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Music / Low Life

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"Tonight I should've stayed at home, playing with my pleasure zone."
Low-Life is the third album by 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-distributed Qwest label, giving the band much more American exposure than before. While the band had had earlier success on the dance charts, having some major label clout 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


"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 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..."
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Grief Song: One word. Elegia.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Re-Cut:
    • Of a mild variety in the album's case; original Factory Records CDs of Low-Life were mastered with extra pre-emphasis.
    • "The Perfect Kiss" is a more straightforward example, being significantly edited down from 8:47 to just under 5 minutes due to space limitations on long-playing records. 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.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: One possible interpretation of the ending to "Love Vigilantes".
  • 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.

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