Following the middling critical and fan reception of Movement, the band shifted direction away from simply continuing the sound they had already achieved as Joy Division and shifted focus to an even more synth-heavy sound, to increasingly favorable responses as time went on. This album served as the culmination of those efforts: though the band had not yet fully figured out their brand of Alternative Dance, having only just recently invented the genre, this album marks the point where they fully and effectively embraced synthesizers and drum machines, mixing them in with their Post-Punk core to create a unique synth-rock sound that they would end up further refining on their later albums.
Part of this was aided by the band's separation from Joy Division producer Martin Hannett the previous year: having learned the tricks of music production from their work with him, they opted to self-produce their material from that point onward, allowing them to more readily craft a new identity for themselves independent of their previous incarnation; they'd remain self-produced (barring the odd collaboration or two for a single) until 1993's Republic. As with Closer, the album was recorded at Pink Floyd's Britannia Row studios. The change was also forced by the theft of the band's equipment, which dated back to their Joy Division days, on tour in America supporting Movement, and the need for subsequent replacements caused them to make a literal break with their old Joy Division sound.
Like Movement and the two Joy Division albums, Power, Corruption & Lies wasn't supported by any singles on its initial release; their Breakthrough Hit "Blue Monday" from two months prior was only available as a non-album single (in part due to being recorded after the sessions for the album despite being released earlier). The Factory US cassette and later Qwest Records American cassette and CD releases added the song, along with its B-Side "The Beach," to the track list; both tracks were also preserved on Qwest's subsequent release of Substance despite the redundancy. On modern digital music distribution services, the worldwide tracklisting, including in the US, mirrors the original British configuration, without "Blue Monday" or "The Beach", similar to post-1987 reissues of The Beatles' UK albums. The opening track "Age of Consent" would eventually receive a music video in 2020, as a means of promoting the album's Definitive Edition Boxed Set released earlier that year.
- "Age of Consent" (5:16)
- "We All Stand" (5:14)
- "The Village" (4:37)
- "5 8 6" (7:31)
- "Blue Monday" (7:32)*
- "Your Silent Face" (6:00)
- "Ultraviolence" (4:52)
- "Ecstasy" (4:25)
- "Leave Me Alone" (4:40)
- "The Beach" (7:22)*
*Added in Factory US's cassette releases and Qwest Records' CD and cassette releases
- Gillian Gilbert - synthesizer, guitar
- Peter Hook - bass, percussion
- Stephen Morris - drums, synthesizer
- Bernard Summer - lead vocals, guitar, melodica, synthesizer
You've caught me at a bad time, so why don't you trope off:
- Accentuate the Negative: The album title.
- Alternate Music Video: "Blue Monday" received three different videos over the years.
- The first one, set to a truncated edit of the 1983 version that focuses on the lyrics, is a collage of stock images, false-color military clips, video game footage, and color blocks based on Peter Saville's color code for the single.
- The second one is based on the 1988 mix's 7" edit, showcasing the band playing around with tennis balls and milk crates in an abstract room, intercut with balancing dogs, frog and baby toys, and marker animations.
- The third one, released in 2020 to promote the Definitive Edition Boxed Set, is a Lyric Video based on the full 1983 version. This one sets the lyrics around an animation based on Peter Saville's color code.
- Alternative Dance: This album was more or less the Trope Codifier for the genre, alongside "Blue Monday" later that year (which was added to certain re-releases of this album). The band had previously acted as the Trope Maker with "Temptation" the previous year, but it was on this album where the hallmarks of alternative dance first developed.
- Alternative Rock: Helped codify the British side of the movement and, along with R.E.M.'s Murmur that same year, instigated a shift to it in the indie/underground scene, which was previously dominated by Post-Punk (which the members of New Order had previously codified as Joy Division) and New Wave Music.
- Animal Motifs: The "Age of Consent" video is based heavily around moth-themed imagery, featuring a chiaroscuro aesthetic and twitchy, insect-like movements from the video's protagonist alongside the quick clips of a moth in motion.
- Anti-Love Song: "Blue Monday", in which the protagonist feels mistreated by his partner.
- "Age of Consent" recycles the drum track from Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart"; given that the two songs are direct opposites in both musical and lyrical tone, the reuse of the drum track compounds the song's statement of New Order's new direction.
