New Order‘s Brotherhood was a natural progression from Low-Life in that it still had the imperfect vocal styles of Bernard Sumner, the easily recognizable bassline from Peter Hook, the jangly guitars and danceable keyboards, but it took everything a step farther. Layered vocals abounded for one, and the textures more closely mimicked bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and Aztec Camera rather than those of, say the Human League or the Pet Shop Boys. In most songs, the guitar is much more of a presence than the synthesizer, leaving the dance floor, for the most part, behind for a more traditional rock band sound.
With every album, New Order evolved. Each one more mature than the last, for which Brotherhood acts as somewhat the centerpiece. It would be three more years until the band would release the synth-heavier Technique, four more until the follow-up to that record, Republic. Before “True Faith,” and its bizarre video, came into people’s homes, Brotherhood took New Order’s last shot at somewhat straightforward guitar pop. There are moments reminiscent of the Beatles, Echo, and Sumner’s later collaborator, Johnny Marr. Songs like “Weirdo” and “Broken Promise” are vivid examples of the tinny guitar sound prevalent at the time, and New Order, with the backup of Peter Hook on bass, make it their own.
The biggest single from the album was, of course, the brilliant “Bizarre Love Triangle.” No matter what people’s musical tastes in their youth, most, when cued by the music, will mouth along with the lyrics:
Everytime I see you falling
I get down on my knees and pray
I’m waiting for that final moment
You say the words that I can’t say
“Bizarre Love Triangle” took what was successful about the singles that preceded it (“Blue Monday,” “The Perfect Kiss”) and then took them to the next level. Easily memorized lyrics along with Hook’s driving bass, Gilbert’s dreamy keys, and Stephen Morris’ club drum machine tracks made for the quintessential start to the beginning of the late eighties. “Angel Dust” was more akin to the Cure than anything else they had done, and also acted as a sonic precursor to specific songs on Technique. “Every Little Counts,” not to be confused with Depeche Mode’s “Everything Counts” from three years earlier, is somewhat of an oddity. Midway into the first stanza, Sumner cracks up, still trying to sing through his laughter as the band plays sparingly along. They ended up keeping the track, maybe because the lyrics are themselves honest, forthright and silly which makes the laughter seem apt.
Every second counts when I am with you
I think you are a pig, you should be in a zoo.
Yet almost three minutes into the song, Gilbert’s keyboards take on a more touching aspect, almost like in the Thompson Twins’ song “If You Were Here” at the end of the movie Sixteen Candles, or OMD in their song “Talking Loud and Clear.”
Brotherhood isn’t like any other New Order album, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While most fans of their singles and Substance, the collection of those early danceable 12-inch mixes, might not connect with the album as quickly and readily, it is one of their best, and my personal favorite from start to finish. I, in fact, still own the vinyl copy that I originally bought, and also the 12-inch vinyl version of “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and sorry folks, I’ll never sell them.