Starting this year, the back catalogue of Mancunian indie figureheads New Order is getting the deluxe box-set re-issue treatment. It begins with their 1981 debut album Movement, the record that saw the band take its tentative first steps as an entity without singer and lyricist Ian Curtis, whose suicide in May the previous year had brought Joy Division to an untimely end. Located between the post-punk of their first incarnation and the cutting-edge indie / synth-pop hybrid for which they would become globally renowned over the next decade, it’s a fascinating snapshot of a group re-appraising their identity.
But to mark what’s hopefully going to be the start of an in-depth exhumation of New Order’s ground-breaking material they released throughout the Eighties, we present the band’s ten finest singles ever. Believe us, there were a lot to pick from!
10. ‘Singularity’ (2016)
Reports of New Order’s return to the studio for the first time in a full decade had been received warmly by the band’s fans, but none of them could have expected 2015’s Music Complete to have been as good as it was. Far from a pale re-tread of past glories, it demonstrated that Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert had plenty of ideas and energy left in them yet, representing nothing less than the start of a fresh chapter in New Order’s history. The vivacious ‘Singularity’ was one of its prime cuts, more than a match for many of the group’s early discography highlights.
9. ‘Ceremony’ (1981)
In an alternate universe, New Order’s debut single might well have been Joy Division’s next. The song itself existed in the band’s final setlists, and was carried over and re-recorded as Sumner, Morris and Peter Hook soldiered on after Curtis’s passing. With the solemn ‘In A Lonely Place’ on the B-side, it’s a key component of the band’s story.
8. ‘Regret’ (1993)
There are great comeback singles, and then there’s ‘Regret’. Kicking off the band’s post-Factory Records era, it stands as one of the greatest achievements of ‘rock New Order’, abandoning the band’s previously increasingly electronically-leaning stance towards the end of the Eighties and focusing much more on guitars, with Peter Hook’s bass carrying the earworm riff. Powered by hefty radio rotation and its memorable video shot on the set of ‘Baywatch’, the lead single from the band’s 1993 comeback album Republic stormed into the Top Five in the UK and became one of New Order’s biggest-ever hits.
7. ‘Fine Time’ (1988)
The lead single from the sun-kissed Technique album, ‘Fine Time’ sounded like all the elements of New Order’s career thus far put into a blender. With bubbling Detroit techno lines and any number of infectious melodies and what-the-? effects cannoning around the mix, New Order’s approach here seemed to be to fit in as many distinct passages into four minutes as possible. Instead of collapsing under the weight of its ambition, it rather amazingly worked. The public agreed, sending the single to no.11 and its parent album to the top of the charts.
6. ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ (1981)
Released at the end of 1981, ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ was the point at which New Order started to begin to shed the trappings of their existence of Joy Division and strike out on their own as a creative unit. Stephen Morris’s martial drumming and Bernard Sumner’s treated acoustic guitar slashes both keep time with a strict, severe synthesizer line, establishing a template that would guide the band in the following years. Tellingly, it was the final track they made with Martin Hannett as producer, the man who had done so much to construct the archetypal post-punk sound that Joy Division encapsulated.
5. ‘The Perfect Kiss’ (1985)
The epitome of the kind of sweeping, indie-dance hybrids that New Order were becoming so expert at by the middle of the Eighties, ‘The Perfect Kiss’ was a complex but magnificent piece of musical architecture. The 12” single mix – longer than the one that appeared on 1985 album Low-Life – is the one to keep your eyes out for. Borne aloft by Peter Hook’s ringing, sonorous bass played high up on the fretboard, and with a curious bridge section featuring the sound of frogs croaking, the intensity and drama of ‘The Perfect Kiss’ is unmatched in New Order’s discography – reflected in the video directed by future Silence of the Lambs filmmaker Jonathan Demme.
4. ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ (1986)
Although it inexplicably only reached no.56 in the UK, ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ is one of New Order’s most globally recognised tracks, a fan favourite and a consistent highlight of their live sets to this day. The extended single mix, done with the Fairlight CMI and more cleanly produced than the version from Brotherhood, is the definitive take. The synthesizer hook sounds like it’s descended from the heavens, and the precision-guided rhythm tracks and Hook’s counter-melody on the bass add up to make arguably the finest ‘pure pop’ moment that New Order ever produced.
3. ‘True Faith’ (1987)
New Order’s second huge commercial hit in Britain after ‘Blue Monday’ four years before – and their first in America. Sumner’s lyrics, dealing superficially with growing up and adolescent anxiety, were characteristically cryptic and vague, meaning listeners could project their own meanings onto them. Grafting a minor-key, melancholic musical texture onto a solidly dancefloor-oriented rhythm, ‘True Faith’ was a masterstroke of emotional and intelligent dance music. Philippe Decoufle’s surreal and beautifully choreographed video only accentuated it!
2. ‘Blue Monday’ (1983)
One of the most influential and revolutionary singles in the history of dance music, a full appreciation of the importance of ‘Blue Monday’ would be a whole article unto itself. Suffice to say, its immortal, deathless riff is immediately recognisable to virtually anybody in the world, and it crucially brought elements of the New York disco scene to Britain’s synth-pop explosion in the early Eighties. ‘Blue Monday’ was also versatile and broadly appealing enough to have been a UK Top Twenty hit on three separate occasions in remixed forms. Legend has it that Kraftwerk, one of New Order’s heroes and key influences, contacted them to ask how they created the rhythm track. Iconic doesn’t even begin to cover it.
1. ‘Temptation’ (1982)
Given their huge catalogue of stone-cold classics, any ‘best of New Order’ list is ultimately going to come down to personal preferences. ‘Temptation’, for us, pips ‘Blue Monday’ to the top spot because, aside from it being an absolutely raging banger, it’s the bridge between the nervy post-punk of their first singles post-Joy Division and the synth-pop classics of the new decades that began with ‘Blue Monday’. With the perfect, almost cyberorganic melding of the band’s guitars and the drum programming, ‘Temptation’ properly established the indie-dance template that made New Order’s reputation. The way that Bernard Sumner sings/mutters “a heaven / a gateway / a hope” and “oh you’ve got green eyes / oh you’ve got blue eyes / oh you’ve got grey eyes”, like he’s hiding from the microphone and averting his gaze from his subject, is so adorably shy too, the complete inversion of the stereotypically extroverted, peacocking rock frontman. Any version you can find it in, ‘Temptation’ is one of the finest achievements of British indie.