight years, a continuation of Waiting for the Sirens’ Call titled Lost Sirens — now’s as good a time as any to revisit the best songs of their career.

10. “Crystal” (from Get Ready, 2001)

New Order’s comeback single off their (much-needed) comeback album had no business being this good. Coming eight years after their last studio album (1993′s Republic), Get Ready recast the band as something they’d never been: a rock band. Big beat, guitar-driven Britpop from a band known for post-punk and dance tracks? It didn’t feel in line with the times, and it didn’t feel much like the New Order we knew; rather, it was an album-length expansion of their last big hit, “Regret.” But they rose to the occasion, pairing confidence of execution with head-on hooks, and it was good. The strongest song from a collection of strong songs, “Crystal” is all thrust and propulsion; the kind of song meant for a late-night autobahn run as much a late-night roll in the hay. I like to think they got the idea for sexy-lady vocals from the likeminded late-career reinvention of “Come Undone,” but that might be a stretch.

9. “Dreams Never End” (from Movement, 1981)

It’s a little spooky when the vocals kick in on this one: that’s Peter Hook taking a rare vocal turn, doing an uncanny impersonation of his old Joy Division bandleader. New Order frequently deride their first album as undeveloped, but several songs are straight-up classics — this one in particular. Where the earliest singles sounded almost exactly like Joy Division with nondescript vocals (see: “Ceremony”; it’s still great), here the band took the first steps toward finding its voice. When the song finally kicks in around the minute-mark, we realize this is something new: there’s a spring in their step; the guitars chime and bloom in a way Joy Division simply refused to. The vocals might sound gloomy on first blush, but the song is about life rather than death — it’s a sendoff to the old and a declaration of intent for the new. The title is self-referential: In the old Joy Division track “Insight,” Ian sang, “Guess your dreams always end.” Not so for New Order.

8. “Elegia” (from Low-Life, 1985)

Smack-dab in the middle of New Order’s best album, they went and threw us a knuckleball: “Elegia” is the only dirge they’d ever write. It’s also fully instrumental. The version appearing on Low-Life is just a five-minute snippet of a much longer work — the full version clocks in at an eye-watering 17 and a half minutes — meant to be the definitive tribute to the gone-but-strangely-present Ian Curtis. Like an instrumental “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” played in a rainy cemetery. The massive 17-minute version builds to a guitar freakout noisier than anything they would ever do before or since, a rare cathartic release for a band built on dance beats and simple emotions: It’s a glorious thing to behold.

7. “Regret” (from Republic, 1993)

New Order have a habit of putting their best foot forward — the strongest song (and in many cases the biggest single) tends to be the first song on a given album. “Dreams Never End” on Movement; “Age of Consent” on Power, Corruption & Lies; “Fine Time” on Technique; even “Crystal” on Get Ready. Republic follows suit, slotting “Regret” in pole position; the track easily mops the floor with everything that would follow, which mostly felt like lazy club jams you’d hear in the bathroom of a nightclub in Ibiza (was it any surprise Peter Hook named his side project Monaco?). But a closer look reveals an interesting shift in band dynamics as it unfolds: The meticulous rhythm arrangements of days past are efficiently swapped for stripped-down stock beats, which forces the guitar and vocal to the forefront. Suddenly it’s the Bernard Sumner show, even as Peter Hook’s bass lead proves a perfectly subtle counterpoint to one of Sumner’s strongest choruses. Change was afoot in the New Order camp, as we’d see on Get Ready and later releases.

6. “Temptation” (single, 1982)

And this is where it all started, where the New Order we know and love found its voice and broke out in song (and, for the first time, dance). Movement and the earlier singles were pretty gloomy, carrying the pallor of later Joy Division into the newer project, even as a glimmer light began to creep in around the edges. “Temptation” drew back the curtain and let that light flood in: Suddenly this was dance music, this was uptempo, and check out that chorus! Who knew Bernard Sumner could step it up and bust out a doe-eyed romantic gem of this caliber? “Oh, you’ve got green eyes. Oh, you’ve got blue eyes. Oh, you’ve grey eyes. And I’ve never seen anyone quite like you before.” Simple and naïve but breathless in its excitement, it’s the perfect makeout soundtrack for the awkward kids of any age, in any era.

