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Best New Order Lyrics: 10 Classics Written By Bernard Sumner And The Band
Steve Speller / Alamy Stock Photo
List & Guides

Best New Order Lyrics: 10 Classics Written By Bernard Sumner And The Band

Developing a highly distinctive writing style, Bernard Sumner ensured the best New Order lyrics matched the group’s peerless music.

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When Joy Division’s frontman, Ian Curtis, died by suicide, his bandmates didn’t just lose a close friend and an extremely charismatic vocalist – they also lost one of the most gifted lyricists of his generation. Accordingly, when guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris added synth queen Gillian Gilbert to their line-up and became New Order, they not only needed to reinvent themselves musically, but also lyrically. Initially, the whole band – and manager Rob Gretton – chipped in with ideas for song lyrics, but it didn’t come easily. Over time, however, lyrics became the almost sole preserve of New Order frontman Bernard Sumner, who discovered that he, too, had talent in this area. Consequently, the best New Order lyrics are thought-provoking and universal in their appeal, making an emotional impact on their own terms.

Here, then, are the best New Order lyrics – standouts among a bar-raising body of work.

Listen to the best of New Order here, and check out the best New Order lyrics, below.

10: Procession (standalone single, 1981)

New Order had a head-start with their debut single, Ceremony, in that Ian Curtis had bequeathed them the lyrics (and also the words for the song’s B-side, In A Lonely Place). From then on, however, the band were on their own. Indeed, before Bernard Sumner became more confident as a wordsmith, his bandmates also supplied lyrics for New Order’s early songs. Procession, their second single (issued as a double A-side with Everything’s Gone Green) was penned by Stephen Morris and contained an intriguing, noir-infused lyric which, while clearly still influenced by Curtis, also hinted that the band were starting to find their own style.

“Procession was a complete contrast to Ceremony,” Peter Hook reflected in his memoir Substance: Inside New Order. “Steve had written the lyrics and the vocal hook, and it sounded very poppy and immediate.”

Sample lyric
There is no room to move
Or try to look away
Remember, life is strange
I try so hard but this attitude’s
A type that won’t subside
No matter what they say, remember
Your heart beats you day at night

9: We All Stand (from ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’, 1983)

In a 2012 interview with GQ magazine, Sumner offered some insight into his lyric-writing process, saying, “If I listen to a piece of music before I start writing lyrics, it gives me a mood. My head constructs a series of images and I’ll use words to describe those images.” It’s a method which served the singer well when he penned the words for We All Stand, from New Order’s second album, Power, Corruption & Lies. Indeed, the song rates among the best New Order lyrics because of the juxtaposition between the sparse, almost dub-like feel of the backing track and Sumner’s ominous yet distinctly cinematic wordplay, his finished lyric evoking images of civil unrest, stemming from what Hook recalled as “Barney being quite fixated on soldiers and warfare early in our career”.

Sample lyric
I’ve got three miles to go
Three miles to go
At the end of the road
There’s a soldier waiting for me

8: Crystal (from ‘Get Ready’, 2001)

Following a lengthy hiatus following 1993’s Republic album and the collapse of Factory Records, New Order surprised fans by returning with their heaviest, most guitar-based set in years, 2001’s Get Ready. The album was trailered by one of the best New Order songs of the era, the dense yet dynamic Crystal, featuring an economic, deceptively simple and impactful Sumner lyric which, in just a few lines gets, right to the heart of the fragility and impermanence of the human condition.

Sample lyric
We’re like crystal, we break easy
I’m a poor man, if you leave me
I’m applauded, then forgotten
It was summer, now it’s autumn

7: Waiting For The Sirens’ Call (from ‘Waiting For The Sirens’ Call’, 2005)

As such songs as Blue Monday and Cries And Whispers show, the best New Order lyrics often employ seafaring imagery. The title track from the band’s eighth album, Waiting For The Sirens’ Call, again looks to the ocean for inspiration, with a vivid lyric based upon Greek mythology, in which sirens were cast as mythical beings – usually depicted as beautiful women – who lure sailors to their impending doom in shipwrecks. Listeners, however, didn’t need history degrees to enjoy this terrific, anthemic song, which features a regret-fuelled chorus (“’Cause you were not the wrong one/And I don’t know where to turn when you’re gone”) that’s all too relatable to anyone who’s ever loved and lost.

