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Music / Low-Life

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"Let's go out and have some fun."
Low-Life is the third album by English Alternative Dance group New Order. Released in 1985, the album further explores the mix of Post-Punk and Synth-Pop featured on Power, Corruption & Lies and its surrounding singles, bringing New Order into their signature brand of Alternative Dance (after having singlehandedly invented the genre with their single "Temptation" three years prior).

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 and had built a stateside audience through touring, club, and College Radio play, 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.

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.


Side One
  1. "Love Vigilantes" (4:16)
  2. "The Perfect Kiss" (4:51)
  3. "This Time of Night" (4:45)
  4. "Sunrise" (6:01)

Side Two

  1. "Elegia" (4:56)
  2. "Sooner Than You Think" (5:12)
  3. "Sub-Culture" (4:58)
  4. "Face Up" (5:02)

Principal members:

  • 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

Life was just an open trope:

  • 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."
  • Alternate Album Cover: Thanks to the unusual and expensive design for the UK LP packaging (swappable cards behind an onion paper overlay), releases across different regions and formats tend to get creative with how they carry it over:
    • Factory's cassette releases feature the band logotype against a solid white backdrop, while Qwest's US cassettes feature the unaltered photo of Stephen Morris on the front and the band name and album title above it; both include the other band photos in the J-card foldout.
    • Factory and London CDs in the UK replicate the LP packaging with jewel case-sized cards and a printed onion paper sheet, while Qwest goes for a gatefold booklet with the logotype printed directly on the front page; said booklet can be re-folded and reinserted as desired.
    • Qwest LP releases forgo the overlay altogether and simply have the unaltered band photos printed on the sleeves, with the logo included on an obi strip.
    • The Collector's Edition reissue also prints the band photos directly onto the digipak panels, though include the logotype on the front.
  • 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).
  • Call-Back:
    • "Face Up" features the phrase "can you see your own dark face/it's dying in a lonely place," apparently referring to the B-Side of the 1981 "Ceremony" single, "In a Lonely Place".
    • The video for "The Perfect Kiss" has a Joy Division poster hanging in the background.
  • 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: The only case of this in the band's discography thanks to designer Peter Saville wanting to take a break from "concept covers," and even then it's spun in an unconventional way: Polaroids of the band members appear as interchangeable cards that can be swapped around and slotted in onion paper sleeves. CD versions vary in their approach, with Factory and London featuring miniature versions of the cards and an onion paper overlay that slot into the front of the jewel case, Qwest using a re-foldable gatefold insert, and the Collector's Edition just omitting the effect altogether. According to Saville, the band were initially reluctant to depict themselves on the front cover, but were convinced to go ahead with it after being impressed by the results.
  • Gratuitous Panning: The synth hits at the end of the intro to "The Perfect Kiss" jump between the left and right audio channels; these hits are actually taken from the song's B-side, "Kiss of Death" (the 12" version of "The Perfect Kiss" lacks them).
  • 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:
  • Last Chorus Slow-Down: Done at the very end of "Sub-Culture", where the tempo quickly deaccelerates to the point where the final chorus stops midway through.
  • 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 edited down from 8:46 to just under 5 minutes thanks to LP space limitations. The album cut axes the track's latter half, fading out prematurely, though compensates by swapping in the intro to the song's B-side, "Kiss of Death". The latter was likely deemed sufficient enough to keep the LP edit across formats even after more spacious CDs and digital releases became the norm.
    • "Sub-Culture", meanwhile, got the exact opposite treatment, receiving a remix for its 12" release that edited some of the lyrics, incorporated soul singer backing vocals, and featured more club-oriented rhythms; ironically, the album version ended up being considered more club-friendly.
  • 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: "The Perfect Kiss" examines this trope 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.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "The Perfect Kiss" idiosyncratically describes jerking off as "playing with my pleasure zone."