5. “Blue Monday” (single, 1983)

Backwards, forwards, inside out: You’d recognize this song in your sleep, it’s so overplayed. It’s a shame in a way: I bet most folks assume this is the New Order sound. The most stereotypical “’80s” sounding thing they ever did, the vocals come off uncharacteristically cold, at least compared to the other hits. It’s in keeping with the darker tone of the earliest stuff, it just happens to be catchy — the bass and rhythm programming could easily pass as something from one of their synthier contemporaries (Human League, OMD, whoever). Yet it’s a bona fide hit: Supposedly “Blue Monday” is the top-selling 12″ single of all time — meaning disc jockeys ate this up, with good reason. “How does it feel?” Those four words cut the air like a frozen knife. Listening to the entire song — all seven and a half robotic minutes — the genius of the arrangement shines through: The synthetic bass line almost imperceptibly pushes and pulls against the beat, making a mostly static rhythm feel propulsive, and the drum fill is more memorable than any single melody — no small feat. Hell, even Orgy couldn’t ruin it.

4. “True Faith” (single, 1987)

For a band so reliant on imaginative rhythm programming and complex variations of simple bits and pieces, it’s funny to see one of their most accomplished tracks laid out so simplistically. The drums do one thing: stomp. The synth bass rolls right along, locked in the same bouncing-ball pattern forever. There’s hardly any flash on display: everything in service to everything else, all bowing to the simplicity of the song itself. Even Peter Hook, who shows up for his usual lead-bass acrobatics, is relatively restrained, in part due to the density of the mix. So it falls to the vocal to keep our attention — what we get is Bernard Sumner singing simply, plainly, effortlessly, somehow delivering some of the strongest lyrics of his career inside one of the band’s very best songs. Verses and pre-choruses bleed together — even the chorus hits before we realize it — but it’s fucking perfect, so who cares? We bounce to the beat, the melody leads the way, we all win. Don’t be misled by the title; this is a drug song if ever there was one.

3. “Age Of Consent” (from Power, Corruption, & Lies, 1983)

When you write a bass line this good you better believe it’s gonna get played through the whole goddamn song. Sure, Peter Hook mixes it up (a hair) once the vocals kick in, but “Age Of Consent” is essentially one perfect bass part played for five minutes. Again, proving the “best track first” rule on Power, Corruption, & Lies, “Age of Consent” presents a perfect opportunity for the rest of the band to vamp while Hook and drummer Stephen Morris hold it all down. Bernard Sumner cuts loose with gentle, meandering solos offset by jagged rhythm guitars, all while relating a plaintive tale of a relationship gone south. Keyboardist Gillian Gilbert occasionally pulls up a synth patch that feels strangely like the synth from “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, lending “Age Of Consent” the weight and consequence to stand tall in the shadow of its untouchable forebear. It’s wistful, it’s playful, and it’s just this side of perfect.

2. “Bizarre Love Triangle” (from Brotherhood, 1986)

Where “Blue Monday” tidily steals the crown of best known and most recognizable New Order song, it’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” that really ought to reign supreme. You get everything you want and nothing you don’t: Peter Hook’s sinuous bass paired with Bernard Sumner’s sharpest lyric, and vibrant synths set against a perfect dance backdrop. If someone asked you what New Order sounds like, you couldn’t choose a more definitive track than this, really. Funny thing: Just like “Blue Monday”, it’s a safe bet an entire generation (those of us weaned on Alternative Nation) learned this song by way of the coffee-shop murmurings of Frente! (the exclamation point and associated enthusiasm is theirs). Frente!’s rendition stripped “BLT” to its core lyric and replaced everything good about the arrangement with a nose ring and an acoustic guitar — that it doesn’t really suck is a testament to the unshakeable strength of the song itself.