Sample lyric
What does this ship bring to me
Far across the restless sea
Waiting for the sirens’ call
I’ve never seen it here before

There she plies a lonely trade
Cutting through the breaking waves
Drifting slowly from her course
She is lost forever more

6: All The Way (From ‘Technique’, 1989)

Despite deriving from the band’s lengthy sojourn on the Balearics’ most party-friendly island of Ibiza, New Order’s fifth album, Technique, featured some of Sumner’s most insightful and soul-searching examples of the best New Order lyrics, many of which were in stark contrast with the record’s upbeat musical backdrop. Arguably the most direct of these fuelled the album’s punchiest song, All The Way, which initially saw Sumner having a sardonic pop at his band’s detractors (“It doesn’t take a genius/To tell me what I am/Or lecture me with poetry/And tell me that I can”), before unleashing a chorus rife with defiance and self-belief (“It takes years to find the nerve/To be apart from what you’ve done/To find the truth inside yourself/And not depend on anyone”).

Recalling the song’s creation with fondness in his book Substance, Peter Hook later reflected that All The Way provided a “strong contrast” to Technique’s acid-house-flavoured opener, Fine Time, but that it was nevertheless “another classic New Order song. Great guitar and strong bassline drive a self-discovery tune. A strong vocal from Barney.”

Sample lyric
It don’t take no Houdini
To tell me what I am
Parasites and literasites
They’d burn me if they can
But I don’t give a damn about
What those people say
They pick you up and kick you out
They hurt you every day

5: Thieves Like Us (standalone single, 1984)

Especially during their early days, New Order drew considerable lyrical inspiration from both film and literature, with such song titles as Ultraviolence, Cries And Whispers and True Faith stemming from either the silver screen or the printed page. Many also agree that the title of another of the band’s classic singles, Thieves Like Us, derived from a suggestion made by New York City-based producer Arthur Baker, who had seen the words spray-painted on a wall in Brooklyn. However, as Hook points out in Substance, the song’s title actually dates back to the 1930s.

“The ‘Thieves Like Us’ graffiti may well have been spotted by Arthur Baker in New York. But it was actually [the title of] a 1937 novel by Edward Anderson and later, in 1974, was made into a film by Robert Altman,” the bassist wrote. He also rightly observed that Thieves Like Us’ lyrics were “very evocative… and the words flowed easily”.

Sample lyric
I’ve watched your face for a long time
It’s always the same
I’ve studied the cracks and the wrinkles
You were always so vain
But now you live your life like a shadow
In the pouring rain

4: Love Vigilantes (from ‘Low-life’, 1985)

Talking to Vice in 2016, Bernard Sumner revealed, “I often write about an imagined scenario, imagined people” – an approach he employed to great effect when penning one of the best New Order lyrics, for Love Vigilantes, the narrative-style opening song to the Low-life album. Unlikely as it may seem, Sumner’s words were inspired by classic country songs such as Kenny Rogers’ Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town, and he wrote them from the point of view of a soldier longing to see his family – yet the song ends with a significant twist.

“I decided to write a redneck song,” Sumner told GQ of Love Vigilantes. “It was quite tongue-in-cheek. It was about Vietnam. It was about a soldier that came back and his wife was sent a telegram to say he was dead.

“You can take the ending one way or another,” the singer continued. “He’s either dead and he’s come back as a ghost and he sees her or he’s not dead and the telegram was a mistake. But his wife’s got it and killed herself. Which is a very country tragedy.”

Sample lyric
When I walked through the door
My wife she lay upon the floor
And with tears her eyes were sore
I did not know why
Then I looked into her hand
And I saw the telegram
Said that I was a brave, brave man
But that I was dead

3: Bizarre Love Triangle (from ‘Brotherhood’, 1986)

A live favourite, New Order’s much-acclaimed sleeper hit, Bizarre Love Triangle, boasts an enigmatic lyric which still intrigues to this day. Peter Hook later recalled it as a group effort, saying, “We were still writing the lyrics together here,” and noting that “only Steve could have come up with” the great line “I feel shot right through with a bolt of blue”.

