100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s #6 New Order – Thieves Like Us

Released : 1984

Few bands found themselves more in alien territory than New Order in the latter half of 1983. Their second album Power, Corruption & Lies had been released in May, reaching number four in the charts, but the year had belonged to Blue Monday, a prescient vision of techno and a conflation of several threads that included Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity and Sylvester’s Mighty Real. It had been the gargantuan mega hit that Factory never seemed likely to pull off and the true birth of the twelve inch single as a format, but none of that meant Sumner, Hook, Morris or Gilbert would want to include it on the subsequent long player.

Instead, the quartet decamped to New York to work with producer Arthur Baker at the suggestion of Michael Schamberg, head of the label’s US offshoot. Baker had worked with British funk band Freez and Rockers Revenge on their neo-classic Walkin’ On Sunshine and of the two singles the collaboration produced – Confusion and Thieves Like Us – it would be the latter that carved it’s own niche.

An embryonic version of the track had been debuted live almost a year prior to it’s release and after being refined with Baker what emerged was arguably New Order’s first bona fide pop song. The almost never ending introductory phase framed it perfectly, warm synths layering sublimely into Peter Hook’s bass guitar lead, a hammering kick drum then giving the track a hip-hop meter. When Sumner’s vocals did finally kick in the lyrics were the usual mix of the obtuse “I’ve studied the cracks and the wrinkles/You were always so vain” to the startlingly human “Oh it’s called love/and it’s the only thing that’s worth living for”, confounding their hard won reputation as dour refuseniks. All of this amounted to yet another wholly unexpected place for New Order to be, but equally it was just another idiosyncratic stop on one of rock’s most unconventional journeys.

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