New Order, Infatuation & Love

Joy Division’s music was always filled with a very pessimistic, jaded view on love and relationships – shaped by Ian Curtis and his failing marriage. The lyrics downbeat and never about falling in love as much as falling out of love, that’s if they even wrote about relationships. Much of the tracks off the seminal work Unknown Pleasures reflect the misanthropic and nihilistic view Curtis had towards his own existence.

Tracks like Shadowplay reflect that he felt his life, like hand puppets in a literal shadowplay, was a show for everyone but the one performing.

After his tragic death in 1980, remaining Joy Division members formed a new band – New Order. Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris were joined by Gillian Gilbert who had previously been a last minute replacement for Curtis during gigs.

New Order’s sound is incredibly different to that of their predecessor, with it going from gothic, downbeat rock to synth pop with an often uplifting spirit. When the music of Joy Division viewed love often in a negative light, New Order use it to really tug on heartstrings and tell earnest, raw anecdotes of relationships.

New Order’s take on love has always been one of interest to me – the way they’re often able to express emotions and tell stories in such a bright and well intentioned way. The giddy nervousness for early love expressed in Temptation, the jaded but sincere Age of Consent about nearing the end, to the philosophical Superheated which tackled with looking back on relationships in hindsight.

New Order in concert, March 2020.

Temptation

Temptation is particularly interesting to me. The song’s way of looking at how we develop crushes – or infatuation – I think is really interesting and well expressed.

A heaven, a gateway, a hope
Just like a feeling I need, it’s no joke
And though it hurts me to treat you this way
Betrayed by words I’d never heard, too hard to say

The hope and feeling of finding someone that sparks that sort of feeling is an incredible one. Most people in life strive towards it. It’s an unbelievable sensation that powers people on.

I read the “though it hurts me to treat you this way” as sort of a statement of how an infatuation on other people can end up being a negative thing and causing you to do dumb things and act in stupid ways. Once you fall for someone it’s hard to undo it and you get tunnel vision for that person.

Oh, up, down, turn around
Please don’t let me hit the ground
Tonight, I think I’ll walk alone
I’ll find my soul as I go home
Up, down, turn around
Please don’t let me hit the ground
Tonight, I think I’ll walk alone
I’ll find my soul as I go home

Please don’t let me hit the ground – don’t give me the reality check – don’t make me lose this feeling. Whatever you do, let me stay in this bubble of infatuation.

Each way I turn, I know I’ll always try
To break this circle that has been placed around me
From time to time, I find I’ve lost some need
That was so urgent to myself, I do believe

A point of realisation around the narrator. Realising just how often this seems to happen to them and how much it ends up meaning for them each time. A relentless cycle, which can be viewed as both a tragic tale and an uplifting one. Is it healthy to require this sort of feeling constantly? What is life like without this feeling?

Oh, you’ve got green eyes, oh, you’ve got grey eyes
Oh, you’ve got blue eyes
Oh, you’ve got green eyes, oh, you’ve got blue eyes
Oh, you’ve got grey eyes
And I’ve never seen anyone quite like you before
No, I’ve never met anyone quite like you before

This is one of my all-time favourite verses from a New Order song. I think it perfectly summarises what the song is about, completely nailing the sentiment and emotion. You can get an exact idea of what it’s saying without explanation.

Oh, it’s the last time, oh, it’s the last time
Oh, it’s the last time, oh, it’s the last time
Oh, it’s the last time
And I’ve never met anyone quite like you before
No, I’ve never met anyone quite like you before

The outro to the song, which leaves it on an interesting note. It’s simple but incredibly effective. I really love how this song is able to express the feeling of infatuation so well.

Age of Consent

Album art for Power, Corruption, and Lies.

Won’t you please let me go
These words lie inside they hurt me so
And I’m not the kind that likes to tell you
Just what I want to do
I’m not the kind that needs to tell you
Just what you want me to

I saw you this morning
I thought that you might like to know
I received your message in full a few days ago
I understood every word that is said
And now that I’ve actually heard it
You’re going to regret

A very poignant song to me, Age of Consent is about a failing relationship which both parties want to end but neither has the strength to cut it off.

And I’m not the kind that likes to tell you
Just what you want me to
You’re not the kind that needs to tell me
About the birds and the bees

Both of them are emotionally no longer in the relationship, and I think the “birds and the bees” is about infidelity on both of their parts- or at least suspected infidelity. They don’t have the same level of love and trust anymore. It’s just a husk of what they once were.

