By the mid ’80s the church music I onced loved was almost a distant memory for me. After going off to college in a new city, I was left to my vices in a whole new world. Exploring new music was one of them. I’d been introduced to Joy Division thanks to college radio. The mopy drone of Ian Curtis had an immediate appeal to me, even though I could only get my hands on one album Closer. So when I found new friends and was introduced to new music, I never felt like the backwoods Southerner who had no ideal who Bauhaus or The Cure was. I might even have introduced something new to someone else.
I’d mentioned the phonoma of watching a band you love veer off into something you don’t love as much. New Order was one of those bands. Joy Division was still fresh in my head when I was introduced to New Order. For sometime I never realized that some of the earliest New Order music was not Joy Division. At first it combined much of what I liked about Joy Division with a growing bias towards electronics.
Back then there were only a few albums between the wonderful gloom of Joy Division and the careful line New Order towed between their legacy sound and a slowly emerging electronic one.
By Brotherhood their fourth studio album, it was clear that New Order was going through a transition if not completing it. With the classic line up still in place (Bernard Summer, Peter Hook, Steven Morris and Gillian Gilbert), the band was not too far removed from the guitar driven music of just a few albums ago. One could only imagine that they realized that the future was in dance music, hence the conflicting styles of post punk and electronic dance beats.
The struggle did not last too long because the dance side won out. New Order’s first mainstream hit in the US “Bizarre Love Triangle” introduced many Americans to the band. For those of us who were fans of earlier New Order music, the electronic flood gates were opened with Low Life. Oddly one of the most memorable things from ’80s MTV culture ended up being the line in “Bizarre Love Triangle” that declares “I don’t believe in reincarnation because I refuse to come back as a bug or as a rabbit!”. It was funny and somehow a tidy indication of the band’s ease with the dance music culture of camp irony .
The albums largest contribution might be how so many bands emulated the electronic bass featured on “Bizarre Love Triangle”. The basic beat had become a template for a lot of club music, in much the way that Madonna was influential in establishing a club sound that became popular for much of the ’90s. There were other aspects of the electronic side that were very hip hop. Songs like “All Day Long” clearly were influenced by the band’s first flirtation with the New York Club scene – the scene that became the inspiration for “Blue Monday”.
Even though conceptually Brotherhood is split between two styles, even the guitar driven songs like “Weirdo” were in fact dance songs. Deconstructed, the guitar driven songs were in many ways similar to those of the Cure and half a dozen other English bands. That which made New Order distinctive in the old post Joy Division way was still there if only in small doses. The guitar intro of “Broken Promise” could have been lifted from Joy Division’s Closer album. In all the limited range of Bernard Summer’s voice seemed better suited to the electronic sound anyway.
The duality that was here would be fully resolved by the next album. The band had chosen an electronic direction that I found interesting, but not enough to buy into it. To me that’s odd considering how much I enjoyed the danceable drone of Power, Corruption & Lies. Of course back then new romanticism was all the rage and New Order’s foray into electronics might have been expected to go in that direction. For Brotherhood and all albums moving forward, New Order would help to define parts of and popularize the electronic dance music genre in America and abroad.