- "The Village" uses the same chord progression and synthesizer tones as "Temptation", the 1982 non-album single that served as the Trope Maker for Alternative Dance and marked New Order's shift to it.
- "Your Silent Face" includes the phrase "no movement" in both of its verses, namedropping the band's previous album; the song itself is a commentary on their initial struggle to escape the shadow of Joy Division.
- "Leave Me Alone" uses the same bass chord progression as "Shadowplay" from Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, albeit in a different key and slowed down a little.
- The album's packaging carries over the the floppy disk motif and color code from "Blue Monday", this time featuring a decoder wheel to help interpret the color codes.
- The twitchy dance moves the protagonist pulls off in the final act of the "Age of Consent" video nod back to Ian Curtis' dance moves from Joy Division's live performances; the juxtaposition of the character's dancing with a moth recalls contemporary comparisons between Curtis' dancing and a dying fly.
- Call-Forward: According to Peter Hook, the title of "5 8 6" comes from the bar structure of "Ecstasy" later on the album.
- Chiaroscuro: The music video for "Age of Consent" is set in a dark room and a nighttime road, with the sparse amounts of light coming from a flickering lightbulb and car headlights.
- Digital Destruction: Qwest's U.S. CD release omitted the floppy disk motif and decoder that was on the back cover of the LP version, in favor of a generic tracklist and credits; it's not even featured anywhere in the liner notes. Barring the use of a similar technique on Brotherhood, the band's other CD releases through Qwest (as well as CD releases of the Joy Division catalog) would be much more faithful to the LP packaging.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: While this album is definitely much closer in style to the band's later work than Movement, it's much more experimental and downtempo as a result of the band still trying to figure out their exact blend of Post-Punk and Synth-Pop. Starting from the album after this one, the band's sound would become much slicker. In a 2011 interview with Mojo magazine, Peter Hook described the album as such:"There was definitely a change in style. Movement sounded like Joy Division, but Power, Corruption & Lies is the first New Order record. That distinct marriage of electronics and rock is a distinct, very unique sound."
- Easter Egg: The original LP release contains the word "STRAWBERRY" and the phrase "STRAWBERRY WHERE's MURDER?" (with that exact capitalization) in the runout groove of side A and side B, respectively. Some later pressings changed these to "THE ROBOT STRAWBERRY", "STRAWBERRY. THE ROBOT" (with or without the period), and/or "WHERE'S MURDER?" depending on which copy one purchased.
- Epic Instrumental Opener: "5 8 6" could be mistaken for a funk instrumental until the Song Style Shift and vocals start near the 2.5 minute mark.
- Epic Rocking: "5 8 6", "Blue Monday," and "The Beach" all run over seven minutes. "Your Silent Face" is exactly six minutes long.
- Fading into the Next Song: The outro of "The Village" segues directly into the intro of "5 8 6".
- Flower Motifs: This album introduced floral imagery as a recurring theme for New Order, with its cover art appropriating the painting "A Basket of Roses". Many of their later album and single releases would continue to use flowers and other plants as a key visual hallmark.
- Franchise Codifier: This album was a huge one for New Order following the huge Early-Installment Weirdness that was Movement. From the first track right to the last, this album established that the band was a far different entity now than Joy Division were, with a blend of Alternative Rock & Synth-Pop and an abundance of sardonic Anti-Love Song lyrics (a stark contrast to the opaque literary brooding that Ian Curtis was known for) that would come to define the group's Signature Style. Even if later albums established a far slicker direction, everything New Order did after this album owes a great deal of debt to it.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: As with Closer from three years prior, the album sides aren't explicitly differentiated on the LP label, instead choosing to indicate sides A and B as part of the serial number in the runout groove, though this record at least features tracklists to go off of. Cassette releases at least have indicators on both the tracklist and tape labels telling which is which. Interestingly, the cassette release label the sides as "one" and "two" rather than the LP release's "A" and "B".
- Intentionally Awkward Title: "Age of Consent", titled after the legal term for the minimum age at which individuals are legally permitted to engage in mutually consensual sexual activity. The song has nothing to do with sex.
