New Order: Movement (1981)

New Order's 1981 debut seems to divide fans, and while they had yet to develop the more synth-based dance-friendly sound that would lead to some of the more transcendent albums and singles of the 80s, I find myself listening to Movement at least as much, and probably more than, any of their other work.

Singer Ian Curtis's tragic 1980 suicide left the surviving members of Joy Division, on the cusp of their first US tour and growing critical acclaim, in the lurch.  Joined by the drummer's girlfriend on keyboards, they soldiered on as New Order, leaving behind much of Joy Division's post-punk darkness and bleak urban landscapes for a brighter sound better suited to dance floors than lonely evenings at home (though a number of album tracks retained some of the moodiness that made JD such a unique band).

Movement is undeniably a "transitional" album.  It sounds far more like the next logical step after Joy Division's Closer than the poppier music for which New Order would later be known; it's dark and somber, and even the more upbeat tracks have a moodiness about them (due in large part to the production by Joy Division producer Martin Hannett).  For all intents and purposes, Movement is just as easily heard as the third and final studio Joy Division album (albeit with others stepping up to the mic) as it is New Order's first.

Lead-off track "Dreams Never End" is the closest step towards what NO would become, a relatively poppy track with shimmering guitars; though it retains a certain darkness, in part due to the vocals of bassist Peter Hook, who approaches Curtis's spooky baritone.  Guitarist Bernard Sumner handles most of the other vocals on the album, though he, too, seems to be more focused on capturing Curtis's style than carving out his own voice, as he'd do on subsequent releases.

The album varies between upbeat, catchier tracks like the rousing closer "Denial," driven by the frenetic and studio-tweaked percussion; and more hauntingly intense downbeat tracks like "The Him" and the Hook-fronted "Doubts Even Here," both of which sound like continuations from side two of Closer.

But throughout, the band has provided some wonderfully distinctive songs, pairing the Hannett-produced atmospherics with compelling hooks; sure, they're less poppy/danceable than NO's later work, but they don't get the credit they deserve on their own merits.

I do think the album would have benefited from the inclusion of "Ceremony," New Order's first single; yes, it's a ringer, a Curtis-penned Joy Division holdover, but the early 7" single version would not have been out of place, and would have given the album another more inviting track alongside "Dreams."  And in my own "Movement Revisited" reworked version of the album, I added the fantastic outtake "Cries and Whispers" and subsequent b-side "Mesh," which I think give the album a more varied feel without altering the mood.  (All of these were included on a deluxe version of the album a few years back, though the Spotify version includes only demos). 

Here's a live "Dreams Never End":
...and a live "Denial":



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