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Music Review: New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies (2 CD Collector’s Edition)

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The Rhino Records/New Order reissue project is an interesting one. Reissuing the first five New Order Records – Movement, Power, Corruption & Lies, Low-Life, Brotherhood, and Technique – was going to be exciting. Fans debated and discussed the proposed tracklistings on message boards for an eternity, pining over what was included and what wasn’t.

On the 2 CD Collector’s Edition of the Greater Manchester quartet’s legendary Power, Corruption & Lies, the tracklisting was taken from the original U.K. version of the recording. That means no “Blue Monday” on the album, as the track was released as a single in the U.K. and went on to become the best-selling independently released 12” ever.

Power, Corruption & Lies represents the arrival of Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Peter Hook, and Gillian Gilbert as New Order. Movement, released in November 1981, marked their debut as a band after the suicide of Ian Curtis and the dissolution of Joy Division. The record was similar to the music of Joy Division, although it laid the foundation for what was to come.

In March of 1983, Power, Corruption & Lies was released and New Order had a bold new direction. The record was dramatic, punching up the use of electronic music, synthesizers, and drum programming.

As an album, there is something notable about the overall sense of warmth from the music. Here was a band born from the ashes of another band, burdened with grief and anger, and emerging with a new sound that is still influential and remarkable today.

From the way fans had to decode the title of the album using a colour wheel on the sleeve to the opening welcoming guitar on “Age of Consent,” New Order was up to something different. In many ways, this was a celebration. Sumner is excited, happy, and maybe…optimistic? “Age of Consent” takes its cue with the guitar as a foundation, but the swirling synth adds an accent of jubilation that is impossible to resist.

The band had discovered the music of New York’s clubs and, intrigued by the delightfulness of the night’s music, had decided to infuse their own sound with the beats, clicks, and clatters that made people dance. And so with notes of computer music, sweet delectable soul, and chunks of deep funk, New Order took to the recording process with a mission.

“We All Stand” plunges into the deep funk headfirst, with Sumner coating the dankness of the experience with a somewhat meanderingly affectionate vocal pattern. Listen to how he holds the note on “road,” for instance, and check out how the effects pick it up and play with it. It’s almost sleazy, profane, sexual.

The poppy, joyous bounce of “The Village” snaps us out of our induced haze and “5-8-6” finds a bit of the “Blue Monday” backbone ripping through a sassy, energetic dance cut.

With “Your Silent Face,” New Order takes the bounce of a club beat and curtains it with the pressing of a synthesizer. It is the album’s most beautiful track. Sumner’s vocals are both removed and intimate, as though he’s shedding a mask only partially under the comfort of dim lighting. Gorgeously lush, this is one of New Order’s finer and more elegant moments.

“Ultraviolence” features a brave Sumner bellowing over a clicking, funky rock groove. And “Ecstasy” grants us a little bit more funk and gloss with its vocal effects and Hook’s enchanting bass.

The last cut, “Leave Me Alone,” benefits best from its simplicity, as Sumner runs a vocal pattern that comes across as almost improvised and Hook’s bass touches the bottom with glee. Stephen Morris’ drums punch the track flawlessly.

Where Power, Corruption & Lies ends on a perfect note, the bonus disc begins to present the “problems” with this set. Containing eight tracks including “Blue Monday” and the hip-hop-tinged “Confusion,” the “bonus disc” gathers rarities, singles, remixes, and B-sides. The issue here is that none of the bonus material found its way to the remastering process, so the 2 Disc Collector’s Edition becomes one remastered disc and one disc in original quality.

And as the much-publicized “sound problems” have disclosed, the “original quality” simply doesn’t work for many New Order fans. Fans on NewOrderOnline.com quickly found over 300 errors related to the sound quality, including clicks, pops, crackles, and channel-swapping. It began to appear that many of the bonus tracks were simply transferred directly from commercial vinyl recordings instead of the original masters. It also began to appear that many New Order fans have far, far too much time on their hands…

Peter Hook, via his MySpace blog, stated that the reissue project was a “mess.” He added that he was trying to sort it out and said that he was trying to get “fresh masters” available.

Rhino Records, meanwhile, is planning to reissue the, erm, reissues. In a statement released by the company, they regretted the audio problems on the bonus discs of the New Order reissues. The statement went on to add: "We are now in the process of correcting the problems, but it should be noted that due to the age and condition of some of the original source tapes, the sound quality may vary. A further statement will be issued once the corrected product is available. At that time, the procedure for exchanging CD's will be announced. Thank you for your patience while we resolve this situation."

Clearly, for some, the New Order reissues will be considered a giant and colossal clusterfuck. The sound quality issue was not readily perceptible to me, although closer inspection did reveal some of the errors noted by fans (I think I may have heard a “click” in there somewhere). In my personal opinion, the errors are not that momentous, but I applaud Rhino Records for attempting to remedy the situation. They could be taking a fairly sizeable fiscal hit by exchanging the CDs, although the crowd that will actually ask for the exchanges could be rather small.

Nevertheless, “sound issues” aside, this is an exhilarating recording. For some, it will be an entirely superfluous release and not worthy of a purchase. For others like myself, who could be considered more casual New Order fans, this release of Power, Corruption & Lies is a pleasure.

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