- In the Style of:
- "Blue Monday" and "The Beach" are uncharacteristically Hi-NRG songs based on a mix of Donna Summer, Klein + M.B.O., Sylvester (specifically "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)"), and Kraftwerk.
- "Your Silent Face" is a loose imitation of Kraftwerk, to the point where it was originally called "K.W.1." (i.e. "The Kraftwerk One").
- Last Chorus Slow-Down: "5 8 6", albeit with a repeating synth riff rather than vocals.
- Lyric Video: "Blue Monday" eventually received one in 2020 to promote the Definitive Edition release of this album.
- New Sound Album: This was the first full-length where they fully transitioned into their trademark Alternative Dance sound; Stephen Morris characterized it as the band transitioning from black-and-white to color in that regard, shedding off the past and moving into the future and moving from the overbearing gloom of Joy Division to a more stylistically diverse and eclectic direction.
- Non-Appearing Title: The band's habit of not dropping the title in their songs holds up on most of the tracks, save for "Ecstacy" and "Leave Me Alone". The album title furthermore isn't dropped anywhere, not even on the packaging: on Factory UK's LP and CD releases, the only place the title is mentioned is on the disc label, with the album's front and back covers lacking any text and the spine only listing the album's serial number (the Factory US, Qwest, London Records, and Rhino Records releases, meanwhile, do list the band name and album title on the spine, and the Qwest CD release and all cassette copies add them to the front cover as well).
- Non-Indicative Name:
- Despite the cynically Machiavellian tone of its title, Power, Corruption & Lies is far more upbeat than the icily gothic Movement.
- "Age of Consent" has nothing to do with actual age-of-consent laws or sex as a whole.
- One-Word Title: "Ecstasy", "Ultraviolence".
- Packaged as Other Medium: The "Blue Monday" 12-inch was designed to look like a 5.25-inch floppy disk, complete with die-cuts for the holes. A variation of the design carried over to the album, minus both the die-cuts and "Blue Monday".
- Pep-Talk Song: "Age of Consent", wherein the protagonist finally stands up for himself after years of being under the thumb of an abusive partner.
- The album title was lifted from the blurb on the back of a Penguin edition of Animal Farm, describing the book's premise of a Full-Circle Revolution.
- "The Village" is named after the location of the same name in The Prisoner.
- "Ultraviolence" to A Clockwork Orange.
- The album cover appropriates the Ignace-Henri-Théodore Fantin-Latour painting "A Basket of Roses".
- Peter Hook's bass riff in "Blue Monday" is lifted from Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to For a Few Dollars More, and the choir sample is taken from Kraftwerk's "Uranium". The song also sounds quite a bit like Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)", which isn't that surprising given that the band acknowledged the disco star as an influence. The song title itself, meanwhile, is derived from the 1973 Kurt Vonnegut novel Breakfast Of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday.
- Siamese Twin Songs: "Blue Monday" and its instrumental remix, "The Beach". Not surprisingly, they were originally released as an A-side and B-side on the same 12" single. Both songs also share elements with "5 8 6" and "Ultraviolence", as they were all derived from the same sequencer jam.
- Surreal Music Video: The music video for "Blue Monday" pairs video game footage with false-color clips of military vehicles, stock images, and abstract computer animations. The video for the song's 1988 remix is even stranger, with footage of balancing dogs, the band playing with milk crates and tennis balls in a disjointedly-designed room, toys in motion, and marker-on-paper animations based on the aforementioned scenes.
- Take That, Critics!: The final line of "Your Silent Face", "You've caught me at a bad time so why don't you piss off?", was directed to critics who panned the group's first album for a perceived lack of artistic progression beyond their work as Joy Division.
- Textless Album Cover: A reproduction of the painting "A Basket of Roses" by French artist Henri Fantin-Latour. The only thing remotely close to text is the series of colored squares in the upper-right corner, which a decoder on the back cover decrypts as "FACT 75," the record's Factory Records catalog number. Qwest's U.S. cassette and CD reissues added the band name and title to the cover, while the label simply tacked a transparent sticker onto the vinyl version, similar to a Pink Floyd album.
- Tough Act to Follow: Described in-universe in "Your Silent Face", a commentary on the band's struggle to move out of Joy Division's shadow.