Essay: New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies


From the ashes of Joy Division, there rose a New Order. In the early 1980s, the remaining members of the former band (Sumner, Morris and Hook) decided to coalesce once again following the suicide of their old vocalist, Ian Curtis, while adding the talents of keyboard and guitarist Gillian Gilbert to their line-up. The resulting sound they chose was a move away from the gothic aesthetic of their Joy Division days and towards a post-punk influenced fusion of electronic and dance music, with huge popular appeal. The synthy sound of their 1983 single “Blue Monday” was a great contemporary success, and became the most sold 12″ single ever recorded. Power, Corruption & Lies was released the same year, and featured the same dance infused synthpop sound that proved so popular on “Blue Monday”.

The most striking feature of the record is its cover image, crafted by prolific graphic designer Peter Saville. It features a reproduction of Henri Fantin-Latour’s painting “A Basket of Roses”, with a colour code in the top right hand corner meant to represent the name of the band and title of the album. What makes this image so memorable and effective is its simplicity. Saville said the flowers “suggested the means by which power, corruption and lies infiltrate our lives. They’re seductive.” The image can also be interpreted as a tribute of sorts to the late Curtis, who has remained a great influence on New Order’s musical direction up until this point, where the band respectfully began to move away from under his shadow to forge their own identity.

A bold move was the decision to not include “Blue Monday” on the record, despite its immense popularity. I think that showed a kind of quiet confidence in the quality of their music, since they felt like they didn’t need to rely on the recognition that including the single would bring. Instead, Power contains a tight-knit group of refined tracks with no obvious low points across the whole 40 minute record. “586” delivers a thrilling break from a minute long abstract instrumental which rapidly evolves into one of the album’s most powerful and catchy hooks, while “Age of Consent” offers a bright, upbeat introduction. However, there is a darker undertone to the music, which set New Order apart from its contemporaries at the time. There are constant allusions and hints to hidden meaning throughout in the murkier sections of synth instrumentation, and the plucked electric guitars lend a darker tone to some tracks.

This is Power, Corruption and Lies in action. The catchiness of the music is seductive, much like the subject of the front cover, and yet there is something darker at play under the surface while you, as the listener, are slowly immersed in it.


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