But at the end of it all, they’ll still miss each other. It’s a much more Joy Division feeling song lyrically than New Order- it reminds me heavily of Love Will Tear Us Apart Again.

I’ve lost you
I’ve lost you
I’ve lost you
I’ve lost you

Echoing out as the song ends, “I’ve lost you” is the gut punch to the song.

The human brain is great at making attachments to people and things, but struggles heavily with trying to cut off those same feelings.

Break-ups, cutting contact, ending friendships or any relationship are all incredibly tough. It’s one of the hard things in life we all end up experiencing and is a universal experience yet we all respond differently to it. It’s hard not to keep some level of affection and feeling for people in your life who were once close to you but no longer are.

The song is just so human and I find it fascinating how it manages to tell its story.

Superheated

Album art for Music Complete

A collaboration between New Order and The Killers frontman Brandon Flowers, Superheated is the final track of the album Music Complete.

If these songs were all part of one same story or character arc for the same narrator, Superheated would be the narrator years later reflecting on their life philosophically and the relationships they had. Sung as a duet between Bernard Sumner and Brandon Flowers, it’s a pretty perfect marriage between New Order and Flowers’ style. My opinion is the duet element is meant to be about how the narrator felt during the break-up when he was younger (Brandon Flowers), and how he feels about it now as a much older man (Bernard Sumner).

Bernard Sumner:
Sometimes I wake up and the sky is grey
When you’re not here by my side
I see your make up on the shelf
In a photograph of someone else
And it breaks me up like I don’t exist
Did we ever love, did we ever kiss?
Do you ever listen to what I have to say?
As life unfolded that one short day

Some stage after his relationship, the narrator begins to try and analyse what their dynamic actually was like and if it was as great as they felt it was at the time. Doubts go through his mind and everything he remembers of their time together becomes hazy and clouded.

Bernard Sumner & Brandon Flowers:
However you want it, it’s my desire
Girl you’ve got me hanging like a bird caught on a wire
We are so different, yet we’re the same
Things that I remember, that I wish I could change

He’s still hooked on the memory and can’t forget. Part of him wonders if it would have ended differently if he made different choices or said things differently – it’s slightly haunting to him. Would putting himself as second priority in the relationship have saved it? The imagery of a “bird caught on a wire” is symbolic of restricted freedom, a lack of comfort and autonomy – he feels stuck emotionally.

The overlap of Sumner and Flowers for the chorus is important, it’s showing the thoughts that have stayed with him all this time and have never really gone away.

Bernard Sumner:
Sometimes I wake up as angry as hell
I feel deserted, I feel unwell
But it’s not your fault, no not at all
I was the reason for our downfall
Sometimes I wake up when I’m alone
As angry as hell because you’re gone

The anger and frustration of his own actions and what he did and didn’t do is all he can think about. Around this time, the narrator realises how much things were down to his error in his own mind. As an older man, he feels the loneliness of being without the other person. It’s the power of hindsight, really.

Bernard Sumner & Brandon Flowers:
However you want it, it’s my desire
Girl you’ve got me hanging like a bird caught on a wire
We are so different, yet we’re the same
Things that I remember, that I wish I could change
You want your life back, girl I’m not a thief
You told me that it’s over and that you were gonna leave

She’s gone and able to move on freely, but he can only hope for being at the stage that he can forget and truly move on.

Bernard Sumner & Brandon Flowers:
Now that it’s over
Now that it’s over
Now that it’s over
Now that it’s over
Now that it’s over
Now that it’s over
It’s over, it’s over, it’s over

Just like the previous two songs analysed here, it has an outro which has a single phrase repeated. After the crescendo of the last chorus, it goes out to a really classic New Order bit of synth, fading out. Is the outro of songs having one repeated phrase just a motif of New Order, a conscious continuation of themes, or a big coincidence? I’m not sure, but it’s interesting to think about.

All three songs sound unique and have really different tones from the outset. It’s a great example of how bands can keep a similar sound over time but adapt it to different scenarios to get the most emotional reaction out of their listeners.


This “trilogy” of songs is a favourite of mine. I think it’s hard to not listen to them as three – when Temptation comes on shuffle, I’ll pretty much always go to Age of Consent, and then Superheated after that.

New Order’s writing around infatuation, love, and relationships is a strength. I don’t think many bands quite manage to hit these themes as well and as maturely as New Order do.

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