New Order's Movement turns thirty this Sunday
The debut album from New Order, 1981's Movement (which sees its 30th anniversary this Sunday, November 13, 2011), represents a turning point and a crossroads for the former members of the cult band Joy Division. Most bands do not survive the loss (or in this case, death) of a core songwriter. And so it would be reasonable to expect this to be the case with the suicide of Ian Curtis, whose lyrics contained a tortured wisdom beyond his 23 years. Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Peter Hook, nevertheless, decided to carry on after a suitable time spent mourning the loss of their friend. Initially, the group performed its first shows under the name New Order as a trio without a frontman. But by the time of the release of Movement, the group had brought on board Stephen Morris' girlfriend Gillian Gilbert as a keyboard and guitar player.
Movement sounds like a band teaching itself to create a new identity. Some songs, along with recordings done around the same time, point to a new sound while others contain the ghosts of Joy Division. It would prove to be the final album on which Joy Division's longtime producer, Martin Hannett, would work -- Michael Johnson engineered all the band's albums from 1983's Power, Corruption & Lies through Technique from 1989. In other words, the albums that truly made New Order a highly successful band in its own right with a distinct musical identity fully separate from Joy Division's iconic brooding, yet haunted, intensity.
In a 2009 interview for Drowned in Sound, Peter Hook commented on Movement at the time of the reissue of New Order's classic five 1980s albums saying, "Movement does sound painful, but I think because of Martin Hannett's production, and the songs, it does sound interesting. It's not the strongest, perhaps, but it is very interesting." He has a point: Movement sounds like a band struggling with its past trying to figure out a way to move forward with its present reality, driven by a need for establishing a creative identity to escape the shadow of past achievements.
In the early days of the band, New Order ended up re-recording two songs that were essentially part of the Joy Division repertoire with "Ceremony" and "In a Lonely Place" -- both of which are included on the bonus disc of the 2009 reissue as well as on the 1987 compilation Substance. Both songs included lyrics penned by Curtis, but the music, especially on "Ceremony," pointed to the beginnings of a new aesthetic. One that allowed New Order to write upbeat, poppy song with melancholic and often devastating lyrics. But also to write music that could be celebratory and capture of sense of nostalgia without crossing over into the maudlin.
The opening track, and one of the few sung by Peter Hook, "Dreams Never End," is classic New Order with the bouncy and sometimes driving bass line with a melodic sound and sonic definition. The following number, "Truth," could have been something on what might have been the third Joy Division album, and yet it includes the sound of a doleful melodica, an instrument that band would use to great effect on Low-life's "Love Vigillantes." Except here, it is decidedly downtempo and resigned. "Senses," too, sounds like something the band would have written had Joy Division continued, reminiscent of Closer's "Isolation." It's slower paced but urgent toward the end with Sumner's slashing guitars cutting through.
"Chosen Time" is the first fully crossover song of the bunch with bass driving the whole affair with insistent eighth notes carrying the tune before guitar comes in to give the song some edge -- a technique used extensively in the Joy Division catalog. Except that the tone of the song, and its clearly drawing inspiration from dance music of the era in its pacing, are completely different from what you would have heard in any Joy Division song. "ICB" and "The Him" clearly contain the artistic colorings of Curtis, despite being two of the most affecting songs on the record.
"Doubts Even Here," like the aforementioned "Chosen Time," is a crossover song except that its minimal synth use reminds one even more of a later Joy Division song. But there is no attempt to use the guitar to cut through with sonic savagery as might be the case with Joy Division. If anything, it's a bit of a dress rehearsal for "Your Silent Face." Album closer "Denial" reveals in all details clearly what New Order would do on its next album, Power, Corruption & Lies, with fully-integrating the synthesizer as a compositional instrument and the bass guitar as an atmospheric instrument as much as a carrier of melody.
Though this would be Martin Hannett's last album with the band, his contribution to New Order's reinvention cannot be discounted. According to Ian Harrison's liner notes for the Movement reissue, "On Movement he was to bridge the gap between what had been and what was in the process of becoming." Hannett's production on the Joy Division albums changed the way discerning listeners experience music and as the producer on this album, he left his undeniably able imprint on its sound. What he also helped to do was aid New Order in creating a new sound and forging ahead with the kind of songwriting that ensured the new band would be able to crawl out from under the shadow of the old project.
New Order could have just tried to keep Joy Division going without Curtis, but the guys had the good grace to try to do something else. Movement can be seen as Sumner's, Morris' and Hook's honoring their past while looking ahead and struggling to create something they could call their own that was assuredly not the same as what they had already done with Joy Division. The melodic bass leads and angular, stark guitar work alongside Morris' powerful yet steady beats remained, as the three just used those elements in new ways firmly in place by the time of Power, Corruption & Lies two years later.
Movement may, in some ways, be an act of artistic mourning. But it also proved that a new band was emerging from the ashes of Joy Division, one with much more clear commercial appeal in a way that meant that once again these people could continue to do things their own way without compromise to a duller vision. It didn't have the same impact as "Blue Monday" on music in general, but in the eyes of some fans, Movement is classic New Order, precisely because it dared to be a transitional album, rather than a reactionary refutation of the past.
The band's future history contained plenty of melodrama, and so did the reason for its birth, but its debut album is a paradoxically uncompromising musical compromise. New Order's best music has always been about paradox, as an art band with dance music ambitions, a band whose lyrics contain an emotional intensity but expressed with utterly beautiful and melancholic yet uplifting compositions. Movement put New Order on that trajectory and should be held up as among the band's finest because of that.
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