New Order’s 30 greatest tracks – ranked!

With the 40th anniversary of their debut single approaching, we rate the band who blend dance and rock like no other

30. The Him (1981)

You can see why Movement is viewed less as New Order’s debut album than a footnote to Joy Division’s career – that is really what it is – but that doesn’t mean it is not good. The surges of The Him would have made a great Joy Division track; the lyrics, which attempt to understand the death in 1980 of Ian Curtis, Joy Division’s frontman, are powerful and heartbreaking.

29. Confusion (1983)

Considered a disappointing follow-up to Blue Monday at the time – and subsequently re-recorded for the 1987 compilation Substance – Confusion has improved with age: its wholehearted, charmingly gauche embrace of electro illustrates the impact of New York’s nightlife on the band.

28. Murder (1984)

New Order have sporadically come up with superb instrumentals (see also: Elegia and the experimental Video 586). Murder is a particularly exciting, dramatic example: it features thundering drums and insistent, needling guitar that hark back to the sound of Joy Division, plus samples of dialogue from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Caligula.

27. Weirdo (1986)

Is there a more exciting introduction to a song in New Order’s back catalogue than the sudden burst of guitar that kicks off Weirdo, a frantic highlight of Brotherhood’s “rock”-oriented side one? Elsewhere, the lyrics are total nonsense, but Peter Hook’s bass playing is spectacular.

26. Shellshock (1986)

Anthemic ... watch the video for Shellshock.

Shellshock is that rare thing: a New Order single that hasn’t dated terribly well – the overload of n-n-n-nineteen stuttering samples and the synth sounds on the 12in version mark it out as product of its time. But that is no reflection on the song itself, which is great, powered by a compellingly anthemic chorus.

25. Waiting For the Sirens’ Call (2005)

The album of the same name was a disappointment and probably New Order’s creative nadir. The music isn’t awful, just workmanlike and uninspired; the lyrics, however, are frequently abysmal. But its title track – the only album title track New Order have recorded – shines, thanks to a beautiful melody and a yearning Bernard Sumner vocal.

24. Fine Time (1989)

A baffling choice for a first single from Technique – largely instrumental, not much of a melody – Fine Time is still impossibly exciting: an urgent, clattering rhythm track, acid house squelches, sampled voices. Steve “Silk” Hurley’s remix turned it into streamlined, straightforward house music, but the idiosyncrasies of New Order’s approach to the genre are part of the appeal.

23. As It Is When It Was (1986)

Beautiful ... listen to As It Is When It Was.

New Order’s back catalogue isn’t big on acoustic ballads, but As It Is When It Was – an understated highlight of Brotherhood – is a beautiful example. A slightly rockier live version on the Pumped Full of Drugs video is worth checking out, not least for the insouciant cool of the guitarist and keyboard player Gillian Gilbert, who performs the whole thing with her back to the audience.

22. Sub-Culture (1985)

Without wishing to be overspecific, it is the edited version of the 12in mix of Sub-Culture found on Substance that you need to hear. The Low-Life original is a bit limp, the full 12in a bit much, but the edit is perfect: the vocals polished so the tune shines, the whole thing kicked off with a thrilling burst of sampled drums.

21. Elegia (1985)

Years after this instrumental tribute to Curtis appeared on Low-Life, the band’s Stephen Morris told an interviewer that it had been edited down from a 17-minute original. When that finally appeared – on the 2002 box set Retro – it was revealed not as an indulgence, but a masterpiece: drifting, shifting and astonishingly beautiful, like nothing else in New Order’s oeuvre.

20. Restless (2015)

It is fair to say that the last thing most people expected from the new, post-Hook iteration of New Order was their best album since Technique, but that is precisely what Music Complete was, as evinced by the guitar-heavy opener, Restless. It is more focused and potent than anything the band had done in decades.1

19. Everything’s Gone Green (1981)

Funky, but dark and agitated, Everything’s Gone Green was a transitional song, New Order exploring the dancefloor before they had fully escaped the shadow of their former band. Those interested in “what ifs” might suggest it is what Joy Division could have sounded like had they continued and absorbed the same influences from club music.

18. Round & Round (1989)

Almost Abba-esque ... listen to Round & Round.

The second single from Technique opened with a blast of house-influenced sampled orchestral stabs, but it is the opposite of Fine Time’s hectic chaos – the chorus is almost Abba-esque in its poppiness. Sumner’s voice drifts languidly over the backing, while Hook’s performance is a masterclass in how he reinvented the bass as a lead instrument, colouring rather than propelling the song.

17. Lonesome Tonight (1984)

In the 80s, New Order had a habit of relegating songs that anyone else might have considered as singles to B-sides. Tucked away on the flip of Thieves Like Us, Lonesome Tonight is the perfect example: a sublime slice of melancholy with an instrumental coda that takes up half the track and is no less compelling than the song itself.

16. Love Vigilantes (1985)

“A redneck song”, according to Sumner; Iron and Wine’s acoustic 2009 cover teases out the country influence at its centre, easy to miss when you are distracted by how exquisitely Hook’s bass coils around Sumner’s voice. Low-Life’s fabulous opening track, it also bears the lyrical influence of Jimmy Cliff’s 60s reggae hit Vietnam.

15. Crystal (2001)

The 00s was not a great decade for New Order: personal upheavals and tensions within the band led to their patchiest albums. But, occasionally, something clicked amid the turmoil, as on Crystal – a great song wrapped in a thrillingly noisy, echo-drenched reboot of New Order in guitar mode.

