'Movement' is a very ironic title, because if ever a band sounded stuck in the one spot and desperately uncertain where to go next, it's New Order on their debut album. To be fair, the death of Ian Curtis greatly affected the band, creatively as well as personally. Without him, New Order seem caught in two minds; unwilling to just rehash Joy Division's sound, but seemingly unable to boldly push their music forward.
A few new ideas are evident, though. There are some tentative steps toward pop ('Dreams Never End'), electronica ('Truth') and upbeat dance ('Chosen Time'). But for the most part, the songs fall through the cracks a bit, lacking both the gut-punch of Joy Division and the dance hooks of later New Order. They're dark and introspective pieces that all seem to reference Curtis' death in some way, with lyrics about "strange days", "the last reaction", "no reason ever was given", "so far away", and "it frightens me" popping up in every song. Bernard Sumner's singing is very subdued and somber, with none of the boyish ethusiasm of his later work. Peter Hook's bass remains at the low end of the reigster, and apart from 'Chosen Time', Gillian Gilbert's keyboards are relentlessly gloomy and gothic. The real star of 'Movement' for mine is Stephen Morris, who turns in some outstanding tribal-influenced drum beats on several songs.
The big problem with 'Movement', however, is the production. Despite their arty dark image, Joy Division could still rock really hard when they wanted to. If the songs on 'Movement' had the visceral energy of 'Unknown Pleasures' or 'Closer', they could have packed a real emotional punch. In contrast, 'Movement's sound is flat and colourless, and producer Martin Hannett needs to take the blame for this. Hannett crushes the life out of the album with a suffocating production that robs the songs of any impact, keeping us emotionally distant and removed. And his trademark scratches, squeaks, and sound effects are carelessly applied, winding up distracting instead of interesting. 'ICB' in particular is ruined by those annoying bleeps.
It's worth seeking out the 'Peel Sessions' CD or the 'Taras Shevchenko' 1981 concert to hear rawer, more immediate versions of these songs, all of which sound much better when liberated from Hannett's clasutrophobic shell.
The dark and often depressing nature of the songs, the lack of sonic variety, and the dense production make 'Movement' a very challenging listen. But the combination of a hesitant and uncertain New Order and a heavy-handed Hannett means the album doesn't quite reward the effort that you need to put in. There are a few strong songs and some pointers to the band's future, but ultimately 'Movement' doesn't rank up there with the best work of Joy Division or New Order. However, for all its flaws, 'Movement' is an important transitional album between Joy Division and mid-period New Order, making it essential for dedicated fans of both bands.