Happy 35th Anniversary to New Order’s second studio album Power, Corruption & Lies, originally released May 2, 1983.
Running concurrently to the frilly, baroque New Romantics, New Order’s austere, percussive music defined danceable post-punk for the 1980’s. Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris created the outfit after the suicide of their Joy Division bandmate Ian Curtis. While they had already begun to embrace the synthesized melodies of dance music coming from the United States, the formation of New Order was a catalyst for a movement, spreading beyond Manchester.
The artistic guidance of The Factory’s Peter Saville left an indelible mark on New Order, specifically the iconic album cover of Power, Corruption & Lies. The floral still life, a painting by Henri Fantin-Latour in London’s National Gallery, immediately comes to mind when hearing the opening chords of “Age of Consent.” Beyond the instantly recognizable album artwork, the meticulously curated style of New Order is an inimitable presence in music. They were the Rosetta Stone of translating dance music to the dark, industrial sounds dominating British radio.
The name of the album, taken from Gerhard Richter graffiti, hints at New Order’s general attitude towards the record industry. Bristling at the supposed necessity of albums and wanting to release perfect singles instead of strong tracks buried in filler, New Order put out their biggest song, “Blue Monday,” as a single at the same time Power, Corruption & Lies was released. The deliberate thumbing of their collective nose led to stickers on the cover of the album stating that “Blue Monday” was not included on this particular record.
The timeless opening riff of “Age of Consent” is a calling card. The synths are remarkably lush—a new sound in 1983. Baroque and playful guitars, rooted in punk, pair with kicky, relentless drums. It’s a bright masterpiece, promising more to come. “Won’t you please let me go?” is the first line of the album and a rally cry for the disenchanted.
Sliding guitar distortion and dark lyrics in “We All Stand” reminds you where they started. Peaks and valleys undulate throughout the album. As “We All Stand” dwindles, “The Village,” a joyous anthem, returns to the hyper upbeat drum kicks of “Age of Consent.” Both children of Kraftwerk, they bury motorik in guitars and bouncing bass.
“5-6-8” is a literal interpretation of early house music. It’s more restrained than the obvious disco of “Blue Monday,” but still a clear dance track. “Ecstasy” is another song with dance roots (the subject a deliberate nod to club culture), with Giorgio Moroder-esque warped vocals. The shared drum machine highlights the absence of New Order’s biggest hit. The omission of “Blue Monday,” released alongside Power, Corruption & Lies, sends a message of punk disobedience, an undercurrent rippling beneath the pop surface.
In between the darkness, “Your Silent Face” is optimistic. There is gentle levity amongst the thrumming bass and twinkling synths. “Leave Me Alone,” perhaps the most emo song title of all time (despite pre-dating the existence of the genre), ties it all back to Joy Division, quietly beautiful and achingly sad. Sumner gently pleads, “take me away everyone / when it hurts thou,” ending the album with the phrase, “leave me alone.”
For a band that originally grew out of tragedy, learning the mysteries of mixing boards and synthesizers became a fruitful coping mechanism. Movement, their first album, is the bridge between Joy Division and New Order. Power, Corruption & Lies is authentically New Order, fully leaning into the house sound and incorporating the stylish aesthetics that would become synonymous with the band.
The prominence of Power, Corruption & Lies looms so large that it obscures one of the finest elements of the album. The inscrutable rock critic Robert Christgau referred to Power, Corruption & Lies as “their nicest record ever,” a simple summation of its greatest strength. It’s a really nice record to listen to. Deservedly landing on the most “Best Albums of the ‘80s” lists, and consistently appearing in the rotation of albums of the trendiest circles, New Order’s reputation can sometimes overshadow the simple, elegant music they created their name with.