Feb 22, 2023
By Lee Campbell
In his 2020 autobiography Fast Forward, New Order drummer Stephen Morris reflected on 1985: “Even if we didn’t realize it at the time, we were somewhere near the top of our game.” Following 1983’s Power, Corruption & Lies, Low-Life was New Order’s third album. It was recorded at Jam Studios in London and released in May 1985. The record has a rich texture to it and an edgy energy from a group that is tightly knit, approaching a peak of musicianship and experimentation. It advances their journey as a group that was then as comfortable with a rock output as they were with the meshing of guitars and synthesizers or samplers on iconic tracks that would fill the underground dance clubs across America and Europe.
This definitive edition’s look and feel is on a par with the quality of the music underneath. The set comprises a wonderful, hard-back, 48-page book written by Jude Rogers; the vinyl and CD-versions (complete with Peter Saville’s tracing paper outer treatment and his attempt to “demystify” the band with portraits of all four members for the first time), a CD of “Extras,” and two DVDs, containing mainly live footage from the accompanying tours during 1985.
Let’s get to the meat of the collection first. The eight-song record is intact with its original tracklisting. “Love Vigilantes” opens the album. With the Falklands War between the UK and Argentina in the not too distant rearview mirror of lead singer and lyricist Bernard Sumner, this was an anti-war song of sorts. A stunning table-setter.
At the time, the band were beginning to come around, albeit quite reluctantly by the sound of it, to the idea of promoting a record. As a result, one of the LP’s most popular tracks, “The Perfect Kiss,” featured the edited, “single” version of the song, a mere taster for the full 12-inch version. Thankfully, the frog noise samples at the back end of the song are retained on the album edit.
The final track on the first side of the album, “Sunrise,” remains as mesmerizing as the first time it was released. Peter Hook’s initial riff sets the pace with the drumming of Stephen Morris soon going into hyperdrive speed. It is a perfect clash of the remnants of Joy Division, early New Order, and a band now beginning to come into their own. Sumner’s high-pitched, angst-ridden lyrics are made for this moment.
It seems like a fitting idea that the track “Elegia” was a dedication to the late Ian Curtis. However the band has been quick to point out on a few occasions that this theory is a complete “myth.” They actually drew inspiration from Ennio Morricone’s For a Few Dollars More score for this track. In any case, it is a haunting and epic piece of music. The full-length version can be found on the 14-track bonus CD.
The DVDs (over three hours worth of footage) are an interesting snapshot of a live band that were so immersed in the technicality of the music delivery that any crowd interaction was limited and brief. The footage from the International Centre in Toronto is particularly raw, shot with what looks like a solitary camera. Sumner is sporting a rather disturbing, tight-fitting pair of 1985 shorts that would not have looked out of place on the Kids from Fame TV show. A dreadful choice of threads, but it was the 1980s after all. The Jonathan Demme directed “Perfect Kiss” video is also included on one of the DVDs. It is simple, bordering on awkward at times, but it seems to fit the vibe.
Low-Life went on to become New Order’s first album to chart in America, reaching #94 on the Billboard 200 in June 1985. The stark, chiseled, minimalism of the sleeve design is perfectly matched to its sonic contents. The creativity and power displayed on this record are on another planet. It is one of the best and most complete and cohesive New Order records ever produced. (www.neworder.com)
Author rating: 9/10
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