It is generally accepted that New Order failed to gain prominence with their highly derivative early output. Given the tragic circumstances that the band emerged from, the unfocused prosaicness and inconstancy of that initial stage in their development can be easily forgiven, even if their debut album “Movement” was ostensibly a formative, slightly funkier remodel of Joy Division’s “Closer”, albeit without the prevailing gloom and doom. Around the time of Martin Hannett’s sudden departure as their long-time producer, the group’s songwriting and musical direction finally started to cohere, banishing dub-influenced post-punk dirges in favour of extroverted dance, which they notably expressed in their own moody fashion.
Upon triumphantly balancing synthesizers and guitars on their second and third album, the band disturbed the equilibrium by opting to convey the sonic palette of the 1982 transitional period instead of simply adhering to what was now an established and successful formula. Taking a dichotomous approach by dividing the album into two distinctive parts, the first being rock-based and the other dance-oriented, the band still vacillated wildly on individual songs, from roiling and breakneck pacing to disparate moods and styles, constructing a rather compelling album in the process. From the outset, frontman Bernard Sumner ups the ante with more animated delivery and less abstract lyrics, Peter Hook’s relentless, tumultuous bass pervades throughout, and Stephen Morris’ furious drumming competes with Gillian Gilbert’s low end to provide club-ready rhythms. At this point, the band are firing on all cylinders and growing exponentially in warmth, camaraderie and confidence, and naturally, that is reflected on the record, which is packed with thoughtful and song-based music, with the first four tracks - “Paradise,” “Weirdo,” “As It Is When It Was,” and “Broken Promise” - showcasing an incredibly interlaced production that only enhanced their newfound dynamism and directness. Under the same scrutiny, assuredness and caution was the simple synth pop of the second side, enacting conversely reflective and energetic numbers, all equally as well-crafted as their rock counterparts, only far poppier. As evidenced by the jarring offhand interspersions on “Every Little Counts,” classical music reinterpretations on “All Day Long” and the album’s pastoral synthpop standouts “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and “State of the Nation”, “Brotherhood” was a leap over a chasm in terms of interplay and the precision of all involved, signifying the band’s improving pop songcraft and more refined hazy krautrock wanderings.
New Order had the antithetical career trajectory to fellow synth Britannia fringe members Depeche Mode, who swapped their early new wave-leaning pop confections for complex songs with a more serious tone and sample-centric industrial influence, thus gaining a larger fanbase. In sharp contrast, New Order would boldly re-examine their post-punk roots, considerably regulating the aloofness, edginess and club spirit that had defined them to craft brighter, sonically surprising tunes with plentiful hooks. Accordingly navigating their future with this dance-rock blueprint, which compensates for its glaring deficiencies by further highlighting their experimental side and technical proficiency, New Order’s adept reconciling of the plaintive and playful and guitar-heavy amendment of their typical synths-and-sequencers formula might not entirely work, but overall, it is effectual, largely due to the pervading insouciance of the lyrics and breakneck pace of the music. In no uncertain terms, the sheer immediacy and glossiness of its big transatlantic hit overshadows the album itself in terms of reminiscence. “Bizarre Love Triangle” is instantly appealing in its arrangement, which, when compared to the far less catchy opening salvo, effectively renders the surrounding tracks unworthy of inclusion. Nevertheless, without such a superb single heralding the album, the group’s audience would not have grown as much as it did in 1986, at which point they made significant advancements in breaking the US.
“Brotherhood” thankfully did not continue the trend set by its predecessors, allowing the Manchester quartet to expand their palette and dispense with the now-customary mystique and melancholy. An accelerated, auspicious departure from the morbid disposition and feverish foreboding of their previous records, this blistering and buoyant set of songs may collectively fail to comprise a fully-realized downbeat dance perennial and require repeat listens to truly hit the mark, but there’s no denying its denser, hazier production and overall exuberance greatly elevates what is included herein. As musical regressions go, New Order’s fourth outing is probably up there with the best of them. Despite being punctuated with a megahit and inherently discordant, the album remains remarkably effervescent and goes beyond what you would expect for a band approaching their imperial phase.
Bought this record a couple of months before seeing the New Order Brotherhood tour here in the states. About 3 songs into the show Barney started forgetting lyrics, then fell backwards onto Stevens drums. He was so drunk that they had to drag him off stage on his heels. They came back 1/2 hour later played 2 sloppy songs and the show was over. Huge disappointment. My record still plays well, though!