New Order’s follow-up to their masterpiece Low-life album was Brotherhood. Brotherhood has the reputation for being the most schizophrenic of New Order’s albums. When it was first released on vinyl, side one featured more guitar heavy songs than were found on any of the previous three New Order albums.
On the other hand, side two felt more comfortably New Order-esque in its heavier reliance on synthesizers and keyboards. In addition, there is a ragged quality to the album that is unusual for a band normally known for polishing their music to a high sheen. Brotherhood remains the favorite New Order album for many fans, though I personally would rate it below Low-life and even possibly below Technique. That said, it was clearly 1987’s album of the year.
Where Brotherhood does stand as the singular accomplishment in New Order’s canon is in its finally jettisoning the shadow of Ian Curtis, the band’s leader singer in the 1970s when they were known as Joy Division. In my opinion, there seemed to be something inherent in nearly every song that New Order released prior to this album that seemed to be either about or directed toward Ian Curtis in some way. With Brotherhood, that no longer became the case. There is no hanging presence of Ian Curtis over this album.
Brotherhood get off to a great start. Paradise is classic New Order, with a persistent and driving drumbeat and the usual brilliance of bassist Peter Hook carrying the song forward. It has a slightly ominous feel to it that I’ve always felt was very similar to Chris Isaak’s greatest song ever, Dancin’. Actually, Paradise sounds very much like Isaak’s song right down to the opening drumbeat. I’m not sure exactly why both those songs have such a dark ambience to them since they are both fairly upbeat and up-tempo, but listen to them both and see if you don’t agree.
Quickly upon the heels of Paradise comes Weirdo, so titled for no apparent reason. I really miss the non-sequitur song titles that used to be so common to New Order. There is absolutely nothing the song’s lyrics to suggest why it should titled Weirdo, but there it is. Weirdo starts off with what almost sounds like a mistake on the guitar before Peter Hook again takes over with his amazing talent on the bass, leading the song into its exceptionally catchy hook.
Peter Hook’s methodical, almost lazy bassline is also prominent in As It Is When It Was, which makes a wonderful lyric of the old phrase about getting along like a house on fire This song also points up New Order’s previous penchant for bizarre titles. (And, yes, I’m getting to their literally bizarre title soon.) You kind of keep expecting this song to take off as Peter Hook continues driving it slowly with his meandering bass and, just when you expect it will never happen, it does, Bernard Albrecht’s guitar suddenly blasting off with a frenzy until it ends almost as if running out of breath.
Broken Promise continues the guitar-heavy side of this schizoid album as Peter Hook once again leads the melody on its manic journey. Stephen Morris provides some of the toughest drumming of his career in this side and Bernard Albrecht almost really does seem to be trying hard to catch up with his singing. I especially like the way the lyrics at times are slow and deliberate and then suddenly it seems as if he’s trying to pack as many words as he can into a single verse.
Way of Life comes in like thunder, hearkening back almost to Joy Division’s Atrocity Exhibition in its conglomeration of sound before breaking apart to become a peppy little song that comes close to almost not even sounding like a New Order song at all. It also contains one of my all time favorite New Order lyrics: “You told me a pack of lies/That I can’t even reason with.” Bernard Albrecht’s guitar moves the song here until a fantastic little bass and drum solo in the middle that tears the song apart before it manages to rethread itself back together again. Pay attention to the end of Way of Life and you’ll be treated to a subtle little surprise. As the song fades out, there is a quick little guitar homage to Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart.
And yes, Brotherhood is the album that features Bizarre Love Triangle, one of New Order’s few bona fide hits here in the US. Even people who know nothing else about New Order know this song. I know it pretty well myself: Bizarre Love Triangle is also the title of my first novel.
I actually prefer the song that comes after Bizarre Love Triangle, All Day Long. I think it may in part be because this is the first song I ever heard off Brotherhood. I wasn’t even aware that New Order had released a new album and I heard All Day Long on Album 88 in Atlanta, Georgia. I instantly knew it was New Order, of course, because it is the most New Order sounding song on the entire album. It features the same kind of drumming, bass line and soaring keyboards that mark the best of Power, Corruption and Lies and Low-life. In fact, All Day Long may be my very favorite song on the album. I’m especially partial to the amalgamation of all the instruments in the long instrumental fade-out, the rising and fall synthesizer being among the most beautiful pieces of music New Order ever recorded.
The next song, Angel Dust, sounds like it was made with an eye already directed toward the next album Technique. That album is a sonic tour de force that experiments musically and Angel Dust would have sounded even more at home there than on Brotherhood. There is much in common between Angel Dust and a B-side song of New Order called Murder. Not so much in how they sound, but in how they don’t sound like much of anything else New Order had recorded to the point they released these songs. If you can, I highly recommend finding the remixed version of Angel Dust as well.
The finale of Brotherhood stands as quite simply the most bizarre song New Order has ever put on any album. It doesn’t sound like anything else they have recorded and it is unusually unpolished. New Order has a sheen to it, as I said, that its completely at odds to the DIY sound so common to the punk movement which produced Joy Division. Every Little Counts begins with a Bernard Albrecht laughing at his own lyrics and ends sounding more like the maniacally symphonic ending of the Beatles’ A Day in the Life than anything else. Along the way are some hilarious lyrics and a genuinely strange entry into New Order’s canon.
Brotherhood is truly schizophrenic. It contains both great guitar-based songs and synth-based songs. It features New Order at their least polished as well as their most perfectly polished. It contains the band’s biggest and most well known hit in America as well as their most cultish song. In short, it’s a keeper.