1985, Music

Low-Life (1985) by New Order

I generally don’t like and don’t get the gradual drift tin dance music of so many of the trailblazers and followers of the initial wave of post punk. It doesn’t make much sense to me to be excited by the possibilities of punk, and want to expand it, and then to decide that what you are really excited about is dance music. But clearly that’s my problem not most people’s. (Is it the energy???) New Order are hardly the only band to decide to do this, though they’re probably one of the earliest ones – at least one of the biggest ones to do it this early.

I shouldn’t like this record but I do. And like it both at a more primal, emotional level and an intellectual level. And I’m surprised.

First of all, it is very catchy. One thing you might criticize them for is “selling out” by writing ever catchier songs. That would be stupid, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a common critique. The songs are relentlessly catchy, especially compared to most (but not quite all) of Joy Divisions’ catalogue.

But the other thing that works for me is the line-straddling between all out dance music and post punk. They’re still very much a post punk band here, flirting very heavily with dance sure but they haven’t entirely gone “alternative dance” like they would later. There’s still enough here recognizable to me as post punk that I don’t feel loss in the monotony of ’80s dance beats. (And these beats are monotonous, sure. But there’s still other stuff going around.)

The record has dated rather horribly, as you would expect dance-influenced post punk from 198 to sound in 2020.  But I can generally accept the sound of ’80s post punk in a way I can’t in mainstream ’80s rock and there’s enough creativity here that I don’t get pissed off by how unbelievably ’80s this whole thing is.

And then, in addition to enjoying it, I just have to acknowledge that I’m really not sure how many bands this well-known and well-regarded were doing this in 1985. There was definitely already an alternative dance scene but were other established bands flirting (this much) with it? I don’t think so. It’s probably a pretty big deal, is what I’m saying.


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