Indeed, it’s this enigma factor which, when allied with the song’s inherent accessibility, has helped Bizarre Love Triangle to weather the ravages of time. It only has two real verses, but there’s enough to keep the listener guessing, while the chorus (“Every time I see you falling/I get down on my knees and pray”) hooks you in, no matter how many times you hear it.

“The quasi-religious wording gives it echoes of Al Green, and the melody is classic Motown,” Billboard wrote in a 2016 retrospective. “But the imagery of it is vague enough that it doesn’t break the song’s enigmatic spell with lyrical or musical cliché… its words will be bouncing around your head for hours to come anyway.”

Sample lyric
Every time I think of you
I feel shot right through with a bolt of blue
It’s no problem of mine, but it’s a problem I find
Living a life that I can’t leave behind
There’s no sense in telling me
The wisdom of the fool won’t set you free
But that’s the way that it goes and it’s what nobody knows
Well, every day my confusion grows

2: Temptation (standalone single, 1982; re-recorded For ‘Substance 1987’, 1987)

New Order’s third single, Temptation, marked several important milestones for the band. Arguably their first truly great and fully realised pop song, it rewarded them with their first UK Top 30 hit, but it also showcased Bernard Sumner finding his feet as both a vocalist and a lyricist.

Temptation had quite a lengthy gestation – and was even re-recorded five years on from its original release, for the singles collection Substance 1987. In its original incarnation, Temptation was gradually worked up as a live jam, over which Sumner often sang gibberish until he came up with a melody and a completed lyric. Though simple, his easily relatable refrain (“Oh you’ve got green eyes, oh, you’ve got blue eyes, oh you’ve got grey eyes… and I’ve never met anyone quite like you before”) appeals to anyone who’s ever fallen in love, ensuring that Temptation will always figure when it comes to assessing the best New Order lyrics.

“My favourite song to play live is Temptation,” Sumner confessed in his book, Chapter And Verse. “Over the years it’s evolved and developed on stage into the stomping, thunderous nine-minute behemoth we play today as the climax of our live set… There’s something about the repetition and the emotion it involves, the simplicity of the structure and the words that make Temptation a very spiritual song for me.” Performing the song during their 2018 Alexandra Palace show, filmed and released as education entertainment recreation, New Order certainly hit transcendent heights.

Sample lyric
A heaven, a gateway, I hope
Just like the feeling inside, it’s no joke
And though it hurts me to treat you this way
Betrayed by words I’d never heard, too hard to say

1: True Faith (from ‘Substance 1987’, 1987)

Though recorded quickly, and not without a certain amount of stress, True Faith remains one of the most iconic New Order songs. It tops this list of the best New Order lyrics, as it features some of Bernard Sumner’s best-ever lines – penned after his bandmates locked him inside the flat they were renting while in London to record True Faith and its B-side, 1963.

Another excellent example of Sumner writing about “an imagined scenario, imagined people”, True Faith – which copped its title from the content of James A Michener’s novel Texas – was broadly written from the perspective of a heroin addict. In interviews, the band were at pains to make it clear that heroin was a drug they never touched, but as Peter Hook told Songfacts, “I think it’s clear to see, though, that the lyrics do reflect being under some sort of influence.”

Hinting at someone stuck in a downward spiral, the song’s chorus (“I used to think that the day would never come/I’d see the light in the shade of the morning sun/My morning sun is the drug that brings me near/To the childhood I lost, replaced by fear”) is hardly typical fare for a Top 5 hit, but when sung over one of New Order’s most compelling backing tracks, it makes for a very satisfying combination.

Sample lyric
I feel so extraordinary
Something’s got a hold on me
I get this feeling I’m in motion
A sudden sense of liberty
I don’t care ’cause I’m not there
And I don’t care if I’m here tomorrow
Again and again, I’ve taken too much
Of the things that cost you too much

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