New Order - Low-Life - Review
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critics' view

Things were so different in the 1980's. Nowadays, websites like this one will inform you that your favourite band is going on tour or releasing an album within minutes of the press release hitting the editor's inbox. When I was teenager, I had to wait until Wednesday for the weekly music papers for any news. It seems hard to believe but my school library used to take delivery of the NME every week, and so me and others used to spend morning break pouring over its inky pages. I heard about the break-up of The Smiths after double Geography. I read reviews of Level 42 singles (I had some crap tastes in those days). And scoured the pages for news of my favourite band at that time, the only band name to adorn my homework diary - New Order.

I can also remember a time when my music collection consisted of a handful of cassettes, four of them forlornly sat on a shelf next to my Spectrum tapes and Zoids. The most treasured of these was my copy of FAC100. It is one of the few cassettes I still possess, battered and falling to pieces. No other album has ever had a greater impact on my life than Lowlife. It was my entry into "proper" music, the album that turned my head from the charts. Whilst I don't for a second think it's the best album of all time, it is most certainly my favourite album of all time. It's a childhood friend, and whilst I realise its inadequacies, I will always adore it.

The chief reason for this devotion is on the whole down to one song, "Sooner Than You Think". For me, this song is almost the dictionary definition of all that is great about New Order. The woodblock percussive intro leads into smooth keyboards, before Bernard's melodic and underrated guitar is matched perfectly to Hook's bass. The lyrics are poetic but strangely nonsensical, with only the merest hint of a chorus, the guitar solo glorious in its stark simplicity. It ends beautifully - Sumner's jangle is pure heaven, Gilbert's keyboard stabs never bombastic, augmenting the rhythm. If you dumped me on a desert island with only one song, this would be my choice. The fact that it sits in the middle of so many other fantastic songs makes it all the sweeter. As with most New Order albums, there is no theme sonically, veering from electronic to rock and even, on opener "Love Vigilantes", a weird form of country pop. "The Perfect Kiss" is cut to pieces, the album edit robbing the song of its elongated power, "This Time of Night" full of blunt keyboard pulses and a howling vocal. "Sunrise" is the other extreme, a full on, heads down assault, the droning opening lines squealing into an onslaught of guitars, bass and a blasting performance from Morris.

And then "Elegia", overrated in my opinion, slightly out of place on the album with its ponderous tones and stabs of bass. Its slow fade though does wonders for the intro of Sooner Than You Think, as does the segue into "Subculture", a brittle recording, flatter and less soaked in reverb than the single version. "Face-Up", the album closer, is possibly the weakest track, sounding more like a keyboard demo than a cohesive number.

Around this period, New Order went mental in the studio, producing their most unusual singles to date. To say these tracks are "busy" would be a gross understatement, drenched as they are in percussion, keyboard blasts and in one case, frog choruses. Of course, as a 15 year old I loved these sonic blockbusters, because they were so over the top, a musical sugar rush of everything in the sweetshop. Listened to now, tracks like "Shellshock" and "Subculture" do sound far too busy, the former with its woodpecker drubbing and the latter with its shrill keyboard and bloated production.

Normally we are requested to score albums out of a hundred, but I find it impossible in this case, given how dear this album is to me. I won't pick up any friends around here if I throw 100% at it.

Simon Rueben
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Est. 2007, the Line of Best Fit is an independent online magazine based in London, concentrating on new music. It publishes independent music reviews, features, interview, and media.
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