New Order – Brotherhood

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[Originally written on May 6, 2013]

I can’t explain why exactly, but this is my favorite New Order album cover. I guess it’s the color. The reissued covers are even better!

I’m not sure what it’s like anywhere else in the world (though I do know that others have it worse than I do, but we don’t compare ourselves to people who are worse off, unless we’re looking to make ourselves feel better, and me? I feel great), but we (Toronto) have just experienced a one-week stretch of sun and 20-degree weather after what felt like the longest Canadian winter I’ve ever endured, so summer solstice or not, I’m hitherto declaring it summer. What does that mean? Well, it means patio beers and patio cigarettes and listening to dance music but not actually dancing to it because it’s way too hot out and that would mean getting sweat on your clothes and that’s just too inhuman. In other words, it means New Order.

Brotherhood, then? Well, in a sweeping declaration, it’s one of the better albums to come out of a mostly blah year. In fact, I find it criminally underrated, something that I cannot say about any other New Order album (actually, one word that could describe either Low-Life or Technique is overrated). But because these concepts are silly–to say the least–I won’t dwell on them. I’m not sure why Brotherhood doesn’t get the respect it deserves, especially when you consider how this is one of the few New Order albums to feature their biggest singles without needing to be reissued for you to spend an extra buck for that “Blue Monday” or “Ceremony.” Because yeah, “Bizarre Love Triangle” ranks up there as one of New Order’s best singles.

On the album’s reputation, allmusic’s John Bush offers that, “fans who greeted 1986’s Brotherhood with the realization that it was split into a rock side and a dance side couldn’t help but be a little disappointed.” Well, shit on that. Shit all over that, Ben Hanscom. If you go into Brotherhood with that sort of mindset, than shit on you too. Yes, “As It Is When It Was” is led through by an acoustic guitar, but the dichotomy between “rock” and “dance” has always been so laughable (why the moniker “Electronic Dance Music” requires “Electronic” in the beginning to separate it from just normal “Dance Music”). Do you know what this album sounds like? It sounds like a New Order album, and yes, you can dance to each one of these songs.

We need to address something that no one seems to want to talk about: Bernard Sumner is completely nondescript as a vocalist. Competent yes, but nondescript. He has no intent of going for the lyrical depths of Ian Curtis, nor is he nearly as … unique a singer. But that’s alright, because New Order’s strength was never in its lyrics or vocals but in its (pun not intended) movement; that bassline on “Bizarre Love Triangle”is probably the most tangible example here (and why I prefer the album version over the Shep Pettibone Remix, which just injects “Blue Monday” drums and lowers the mix on the bass). Meanwhile, over all of their songs so far, Sumner was sprinkling sweet-nothings, “Oh you’ve got green eyes…,” “You’re not the kind that needs to tell me / About the birds and the bees,” “Tell me how do I feel. Tell me now, how do I feel,” etc. and they were all nothing if not sweet.

But with Brotherhood, Bernard Sumner actually uses his voice for more than just delivering a hook. Many tracks in Brotherhood stand out because Bernard Sumner is trying out quirks, things he’s never done (and unfortunately, will never do again). Years before, he might’ve just sang the “I want you / I need you” hook of “Paradise,” but on Brotherhood, he huffs through them in a way that suggest he needs the person, as if she were air. It’s sexy, like girl-revealing-her-shoulder-in-the-summer sexy (that was how someone defined it to me back in grade 1. I was little grossed out, if I recall correctly). On “As It Is When It Was,” the chorus is brought out through backing vocals! Have they done that before? And then there’s idiosyncratic of the closer, “Every Little Counts,” where he delivers every line in a half-whispered/half-laugh that’s just really enticing.

It’s not just the vocals though; he’s writing lyrics that actually matter (again, for the first and last time). Most obviously, there’s “All Day Long,” which, for my money, is the best non-single track that appears on a New Order album. Here, he tackles child abuse, “This song / Is about a child who now has gone / And other children like him, too / Abused and used by what adults do.” And it might just be me, but I’m quite sure “Bizarre Love Triangle” is to do with a lover’s drug addiction. Regardless if it is or not, the lyrics are open to interpretation, but the point is, lines like the ones I just quoted from “All Day Long” or the chorus from “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “Every time I see you falling / I get down on my knees and pray” aren’t things that you would expect to hear on the dancefloor. I’m not so sure New Order was ever about dancing the night away so much as they were about dancing your troubles away.

Other things that I couldn’t fit with the rest of the review:

1. Whose bright idea was it to reissue this with “1963” but a remix of “True Faith?” I mean, I get that you want me to dish out another $20 to pick up Substance, but that’s just cruel.

2. The opening sounds on “Weirdo” are downright terrible, the only thing marring an otherwise solid track. I’m not even sure what they’re there for, considering they’re discarded immediately after the first measure. I suppose you could say that they’re there to wake you up, but you shouldn’t need to resort to loud blurts of nothing to do so. You could always use, you know, the music.

3. People keep saying something about how the 80’s sound dated. Well, let me just say that synthesized strings have never sounded so unbelievably like real strings as on “All Day Long” and “Angel Dust.”

4. Oh yeah, in case you hadn’t noticed; this isn’t just my favorite New Order cover, but it’s also my favorite New Order album.

A-

PS: Truthfully, I have no idea what “Titaanzik 0.50” means and Google offers no hits. I’m guessing it’s something to do with New Order continuing Joy Division’s fascination with Nazi Germany.

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