34 Years Ago: New Order Emerge From Joy Division With ‘Movement’
Movement was released 18 months after Ian Curtis committed suicide. Curtis, who had served as frontman and emblem of Joy Division during the band's three-year existence, left a group that reeled in the wake of his absence. Movement, their first album without him and their debut as New Order, was the product of uneasy writing sessions, furtive gigging, the addition of a new member and a seeming lack of conviction about where the band was to go next.
For instance, guitarist-keyboardist Bernard Sumner became the band's new singer seemingly by default, which was hardly the recipe for replacing Curtis – whose dark energy had given the Joy Division its main thrust. In turn, Sumner was less a frontman than a band member who'd added a notch to his responsibilities. Gillian Gilbert, the girlfriend of drummer Stephen Morris, was brought in to play synths, but her sounds were deployed largely as atmospherics, adornments -- nothing that touched the melody lines she would deliver just a couple of years later. They were an inspired rhythm section with no creative spark.
And still, on Nov. 13, 1981, the band released Movement as their statement of intent. It contains the DNA of everything Joy Division was (brooding, droning, dire) and everything New Order was to become (serious, experimental, ecstatic), making Movement a true transitional record. And while that word is often used in a pejorative sense, Movement shows a band at the top of their game despite the shifts and uneasiness, pushing and challenging the sounds they made on Joy Division's cold final album Closer, but glimpsing a change that would not only recalibrate their own approach but also influence the sound of popular music itself.
On Closer, Sumner, Morris and bassist Peter Hook had pushed the band beyond the jagged post-punk of Unknown Pleasures, giving songs that might otherwise have been dirges ("Atrocity Exhibition" and "The Eternal") a kind of rumbling bounce. But Joy Division was anchored by Curtis' keening anguish. Movement allowed the band, with the addition of Gilbert, to push their rhythmic strengths to the forefront.
On the album, rhythm and repetition flourish, even during the darkest moments. And "Doubts Even Here" is as dark as anything recorded by Joy Division, with a pace like racing heartbeat, stretched out over synth and guitar lines that build up together like thunderheads – slowly, with a menace that becomes suffocating. (It's almost unbelievable that no song on Movement exceeds five and a half minutes.) The veiled messages of Sumner's lyrics -- surreal, full of despairing images -- take on a backdrop quality, accentuating the record's overall percussiveness. And they're especially desolate and nihilistic here: "Those steps which seem to take a lifetime / When eyes just turn and stare / The day begins, collapsing without warning / You fade from sight, there's nothing there." Meanwhile "ICB" feels like "New Dawn Fades" if the music (the beat, really) had been allowed to take center stage.
But there are also serious indications that New Order were coming out from under the darkness of Joy Division, and they weren't going to let Curtis' ghost haunt their music forever. The dancier moments on Closer like "Heart and Soul" were ultimately subdued by waves of drone; here they're given more space to breathe. Some glimpses of light even manage to shine through. "Senses" and "Chosen Time" both combine the cavernous sonics of "Atrocity Exhibition" with bright, psychedelic dance. (Both Closer and Movement were produced by Martin Hannett, and while Hannett contributed much to Closer's cathedral vibe, he does wonders here, giving each instrument a distinct voice in the mix.) The lyrics of "The Him," a song that mostly wallows in shadow, offer the chance for renewal: "White circles, black lines surround me / Reborn, so plain my eyes see / This is the reason that I came here / To be so near to such a person." And "Dreams Never End," the album's opening track, is so bright in comparison to the rest of the material it's almost a false promise – it's a pop song that swaggers and broods, the clearest hint of what's to come.
The band's transformation from Joy Division to New Order -- at least, the version of New Order that pioneered the elegant electronic pop that came to dominate the '80s -- culminates with a song called "Temptation," which was released six months and a musical lifetime after Movement. "Temptation" opens up the bright spots on Movement, steering the band headlong toward bliss once and for all. It doesn't abandon that quality of getting lost in the rhythm, but it's ecstatic rather than harrowing. And while the sound of "Blue Monday," with its skittering synth counter melodies and its beat-you-over-the-head beat, seems a world away from Movement, it was only another year after "Temptation" that the band would release what became the bestselling 12" single of all time.
Finally, though, part of what's captivating about listening to Movement is that the band captured here could have easily gone the other way, too, toward more repetition done in the name of burial and destruction rather than release and renewal. And so what Movement ultimately represents is a split in the indie rock family tree -- one branch leading to Nine Inch Nails, the other leading to LCD Soundsystem.
On a more micro level, New Order's ultimate venturing into open-hearted dancefloor pop pushed them to finish their metamorphosis into a truly new band with a new sound. And we have Movement as a document of the transition and all the yet-undiscovered potential that came with it.