New Order rose from the ashes of Joy Division in 1981, releasing their debut album Movement at the end of the year. The album was no work of cavalier folly – It was a record made under extreme duress.
Ian Curtis had died, and producer Martin Hannett was drugged beyond reason and asking the band to “make it more wooden . . . more helium-like”. Still, the album topped the UK indie charts and made it into the regular Top 30.
The band’s desire to explore new electronic technology, and their immersion in Acid House culture, was becoming apparent in their music, most notably on an extended version of B-side Everything’s Gone Green and May 1982’s Top 30 single Temptation.
The group acquired their first sampler courtesy of their manager Rob Gretton.
In a London music shop featuring the latest synthesizer technology, the shop assistant demonstrated an emulator which could make a Harley Davidson sound. Gretton’s jaw dropped and he bought it on the spot.
Their support for the new club culture was evidenced by their joint ownership of Manchester’s Haçienda club, which was opened in Whitworth Street in May 1982 and went on to become the most famous dance music venue in England.
In 1983 Blue Monday became a fixture in the charts, becoming Britain’s biggest-selling 12 inch single ever. Meanwhile the album Power, Corruption and Lies went Top 5.
Their subsequent collaboration with “hot” New York hip-hop producer Arthur Baker spawned the anti-climactic Confusion (1983) and Thieves Like Us (1984).
Both singles continued their preference for the 12″ format, stretching in excess of six minutes, and stressing their lack of concern for the exposure gained by recording with mainstream radio in mind.
Low-Life appeared in 1985 and remains their most consistently appealing album to date. While the 12″ version of The Perfect Kiss was a magnificent single, showing the band at their most inspired and innovative, the collaboration with producer John Robie on the single version of Sub-Culture indicated that their tendency to experiment and “play around’ could also spell disaster.
Their next album, 1986’s Brotherhood (although containing strong tracks such as Bizarre Love Triangle), offered nothing unexpected. It was not until the UK Top 5 single True Faith in 1987 – produced and co-written by Stephen Hague hot on the heels of his success with the Pet Shop Boys, and accompanied by an award-winning Phillipe Decouffle video – that New Order found themselves satisfying long-term fans and general public alike. The following year Quincy Jones’ remix of Blue Monday provided the group with another Top 5 hit.
If the recycling of old songs and proposed “personal’ projects fuelled rumours of a split, then 1989″s UK #1 Technique promptly dispelled them. The album, recorded in Ibiza, contained upbeat bass dominated tracks that characterised the best of their early output.
Its most striking feature, however, was their flirtation with the popular Balearic style, as in the hit single Fine Time, which contained lines such as “I’ve met a lot of cool chicks but I’ve never met a girl with all her own teeth”, delivered in a voice that parodied Barry White‘s notoriously sexist, gravely vocals of the ’70s.
Meanwhile, the band had changed significantly as a live act. Their reputation for inconsistency and apathy, as well as their staunch refusal to play encores, was by now replaced with confident, crowd-pleasing hour-long sets.
In the summer of 1990, they reached the UK #1 position with World In Motion, accompanied by the England World Cup Squad, with a song that earned the questionable accolade of best football record of all time, and caused a band member to observe, “this is probably the last straw for Joy Division fans”.
Rather than exploiting their recent successes with endless tours, New Order unexpectedly branched out into various spin-off ventures: Hook formed the hard-rocking Revenge, Sumner joined former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr in Electronic and Morris/Gilbert recorded an album under the self-effacing title The Other Two.
The extra-curricular work prompted persistent rumours that New Order had irrevocably split, but no official announcement or press admission was forthcoming.
In the summer of 1991, the band announced that they had reconvened for a new album, to be produced by Stephen Hague, which was eventually released in 1993. Republic met with mixed reviews reflecting critical confusion about their status and direction.
While retaining the mix of rock and dance music successfully honed on Technique, the tone was decidedly more downbeat, even sombre. Sadly, it arrived too late to help the doomed Factory label.
Following a headlining appearance at that year’s Reading Festival, the band members returned to varied solo projects, with Hook forming the critically praised Monaco in 1996.
In 1998, after five years of silence, the four members reconvened for live appearances and to record new material. The first new track to appear, Brutal, was featured on the soundtrack of The Beach.
The band returned to the UK charts in August 2001 with the Top 10 single, Crystal. A new studio album, Get Ready, followed in October, although by now Gilbert had left the band to look after her sick child.