"LOW LIFE." New Order. Qwest. Few bands can claim a better pedigree than New Order. The English quartet is the offspring of Joy Division, the influential group whose name is virtually synonymous with the rich, moody style that came to define the post-punk movement.
Joy Division leader Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980, but the survivors have gone on to establish their own solid reputation in the rock underground, and New Order's first album for Quincy Jones' label is likely to enhance that reputation. It takes the basic elements that were present in "Power, Corruption and Lies," their widely admired 1983 LP, and delivers them with increased force and imagination.
This is a great- sounding record. Each surface of New Order's monumental electronic constructions has a distinct, vivid presence, and when the musicians cut loose and intensify the sound, the results are breathtaking.
There's plenty of synthesizer in the record, but New Order isn't a techno-rock band. In fact, "Low Life's" best moments are sparked by basic electric guitar riffing, a rich, natural drum sound, by simple, hummable melodies and vocals with a rough, earnest edge and a slightly sour strain reminiscent of Joe Strummer.
New Order even opens the album with a folksy blend of acoustic and electric: "Love Vigilantes" is a bracing, Woody Guthrie-meets-the Clash narrative of a soldier's homecoming with a predictable but effective "Twilight Zone" twist. The album closes with another folk-flavored arrangement, the electro-skiffle of the self-help inspirational "Face Up."
In between, New Order's varied menu of soul-pop, techno-rock, delicate instrumental moods, and driving, clattering percussion offers adventure in texture at every turn. It might not offer anything as transcendent as Curtis' Joy Division masterpiece "Love Will Tear Us Apart," but its confidence and imagination suggest that the possibility is still there.