This was the first album released under the band's U.S. deal with Quincy Jones' Warner (Bros.) Records imprint, Qwest, giving the band much more American exposure than before. While the band had had earlier singles success on the dance charts, major label distribution allowed the album to be the first to make the Billboard charts, peaking at no. 94. Qwest would later reissue the band's earlier material as well as Joy Division's albums, which had previously been handled by Factory US and distributed by fellow indie label Rough Trade.
Like Power, Corruption & Lies before it, Low-Life was a considerable commercial success for New Order, topping the UK Independent Albums chart, peaking at No. 7 on the general UK Albums chart, and being certified gold in Canada. The album was also a major critical success, with reviewers praising its refinement of the sound the band had been developing since 1982 and considering it their first truly cohesive album since their Joy Division days. The album was also ranked at No. 346 on NME's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, currently stands at No. 517 on Acclaimed Music's list of the most critically lauded albums of all time, and remains a fan favorite to this day.
Notably, this was the first of New Order's albums to have some of its songs released as singles; previously, Joy Division and New Order singles were recorded and released independently of studio albums.note For Low-Life, "The Perfect Kiss" and "Sub-Culture" were released as both 7" and 12" singles, with the 12" ones containing extended versions of the songs. Specifically, the 12" release of "The Perfect Kiss" features it in its unedited format, clocking in at 8:46 compared to the album version's 4:51, while "Sub-Culture" received a club mix by American record producer John Robie.
- "Love Vigilantes" (4:16)
- "The Perfect Kiss" (4:51)
- "This Time of Night" (4:45)
- "Sunrise" (6:01)
- "Elegia" (4:56)
- "Sooner Than You Think" (5:12)
- "Sub-Culture" (4:58)
- "Face Up" (5:02)
- Bernard Sumner vocals, guitars, melodica, synthesizers, electronics and programming, percussion
- Peter Hook 4 and 6-stringed bass, electronic percussion, backing vocals on "This Time of Night"
- Stephen Morris drums, synthesizers, electronics and programming
- Gillian Gilbert synthesizers, guitars, electronics and programming
"One of these days, you'll trope back to your home; you won't even notice that you are alone":
- A Date with Rosie Palms: At one point in "The Perfect Kiss", the narrator states that he should've just engaged in this instead of joining his visibly unstable friend for a night out.
- Album Title Drop: The album title is featured at the start of "This Time of Night", in a sample of British Journalist Jeffery Bernard. The sample is partly buried in the instrumentals and hard to hear, the result of Bernard's objections to the sample's inclusions, but it's still audible if one listens closely (or simply turns the volume up)."I'm one of the few people who live what's called a low life..."
- Book-Ends: The video for "The Perfect Kiss" begins with close-ups of the band members glancing at one another and the camera crew in preparation for their performance. It ends again with close-ups of the band members glancing at one another and the camera crew, this time gauging each other's responses to the performance (as the video had been shot in one take).
- Changed for the Video: The music video for "The Perfect Kiss", directed by Jonathan Demme, featured a live version, as the band refused to lip-sync. It's still faithful to the 12-inch version.
- Dedication: "Elegia", which itself is New Order's tribute to Ian Curtis.
- Dead All Along: The narrator's wife in "Love Vigilantes", and possibly the narrator himself depending on the listener's interpretation.
- Deliberately Monochrome: The album cover and associated photos.
- Driven to Suicide: Happens to both the wife in "Love Vigilantes" (upon receiving a telegram claiming her husband was killed in action) and the narrator's friend in "The Perfect Kiss" (whose state of mind collapses during a night out).
- Epic Rocking: "Sunrise" clocks in at 6:01. The 12" versions of "The Perfect Kiss" and "Sub-Culture" are also pretty lengthy, clocking in at 8:47 and 7:26, respectively. "Elegia" was infamous for being nearly 18 minutes before being cut down to just under five for the studio album.
- Everything Is an Instrument: "The Perfect Kiss" includes a sampled interlude of frog croaks of all things, simply because Stephen Morris loved the recording and jumped at the chance to make use of it, as well as synthesized sheep bleats at the end of the 12" version. The latter sample would become an aural Running Gag on later New Order material.
- Face on the Cover: Portraits of Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert appear on the front and back cover, respectively, in what is perhaps the only case of this trope in New Order's official discography. On the LP release, additional portraits of Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook also appear on opposite sides of the inner sleeve, while on the CD release, the portraits of Morris, Sumner, and Hook are all featured on a six-panel gatefold insert for the front of the jewel case (Gilbert's portrait is still featured on the back cover). Interestingly, both the LP and CD releases feature the gimmick of the portraits being interchangeable. The LP release features the portraits of Morris and Gilbert as large cards contained within onion paper wrapping; they and the inner sleeve can be rearranged to put whichever member one desires on the front and back— or leave one or both covers blank. On the CD release, the aforementioned gatefold can be opened up and re-inserted to place either Morris, Sumner, or Hook on the front. This variant, however, does feature a limitation in that the "new Order" text on the front is printed on Morris's portrait instead on the front of the jewel case, and Gilbert's portrait cannot be removed from the back.
