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Low-Life (1985)

Signing with Quincy Jones' black yuppie pop label Qwest may be New Order's idea of punk subversion, but it does make sense. The suicide of singer Ian Curtis in 1980 climaxed, quite literally, the band's former life as Joy Division – British rock's most exalted celebrants of doom. Without Curtis' eerie monastic howl, their attempts to graphically address and transcend adolescent trauma with stark heartbeat music had to end. Realigned as New Order – with additional member Gillian Gilbert on keyboards – they have successfully adapted that trauma to the dance floor, where their deviant fusion of black-funk rhythm tricks and English avant-punk has resulted in stunning club hits like "Temptation" and "Blue Monday."

Low-Life, the group's third album, caps its long, methodical glide into pop's mainstream. "Love Vigilantes" and "The Perfect Kiss" both take full advantage of the remix lessons New Order learned under Arthur Baker, who produced its 1984 single "Confusion." Steve Morris' acoustic and programmed drums engage in animated cross talk within which Peter Hook cuts out his own bass counterrhythm with a rubbery thwack. Over that frenzied rock-disco surge, Gilbert's statuesque keyboard swells and the pithy guitar melodies of Bernard Sumner brightly frame the vulnerable, boyish vocals of the band members.

New Order still has its dark moods. "Elegia" is a weighty Gothic instrumental, its somber glaze of Philip Glass-like keyboards ultimately pierced by Sumner's corrosive guitar. But even the heady rush of "Sunrise," reminiscent of Joy Division's fierce 1979 single "Transmission" in its angry momentum, ultimately reaches the same euphoric peak as radiant art-dance tracks like "Face-Up." On Low-Life, New Order has made the most of accessibility without compromising their past. It's a shame Ian Curtis did not live to see it. (RS 451)


Source: DAVID FRICKE (Rolling Stone Magazine)