1. “The Perfect Kiss” (from Low-Life, 1985)

For years I had no idea where the title came from, or what it meant. Ambiguous titles are a New Order staple; this one felt especially strange in light of the actual lyrics. Come to find out the version I knew (from the Low-Life album) had been cut practically in half. At a tidy 4:51, the album version excises several minutes of dance-floor aerobics as well as an entire verse’s worth of lyrics from the original 12″ cut*. The title actually appears in those chopped lyrics, changing the meaning of the song altogether: “My friend he took his final breath. Now I know the perfect kiss is the kiss of death.” Another song about Ian Curtis? Probably. Somehow it’s in this unsuspecting single that you find every facet of New Order rolled into a sprawling mini-suite that doubles as one of the best dance tracks of all time: what starts out like a lighthearted love song (the chorus goes: “I know, you know, we believe in a land of love”) turns into a brooding meditation on death. Each band member’s presence is felt intimately: Gillian’s keys dominate the majority of the tune; Bernard plinks along on his guitar, providing the funk you’d usually associate with a bass; speaking of bass, Peter Hook leads the melody the whole way through, and his explosive finale riff ranks as the best thing he’d ever play. Drummer Stephen Morris brings the humor that underlies so much of New Order’s catalog (see “Every Little Counts” with his addition of “synth frogs” over the bridge. It’s a long song, one that travels and takes you with it; in turns playful and dramatic, danceable and exhausting, it’s everything all at once, a perfect kiss and a little taste of death.

* “The Perfect Kiss” appeared in numerous versions over the years: the full 12″ vinyl version is 8:51 long, while the mislabeled version [accidentally omitting the word "The"] on Substance 1987 is edited to 8:02. The Jonathan Demme-directed music video features an entirely new recording of an alternate in-studio performance that lasts over 9 minutes, full of unglamorous close-ups that showcase the quiet concentration of each band member and a charmingly loose vocal from Bernard. As counterintuitive as it sounds, watching the band dispassionately tear through a song this massive while barely moving is both hilarious and surprisingly effective.

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Stream this countdown as a Spotify playlist here.

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Comments (87)
  1. no ceremony or in a lonely place? those should be 1 and 2.

  2. I kinda like “The Beach” better than “Blue Monday”

  3. I also feel like the entire Brotherhood album is vastly underrated in their discog.

  4. Ceremony not at #1 = list wrong.
    Ceremony not on list = list fail.

    • Since it was written by Joy Division I’m not complaining, but it is my favorite song recorded by New Order and I would have liked to see it on the list, but I understand why it was omitted.

  5. woozefa  |   Posted on Jan 25th, 2013 -10

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  6. Ceremony should at least be where Dreams Never End is, and Temptation should be higher. All great songs though.

    • For what it’s worth, I love Ceremony. It clocks in around 13 or on my expanded list, just under Sunrise and Shellshock. Personally, I’ve always found Dreams Never End to be the more satisfying song, despite the fact that it’s not nearly as popular and you’ve got Hooky singing in place of Bernard (some folks simply cannot abide the weird Ian-sounding vox). Just a personal preference in the end, and it was one of the harder cuts to make. Trimming these things to 10 songs is brutal!

      • Not ranking Ceremony in NO’s top 10 is outside the bounds of reasonable “personal preference”. Raises judgment issues. Its really not even close. This is the overwhelming consensus view of all informed NO obsessives.

        • I’m glad to see such a rowdy response for Ceremony! I had a feeling it would happen due to the controversy around that song in the first place. But I have to disagree about the ‘overwhelming consensus’. Ceremony is the most contentious NO song by a mile: there literally is no consensus. Sure, we all like it as a song, but there’s no prevailing narrative amongst fans regarding the song’s validity. A large contingent of fans still refuse to acknowledge it as anything more than a Joy Division cover, basically disavowing it from the NO catalog. It’s a great track worthy of discussion; in this case it was simply edged out by a handful of other great tracks.

          • “Ceremony” is probably my favorite New Order song. But I’ve only dabbled in New Order. And it’s not like “Ceremony” is a quintessential New Order song. It’d be a lot weirder if the list snubbed “Bizarre Love Triangle.” So I kinda appreciate this article pointing out six or seven New Order songs that I either haven’t heard before or listened to closely as a single song. Shit, it’s not like I need anybody to validate my opinion that “Ceremony” is awesome. On the other hand, I hadn’t even heard “Crystal” before tonight. So thanks, and well done sir.

  7. Nothing from Technique???

  8. Of course I know these songs, but it would’ve been nice to be able to listen to them while reading this. But that’s not possible, because the stupid folks at Spotify don’t give a damn about Canada. I understand that you use Spotify — I would if I could — but for now, I still prefer those good ol’ YouTube thingies…

  9. Ceremony should have been on here, duh, but the most egregious absence is Your Silent Face. Still though, pretty good list.