- Gratuitous Panning: The synth hits at the end of the intro to "The Perfect Kiss" jump between the left and right audio channels; this is only present on the album version, and is absent from the 12" release.
- Grief Song: "Elegia", dedicated to the late Ian Curtis.
- Idiosyncratic Cover Art: The sleeve for "The Perfect Kiss" repeats the wraparound text style seen on the cover of this album. This would set a trend of New Order's album singles having at least one piece of cover art that takes after the cover of their parent album, something they would maintain throughout their careers.
- Instrumentals: "Elegia", a wordless synthesizer & bass dirge.
- In the Style of...:
- "Sunrise" is a noticeable pastiche of The Cure's Goth Rock style, which the members of New Order had previously pioneered as Joy Division.
- The music video for "The Perfect Kiss", directed by Jonathan Demme, is a straight Performance Video done in the same manner as Stop Making Sense, the Demme-directed Talking Heads concert film from the previous year.
- Last Note Nightmare: The 12" version of "The Perfect Kiss" ends with the sound of a synthesized bang, implied to be the narrator's friend shooting himself dead.
- Lyrical Dissonance: This album marked the point where New Order really started dabbling in this trope, on "The Perfect Kiss" (which describes the narrator's friend going insane and killing himself) and "Face Up" (where the narrator angrily reflects on a failed relationship, openly resenting his former lover).
- New Sound Album: The integration of Post-Punk and Synth-Pop becomes even more overt than on the previous album, and the music overall sounds more concretely structured and danceable.
- Non-Appearing Title: As is the standard with New Order. The 12" version of "The Perfect Kiss" notably averts this, featuring an extra verse not present in the album version where the narrator realizes that "the perfect kiss is the kiss of death" upon seeing his friend commit suicide.
- One-Word Title: "Sunrise" and "Elegia".
- Out-of-Genre Experience: Bernard Sumner noted the Country Music influences on "Love Vigilantes", something not otherwise seen in New Order's oeuvre.
- Performance Video: "The Perfect Kiss", which notably features the band performing live (in the studio) due to Bernard Sumner's refusal to lip-sync.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Despite being rumored to be about Ian Curtis, "The Perfect Kiss" is actually about an experience New Order had in the United States where a man they were hanging out with randomly showed them the collection of guns hidden under his mattress before going out for a night on the town.
- Rearrange the Song:
- "The Perfect Kiss" is significantly edited down from 8:47 to just under 5 minutes due to space limitations on long-playing records (which has the effect of removing the Title Drop); the edit is maintained on CD copies despite the format having more than enough space to include the full-length version (if only because the format was still fairly nascent in 1985). Among other aspects of the album edit, the intro is much shorter (removing Peter Hook's aggressive bass part) and includes Gratuitous Panning synth hits absent from the uncut release, the last verse is missing, and the outro fades out partway through, omitting the Last Note Nightmare. The song wouldn't be included uncut on any CD release until the collector's edition of the album in 2008, via a bonus disc. The song also received further edits for the 7" release, being cut down by around another half-minute.
- "Sub-Culture", meanwhile, got the exact opposite treatment, receiving a remix for its 12" release that incorporated soul singer backing vocals and more club-oriented rhythms; ironically, the album version ended up being considered more club-friendly.
- Re-Cut: Of a mild variety in the album's case; original Factory Records CDs of Low-Life were mastered with extra pre-emphasis.
- Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: One possible interpretation of the ending to "Love Vigilantes".
- Rule of Cool: The sole reason for the non-sequitur frog solo in the middle of "The Perfect Kiss".
- Sanity Slippage Song: Played with on "The Perfect Kiss", which examines this trope not Through the Eyes of Madness, but rather from the perspective of an outsider, specifically a mentally stable friend of the person going insane.
- Sudden Downer Ending: "Love Vigilantes" tells the story of an air force pilot in The Vietnam War finally being granted leave after what is implied to be years of fighting. He gleefully returns home to his wife and child, only to find his wife dead on the floor, having committed suicide after receiving a telegram stating that the pilot had died.
- Unexpectedly Dark Episode: While Low-Life is by no means sunshine and rainbows, "Elegia" is far darker than any other track on the record, owed to it being an open eulogy for late Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, whose death spawned the creation of New Order.