New Order, Brotherhood
The two sides of New Order on full display
Much of New Order's career was a balancing act, a struggle to retain their ash-colored post-punk past while edging warily into the high-gloss computer age. Nowhere is this better exemplified than Brotherhood, an album that so ably illustrates the band's competing impulses that it's actually divided into two sides: a 'rock' side and a 'synth' side.
Which is not to say the two are mutually exclusive. One of the first sounds on Brotherhood is that of a fat-bottomed synth, and there's an electronic haze hovering behind even the album's most rollicking songs. But what New Order are starting to get a better handle on here is the kind of lean-guitar hurtle that would define later hits like "Regret" and "Run." Peter Hook, who was just beginning to figure out the virtue of melodic basslines on Power, Corruption and Lies is in full bloom here: He seizes "Weirdo" by the throat and hurls it into the stratosphere, running one breathtaking low-end loop-de-loop after another. They even abandon some of their trademark aloofness; "As It Is When It Was" is ushered in by an acoustic strum, and Sumner's plainspoken approach to lyrics is well-suited to the song's emotional candor.
Brotherhood's biggest hit comes dead in the center, with the itchy and opaque "Bizarre Love Triangle." That Sumner can barely hit the notes is part of the song's appeal: He softens as he gets higher, leaning back and simply letting the constellation of synthesizers sparkle. "All Day Long" is another in the band's series of great elegies (see also, "Atmosphere," "The Village"), where Sumner appears momentarily, but turns the rest of the song over to grand rushes of sound. The battle of wills would define the rest of New Order's career — follow-up Technique was the danciest they'd ever be, 2001's Get Ready the rockiest. But nowhere are those two sides better contained than here.