100 Best Albums of the Eighties

From synth pop and rap to metal and funk, 100 best albums of the Eighties selected by the editors of Rolling Stone

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New Order, 'Power, Corruption & Lies'

94. New Order, 'Power, Corruption & Lies'

When New Order began recording its second album, Power, Corruption & Lies — a landmark album of danceable, post-punk music — late in 1982, it wasn't a band but a mere shadow of Joy Division. Ian Curtis, the Manchester group's singer and songwriter, had hanged himself in May 1980. The remaining members — guitarist Bernard Albrecht, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris — had taken a new name, added Gillian Gilbert on guitar and keyboards and gone back into the studio with Joy Division producer Martin Hannett.

Movement, New Order's 1981 debut, "owed more to Joy Division than to New Order," Stephen Morris says. The album was recorded "in a situation of complete turmoil," according to Albrecht, the band's reluctant new singer and lyricist. "We were all wondering what to do next." New Order followed Movement with a few singles, including "Temptation," a transitional song that incorporated a solid dance beat.

On Power, Corruption & Lies — originally released by the British Factory Records in 1983 and reissued in this country on Qwest/Warner Bros. two years later — the band members produced themselves, upgrading from home-built synthesizers and sequencers to state-of-the-art models in the process. "We got the machines two weeks before we went into the studio, and we didn't really know how to work them," Morris says.

"Blue Monday," the first single from those sessions, was "an exercise in learning how to use sequencers," says Morris. "We were trying to create a sort of Frankenstein-monster song, where you just press a button and the song comes out." Released in March 1983, "Blue Monday" is one of the best-selling twelve-inch singles in British history. (It was later included on cassette and CD versions of Power, Corruption & Lies but not the LP.)

The band's struggle with technology helped give Power, Corruption & Lies its defining tone, which Morris describes as "fragile and wintery." As is the band's custom, the album's cryptic song titles were added only at the last minute. "Ultraviolence" was a term from A Clockwork Orange. The title Power, Corruption & Lies, Morris says, came "off the back of a George Orwell book." Peter Savile's cover design shows only a cropped reproduction of Roses, by Henri Fantin-Latour, a French impressionist, with no mention of the album title or band name.

A piece tentatively called "KWI" — as in "that Kraftwerk one" — became "Your Silent Face," which offered the first glimpse of New Order's skewed sense of humor. "You've caught me at a bad time," Albrecht sings quietly. "So why don't you piss off." Says Morris, "It was a very majestic piece, and we thought, 'Ah, it's getting too serious.'"

After six weeks in the studio, New Order went on tour. "We'd recorded these songs but didn't know how to play them," says Morris. "The first night, there was a resounding silence to every song. People just stood there. A lot of hard-core Joy Division fans wondered what we were up to. But fortunately, we started creating New Order songs."

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