In May 1985 John Peel played three tracks from the yet to be released New Order album Low Life. I listened to John Peel almost religiously on school nights (weekdays). I bought Low Life the day it came out from Discovery Records in Solihull. The album does not really contain a total stand out New Order classic but – as a body of work, it’s the bands best album.
I can remember now vividly John Peel suggesting the first album track Love Vigilantes was a Country & Western track. It’s not really but it is a different sound to what New Order have ever thrown our way. A charming album opener if not a bit of a head scratcher.
The Perfect Kiss is the disco New Order we all knew. Bernard Sumner’s strained vocals float aside an upbeat tempo that bounds around in total joy. Lyrics stating “tonight I should have stayed at home, playing with my pleasure zone” were surely not about the debut Frankie Goes To Hollywood album. The track bounces, checks itself, then spins in a near Donna Summer vibe. Peter Hook’s trademark low / high bass rises at the end of the track to remind us this isn’t Chicago House – just. The first single released from Low Life and an all round winner.
This Time Of Night sounds like a ghost of Joy Division that the band are. Electronic but powerfully controlled. Brooding vocal despite the soft delivery. The track has a struggling sound but a constant keyboard push the instrumentation forward. Soft keys lay over the whole sound, then doomy imagery albeit briefly. A soundscape.
Sunrise is a moody affair. Arguably the most powerful piece of music on Low Life. As much as I genuinely love New Order I just dream of this track having the vocal of Ian Curtis. That said, Bernard Sumner is now sounding confident about his frontman position for the first time. The evocative bass pushes the track into a more dangerous sounding place. Washing strums of guitar and near hidden electronica.
Elegia is the first track on Side 2. A near classical / electronic sound. An instrumental. Even more deeply evocative the tracks builds from nothing and ambles organically punctuated with goose bump inducing booms. The sea crashing on rocks suggests itself (to me). The track is a force of nature, the band do not tame its natural beauty.
Sooner Than You Think sounds like earlier New Order. Straining instruments fit together in a way they probably shouldn’t. Storytelling vocals and again despite the soft delivery it has menace to it. A fazing guitar lead muffles. New Order give of the vibe that they are playing with their backs to us. Great album track.
Sub-Culture throws more early House at us. A joyous sound. Bounding melodies. Cheeky lyrics. Simple and starkly beautiful synth leads push Sub-Culture forward more. 5 years before Acid House. Hints of the Revolting Cocks. A band truly ahead of time.
Face Up confirms the dance stance the band had taken. A slight build for an intro then that bounding sound. Nursery rhyme lyrics. Bernard Sumner allows himself a “Whoop”. Somehow still managing to still sound Indie and becoming one of the most influential acts for dance music the band hold their cards close to their chests. They played them cards well… and always with a poker face…