It's strange to look at the stack of albums that New Order made during the 1980s, because there's almost nothing to link 1981's Movement with 1989's Technique, beyond the band name. New Order's membership remained constant during '80s, with the three surviving members of Joy Division joined by Gillian Gilbert, who was added to flesh out New Order's burgeoning love of synthesizers. But a fantastic series of new reissues, each with a disc of bonus material and an essay by Ian Harrison, does a fine job of making sense of the transition.
Movement, unsurprisingly, sounds like a band still in the clutches of its old sound: It was the first time Bernard Sumner had sung (bassist Peter Hook even takes lead on one song), and sonically, the band clung to Joy Division's darkness. It's a good but uneven set, though the supplementary material outshines it, particularly the first appearance of "Everything's Gone Green." 1983 saw the release of the classic Power, Corruption & Lies, which Hook refers to in these new notes as "the first New Order record." It was the sound of a band coming out of the shadows, retaining some of the pop elements of older days, but also embracing happiness and a whole new world of sequencers—all aided by copious acid consumption. The electronics of the age were pretty primitive, but that was a huge part of Power's charm—it blips and bloops with real humanity. The accompanying single "Blue Monday" (a massive success that New Order actually left off the album) was the pinnacle of the style, with droll vocals set to an almost human-free track. It's their most famous track, but certainly not their best, especially seated next to songs like "Age Of Consent."
Low-Life, from 1985, completely locked the disco influences into sync with New Order's pop leanings: It launched the band (with some help from the Pretty In Pink soundtrack) into the American consciousness via "The Perfect Kiss" and "State Of The Nation," but also found room for the slow-burn instrumental "Elegia" and the goofy "Face Up." Brotherhood, released the following year, found New Order's disco and rock sides factioning, with the rock side clearly winning. It's an unsung great of the catalog that's dwarfed a bit by its massive single, "Bizarre Love Triangle." The band closed out the decade with what would be its last truly great album, Technique. This time, the synths fought back and won, a fact made possible by the burgeoning acid-house scene and the fact that New Order—in typical fashion—recorded it in the midst of a four-month vacation in Ibiza. There have been excellent New Order songs post-'89, but these reissues capture the essential years of an incredible band that never took itself too seriously.