14. Age of Consent (1983)

Hypnotic and relentless ... watch the video for Age of Consent.

Like the 1982 single Temptation, the opening track of Power, Corruption & Lies sounds like a statement of intent: New Order truly becoming New Order after the hesitancy and mourning of their debut album. Age of Consent is a shimmering, if strange, pop song, driven by one of Hook’s greatest bass lines – hypnotic, relentless, insanely catchy.

13. Ceremony (1981)

You wonder how New Order got through recording their debut single only months after Curtis’s death: both versions of the song predated his suicide, their lyrics pitch-black testimony to his mental state. But it is a triumph: between its first version, from March 1981, and the re-recording released in September, you can hear a new band beginning to coalesce.

12. Dream Attack (1989)

Not everything on Technique was musically influenced by the sound of the clubs in Ibiza, where the initial recording sessions took place, but all of it seemed to be imbued with the island’s spirit. Its marvellous closer, Dream Attack, is guitar-based, but sounds warm and sunlit, while the opening lyrics seem to reflect on the morning after a night on the dancefloor.

11. Tutti Frutti (2015)

Bernard Sumner on stage in Torino in 2018.
Capable of greatness ... Bernard Sumner on stage in Torino in 2018. Photograph: Pacific Press Media Production/Alamy

Music Complete’s belated homage to the Italo disco that helped shift New Order out of their post-Joy Division mourning is a delight. There is a sly playfulness about it that was noticeably lacking in their 00s albums, its mood further buoyed by Elly “La Roux” Jackson’s backing vocals. Chemical Brother Tom Rowlands’ amped-up remix is great, too.

10. 1963 (1987)

Frequently giving the impression that he writes down the first thing that comes into his head with a shrug of “That’ll do”, Sumner is capable of great lyrics. As the producer Stephen Hague pointed out, the chilling 1963 is a “song about domestic violence you can dance to”. Too good for its original B-side status, it ended up as a single in 1995.

9. The Perfect Kiss (1985)

Written, recorded and mixed in one sleepless 72-hour session, the full-length version of The Perfect Kiss might be the best New Order 12in mix of the lot. Nine explosive, unpredictable minutes take in everything from slap bass to frogs croaking and build into a fantastic, extended, euphoric climax.

8. Your Silent Face (1983)

A beautiful, stately homage to Kraftwerk – specifically 1977’s Europe Endless – Your Silent Face is one of New Order’s greatest album tracks and an attempt to puncture their sombre post-Joy Division image. After four verses of bleak imagery (“Rise and fall of shame, a search that shall remain”), it concludes with an exasperated: “Why don’t you piss off?”

7. Bizarre Love Triangle (1986)

Outrageously catchy ... watch the video for Bizarre Love Triangle.

A flop on release, incredibly, Bizarre Love Triangle is one of New Order’s most-covered tracks – everyone from the Killers to Scarlett Johansson has had a go, attesting to its beautiful melody and affecting lyrics. But the production on the original is spectacular, too – chattering sequenced synths, orchestral flurries, explosive drum rolls – and the Shep Pettibone remix is superb.

6. Regret (1993)

In the words of Morris, the making of Republic was “very unpleasant”, fuelled less by a desire to record a new album than a need to make money in the wake of the collapse of Factory Records. You wouldn’t know that from its lead single, as perfectly formed a song as New Order have written.

5. Vanishing Point (1989)

Technique is New Order’s best album and Vanishing Point may be its best track. It is the perfect example of how effortlessly they incorporate house music into their sound but, moreover, it is just a fantastic song, the sun of its melody at odds with the melancholy of Sumner’s vocal and lyrics.

4. Blue Monday (1983)

Mega hit ... listen to Blue Monday.

Blue Monday is musical alchemy in action. A patchwork of thefts (from Donna Summer, Kraftwerk, Ennio Morricone and Klein & MBO’s Dirty Talk) and mistakes (the melody line was incorrectly entered into the sequencer) was transformed into one of the greatest, most instantly recognisable songs of its era.

3. Thieves Like Us (1984)

Romantic isn’t an adjective readily associated with New Order, but it fits the wonderful Thieves Like Us perfectly. It is richly melodic, with layer upon layer of lush synth and a vocal that is the opposite of Blue Monday’s icy blankness; the occasional off-key fragility only adds to the song’s emotional impact.

2. Temptation (1982)

The fade in at the start of Temptation feels like clouds parting, the song itself – ramshackle but danceable, gleefully poppy, falsetto vocals – evidence that New Order had hit on a new, distinct identity. You can understand why the band chose to re-record it more slickly in 1987, but the original’s cack-handed exuberance is part of its charm.

1. True Faith (1987)

Unparalleled ... watch the video for True Faith.

In truth, you could pick anything in this Top 10 as New Order’s greatest song – there is not much to separate them – but my personal preference is True Faith. The lyrics are brilliant – written from the perspective of an unrepentant heroin addict, an unlikely state of affairs given that Sumner and Hague apparently “set out to write a hit single” – Sumner’s ambiguous vocal is perfect and the melody is effortless, the sound a subtly turned example of New Order’s nonpareil ability to meld club influences with rock music.

  • This article was amended on 7 January 2021. An earlier version was missing an entry for No 27 (Weirdo).

Contributor

Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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