“Blue Monday” is a blessing and a curse for New Order. It is the song that made them famous, but is also a song that was merely part of a learning process that started after the band released its debut album, Movement. The fact that a lot of rock bands use synths and drum machines today underscores how radical “Blue Monday” was: It was the sound of a band consciously deciding to put down the guitars and stop recording beautiful, somber, guitar-based masterpieces and picking up the newish tools of dance-floor pioneers, turning the drum machines to “glacial,” and hoping they could move asses.
“Blue Monday” was a precursor of sorts to New Order’s near-perfect career highlight, 1983’s Power, Corruption and Lies (released as a double-disc special edition with “Blue Monday” and other singles). Where the band’s debut LP, Movement, seemed like a comment and minor expansion on the band’s palette as Joy Division, Power was when the band finally allowed itself the latitude to try new things. There would be songs that recalled the best of both worlds (like the unimpeachable opener “Age of Consent” and closer “Leave Me Alone”) but Power was driven by the band’s open embrace of all that dance music had to offer.
The specter of dance music hangs heavily on Power, primarily through drummer Stephen Morris (who had mostly been relegated to a machine-like precision beforehand) being recast as a drum programmer specializing in frigidly cold dance beats to layer underneath the predominantly synth-heavy instrumentation. “The Village” is like “Blue Monday” recast as a love song, “Your Silent Face” features synths that serve as clarion bells (they sound like an army of trumpets) over a plucky drum beat, and “5 8 6” begins with a percussive expositional piece that recalls Movement, but explodes with glee at the two-minute mark with a propulsive dance beat. “Ultraviolence” and “Ecstasy” are the album’s most winking nods to the New York club music the band was listening to while working on Power: The former has sparse vocals that repeat themselves way beneath the groovy mix, and the latter features no vocals (beyond a robotic voice saying indeterminable words and “ecstasy”), over a wildly bouncy mix.
New Order would get better at dance music and blending in electronic instrumentation on latter releases, but Power, Corruption and Lies caught the band at its most optimistic and daring. Emboldened by the option of doing dance rock, New Order recorded their best album, setting the template for many, many dance-rock hybrids to come.
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