  10. Aside from the exclusion of “Ceremony” (which, as much as I am loathe to admit, I can understand because of all the arguing that song can bring on) I would say this list is pretty much rock solid. I do feel a track or two from Technique should be on here, at least “Love Less.” Also some personal favorites were left off like “Leave Me Alone” but again, solid list.

  11. I appreciate the list, and also disagree with the lack of Ceremony, but for me the best has gotta be either “Age of Consent” or “Temptation” cause those were the songs that made me fall in love with them

  12. Pretty good list- I actually agree with #1. But Ceremony should definitely be here. I’d cut Crystal to make room for it and cut Elegia in favor of Your Silent Face.

  13. I don’t know much about New Order, but I can say with certitude that Orgy’s cover of “Blue Monday” is vastly superior to Limp Bizkit’s cover of “Faith,” and certainly a big step up from Coal Chamber’s cover of “Shock the Monkey.” Fear Factory’s cover of “Cars” almost gives it a run for its money, though.

  14. It’s bullshit without “Leave Me Alone” or “Procession,” their two best songs (not necessarily in that order).

  15. I was preparing for the worst, but this list is fine. I would switch Temptation and Perfect Kiss, but that’s just me.

    And I know none deserve to be on this list, but I actually think there are some decent tracks on Waiting for the Sirens Call.

    • I was really disappointed with _Waiting for the Sirens’ Call_, the record. However, I’ll go to bat for “Waiting for the Sirens’ Call,” the song, until my dying day. Sublimely heartbreaking it is, and I think it could have made this list.

      • Agree, that song would be in my top 10, no question. The album has some stinkers but some other great tracks (e.g. Turn, Who’s Joe), although not in that class. It may be just me, but I’m partial to Run and As it is When it Was too. Most of Lost Sirens is decent if not exceptional, and I’ll Stay with You is a standout. Latter day NO still has its moments, even if it can’t top the 80s output….

  16. needs Everything’s Gone Green (and obviously Ceremony)

  17. Everything’s Gone Green?

  18. Sunrise always give be goosebumps. Far better song than Elegia from Low Life

  19. yup – perfect list. Bizarre and perfect kiss at the top is the way it must be. AXIOMATIC Y’AAAALLL

  20. Your Silent Face should be here if only for the opening line.

  21. Seriously? The band is freaking awesome. This list is lame.

  22. Looking to get into New Order, any good suggestions on where to start?

    • I don’t know, try just calling them up and asking if you can join? Maybe they’ll let you audition!

      Seriously though, you could almost start with anything they did in the ’80s. Substance is probably the perfect place to start, since it’s a good compilation that has many of their best songs (“Perfect Kiss,” “Ceremony,” “Temptation,” “True Faith,” “Bizarre Love Triangle”). “Age of Consent” is actually the song that got me into New Order, so that’s a good one to start with. I remember hearing it for the first time in the trailer for the movie Marie Antoinette, so I was a bit late getting into them I guess.

    • I think Power, Corruption & Lies is a great place to start. But Substance will get you quick access to most of their singles.

      Just make sure you listen to the full 7 minute version of “Bizarre Love Triangle” — don’t settle for the single edit.

      But there are more people here that know more about New Order than I do. Listen to them too.

  23. Alex Vermitsky  |   Posted on Jan 25th, 2013 0

    You guys should do best Jason Molina Albums.

  24. Good list for the most part. The glaring problem is the omission of Ceremony, which is not only the greatest New Order song, but one of if not the greatest song ever. I’d kill Crystal – not even close to the top 10 – and personally think Blue Monday is overrated (although hard to quibble with its historical importance). The rest are all legitimate contenders, although I would find room for Your Silent Face and We All Stand. Very psyched to see Elegia on here.

  25. I didn’t realize I liked Love Vigilantes more than just about everybody.

  26. Crystal should not be on a list of NO’s top ten, even though its a decent song for late era New Order. Age of Consent, Dreams Never End & Regret are good inclusions, but True Faith has always bored me a bit. I’d include album tracks like Face Up, All Day Long and Your Silent Face and at least one from Technique.

  27. I like “Paradise” , anyone?

    “586″?

