5. “Leave Me Alone” – Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)
Power, Corruption & Lies has been rightly celebrated as the album on which New Order broke into its trademark synth-driven sound, but many of the record’s highlights come when the band hews more closely to the classic guitar/bass/drums formation. The penultimate track on Power, “Leave Me Alone” may be the prettiest ballad in the New Order catalog. Sumner’s wandering guitar riff evokes a quiet restlessness, as do his lyrical references to the strange feelings of disconnection one often experiences in crowded places. He doesn’t get much credit as a groundbreaking guitarist, which is fair enough; Sumner’s playing doesn’t wow with fleet-fingered pyrotechnics, but the man knows better than most anyone the value of economy. You could call his style minimalist, and “Leave Me Alone” proves that you don’t need to be showy to really dig at the heart.
4. “The Perfect Kiss” – Low-Life (1985)
“The Perfect Kiss” is the perfect ambassador for the 1980s: layers of clattering drum machines, spiky space-age synths, wonderfully tinny keyboard tones. The same things that make the song sound dated also give it its magnetic pull. When the chorus hits — “I know / You know / We believe in a land of love” — all bets are off. Early in the band’s career, New Order visited New York City’s famous Funhouse disco. After the trip, the group felt newly convinced of dance music’s power to transcend its listeners’ worldly anxieties. “The Perfect Kiss” may be the band’s best testament to that belief.
3. “Age of Consent” – Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)
Peter Hook: MVP. The riff that opens and sustains “Age of Consent” has to be one of best in rock history — and it comes from an instrument usually relegated to the shadows at the back of the stage. Hook and drummer Stephen Morris lock into a groove that repeats, with slight variations, for the entirety of the track, and it’s still difficult not to hit repeat right when “Age of Consent” ends. In other words, repetition doesn’t have to be boring. Here, it’s positively thrilling. Music for bouncing through the ceiling or running through brick walls.
2. “Temptation” – 7″ single (1982)
“Temptation”, so much more than Movement, announced to the world that New Order was done with being Joy Division. That band never recorded anything nearly as unapologetically jovial as “Temptation”, a vision of pop songcraft designed to hit with maximum pleasure. “Up, down / Turn around / Please don’t let me hit the ground”, shouts a chorus of Sumners, inviting a kind of audience participation alien to the attitude of the distant, cold Joy Division. If Joy Division perfected music as personal stand-off, remote and evocative, New Order and “Temptation” give us music as release, the catharsis that comes after the pain.
1. “Ceremony” (1987 re-recording) – Substance 1987 (1987)
You hate to single out a band’s first song as its best, but what choice does “Ceremony” leave us? Yes, referees: “Ceremony” was written by Joy Division before Ian Curtis’s death. But New Order made the song its own, and all of the band’s DNA is here in utero: Stephen Morris’s steady, disco-inflected beat; Peter Hook’s iconoclastic, melody-centric bass playing; Bernard Sumner’s jagged, emotive guitar. A surprising brightness pervades the song, cracking through its atmosphere of tension; when Sumner’s guitar returns after the bridge for the final chorus, it brings a feeling of victory, a euphoric rush. The 1987 re-recording sounds more streamlined without losing the original’s vitality. Whichever version you prefer, “Ceremony’s” status as one of the greatest tracks of all time is assured.
+ + +
This article was originally published on 9 November 2011.