Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Classic Albums: New Order, Movement

Up until now the records I've featured in my classic albums series have been major critical successes.  However, there are a few overlooked gems out there that I feel ought to get more recognition, and Movement is one of them.  For example, Allmusic only gives it three and a half stars, the lowest rating for any of the band's 80s and 90s albums.  It's generally thought to be a transitional album.  In case you didn't know, New Order formed out of Joy Division, whose lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980.  At this point the new band was trying to find its way, and it still sounded a lot like Joy Division.

I'd been turned onto Joy Division by friend in my Chicago days, and out of curiosity went out and got a used version of the Substance compilation of New Order singles.  I loved the first tracks (namely "Ceremony," "Temptation," and "Everything's Gone Green") best, and so jumped at the chance when I saw a used copy of Movement at a record store near the Belmont el stop on the Red Line.

I've probably listened to this album more than any other in my collection, in large part because I spent a good chunk of my life using it as a sleep aid.  Unless I am absolutely wiped out, I can't fall asleep in total silence.  The spooky, otherworldly feel of this album make it perfect as a Virgil accompanying me to the icy depths of the sleep world.  I started using it for this purpose during my Michigan days, and hearing the first, descending chords of "Dreams Never End" instantly conjures up memories of my freezing apartment in winter time, where I had to wear flannel pajamas and wrap myself in multiple blankets to stay warm in bed in a complex nightly ritual.  That song is one of the warmest on the record, and it sort of wrapped me in an aural blanket as I lay there curled up, hoping for sleep to take me away. On those cold, dark lonely nights in the midst of Michigan's unforgiving winters, this album had medicinal qualities.

Movement is so much about feel and mood that I don't think I can analyze it song by song, because I've never listened to it with songs in mind.  The album tracks are more moods than fully fledged songs, but in a good way.  "Chosen Time," for instance, floats in a kind of ether, it's staccato guitar lines like morse code from another dimension.  "Truth" sounds like a restless spirit haunting dark corners, perhaps an elegy for Ian Curtis.  Speaking of, songs don't get much spookier than "The Him," which is more obviously about Curtis' death.  The drum rhythms are an inverted funeral march, the guitar a feedback-laden ghost, both surging forward at uncanny moments.  My favorite song might be "Doubts Even Here," whose erie start, building up from almost total silence, makes me picture total desolation.  It's the sound of survivors emerging from a bomb shelter into an obliterated street.  Not many albums can create that feeling, and get their listeners to keep going back to it.

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