Review Summary: A phoenix coated in ashes…
By the mid-eighties, New Order were champions of their field. Their unique and highly influential blend of electronic and organic indie pop made them darlings of the music press, while their sharply-constructed moody anthems allowed them to enjoy commercial success whilst remaining utterly credible. But before ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘True Faith’ stormed the charts, the band was a markedly different sounding outfit. New Order’s first LP, Movement
, bares witness to this difference.
The sepulchral tones of the album’s 8 tracks might come as a surprise at first, but begin to make sense with the aid of a little history lesson. Movement
was released in 1981, little over a year after the suicide of Ian Curtis; the frontman and lyricist of the group’s former incarnation, Joy Division. With Curtis’ bleak poetic outlook, ominous baritone vocals and troubled personal life, Joy Division soon became a band whose sound reflected the traits of its frontman. With Movement
, it seemed that old habits were most definitely hard to kick; but depending on your taste, the fact that New Order still hadn’t shed their gloomy past is either a major selling point or major hindrance to enjoyment.
That’s not to say that the band hadn’t evolved however, as Movement
had enough fresh elements to make it a noticeably different beast to its predecessors. Most markedly, the band had shifted from a guitar-driven rock sound to a more atmospheric, electronic approach. The growing use of moody synthesisers and propulsive bass rhythms, in addition to the switch from prominent lead work to that of sparse twangs, and snappy electronic drums, ensure Movement
deserves to be labelled at least a step forward in terms of change, if not quite a great leap.
The tone of Movement
is more in line with that of its morbid predecessors than later New Order albums, with Martin Hannett’s ghostly production and the band’s downtrodden style blending together much like they did a year previous. Only this time things wound up less effective; Movement
ultimately sounding like ‘Joy Division-lite’, in a sense. The musical end is certainly effective in providing a backdrop to the procession-like aura, but the crucial human touch that takes such moods to the next level – the vocals and lyrics in other words – are sadly lacking. The rotating vocal spots does little to change things, as Sumner and Hook sound muffled and almost reluctant to emote each time they appear. The lyrics may have had more impact if the singing had a greater presence, but as it stands, they read like a hollow recreation of Curtis’ tormented poetry.
is definitely an album of mixed tastes and contradictions, then. A few steps are taken forward in the evolution of Sumner, Hook and Morris into an order new, with the shift to electronics, but elsewhere, New Order still had one foot stuck in the grave. Perhaps Movement
was their way of mourning, but their unsuccessful attempts at filling Curtis’ shoes in the vocals and song-writing departments held the album back a considerable amount. New Order just hadn’t found their place yet – Sumner’s vocals and lyrics were yet to become individualised, the bouncy electro/alternative rock hybrid was yet to evolve, and the band members themselves weren’t ready to move on in spirit, even if they were in mind. Movement
ends up being a poor representation of New Order on the one hand, but does a sturdy and accomplished job of continuing on the sound of Joy Division on the other, and as such, remains a divisive and crucial album in the band’s catalogue.