  28. Another damn fine list., Mr. Lariviere. But what a shame that there wasn’t room for a ‘Technique’ cut.

  29. All good songs, but just to pile on:

    Fine Time is my favorite Technique cut
    I really love “Love Vigilantes”
    Perfect Kiss is a great song, but I’m not partial to it.
    Ceremony is masterful
    Everythings Gone Green
    My personal fave deep cut is “Mesh”
    Other tracks I dig: Face Up and Shellshock.

  30. I don’t believe in reincarnation because I refuse to come back as a bug or as a rabbit!

  31. Adding that the outro the the True Faith video, where they show Stephen on the drums and then cut to a bouncing crowd for about one second is about as existential a feeling for what I would hope every concert ever would be like. And why you gotta play some songs until the very end.

  32. Glad to see Crystal get some love, you could even make an argument for it going higher in my opinion.

    But no Leave Me Alone? For shame.

  33. CEREMONY ???!!!

  34. “Everything’s Gone Green” not on your list shows you know nothing about New Order. “Crystal” on here and no “Ceremony” ? Jesus, are you guys on crystal or the Warner Rhino payroll ?

  35. This list needs some Technique. But I do agree Low-Life is their best album.

  36. 1. “Ceremony”
    2. “Bizarre Love Triangle”
    3. “Temptation”
    4. “Leave Me Alone”
    5. “True Faith”
    6. “Regret”
    7. “Thieves Like Us”
    8. “Blue Monday”
    9. “Age of Consent”
    10. “Vanishing Point”

  37. i really don’t mind what order you put their songs in, NO remain the greatest band of all time for me.
    (i am partial to a bit of Fine Time, Run and All The Way from Technique tho…… and what happened to Love Vigilantes?)

  38. No “5 8 6″? Really?

  39. One of my favorite bands ever. It’s strange that Ceremony’s not here – it seems like one of the band’s truly definitive songs. Here what I’d add:

    Ceremony
    Your Silent Face
    The Village
    Leave Me Alone
    Love Vigilantes
    Everything’s Gone Green
    Hurt

    Also, Blue Monday should be #1 (True Faith over BM? Er, ok…). To me it’s just perfectly constructed, one of the best dance singles ever, from them or anyone else. There’s a story that Kraftwerk paid a visit to their studio after hearing it, trying to figure out how they put it together. It still gives me chills.

  40. “Ceremony” easily tops “Dreams Never End,” however great it may be.

    I would like to add that a Top 10 New Order list without “Your Silent Face” and/or “All Day Long” is an incomplete summary of the band. Those two songs are New Order masterpieces in the same way that “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Atmosphere” are Joy Division masterpieces. They’re completely out of the Joy Division shadow and they prove that New Order without all that Post-Punk baggage could still be profound. I’d rank them both up there at the top of any sad bastard dance music list.

  41. ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ was the first time they made dance music, not ‘Temptation’, and as seemingly everyone has pointed out it really should be on this list.

    Also I’m not sure if you realize that the name New Order has Nazi roots, just as “Joy Division” did. Only this time, as many pointed out at the time, this was a reference to the Nazis themselves, not their victims. It caused quite a bit of fuss back then.

  42. hey great read and list! so many people must have made out for the first time listening to “ceremony” or something. it’s a really great song but i can appreciate it’s omission. i tend to sway more towards the: “it’s a joy division song”, considering there are three recorded versions by Joy Division.

  43. Blue Monday is the greatest song of the 80s IMO.

  44. This is a pointless list.

    New Order’s 12 best songs are easily arrived at by taking disc one of Substance, subtracting ‘State of the Nation’, adding ‘Age of Consent.’ Blam-o. Prune 2 more (let’s say ‘Shellshock’ and ‘Subculture’) and -bing, bang, boom- there are your 10.

  45. Beck’s top ten was pretty much a joke but to do a New Order top 10 and not include ‘Ceremony’ is just looking for attention.

    Let me get this straight an artists’ ten best songs can’t be catchy?!?!?!

  46. THIEVES LIKE US

  47. where is ceremony…….:/

  48. This was actually a really good list.

  49. I prefer the older stuff (was buying their bootleg vinyl as far back as 1985) “everything’s gone green” should be on that list. I like “doubts even here” a lot but not god for a list like this.

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