As the members of New Order approached their third full-length album, the group was nearing another crossroads—though one not nearly as consequential as its members had faced following Joy Division’s tragic demise. Having slowly shed the sullen elements of post-punk in favor of more affirmative dance rock, New Order had landed several beloved club-oriented singles, including the Arthur Baker-assisted “Confusion,” and found critical acclaim with 1983’s Power, Corruption and Lies, which yielded the unexpected smash “Blue Monday.” New Order’s next step, obviously, was to aim for the stars. Despite being courted by folks like David Geffen—who was eager to capitalize on the band’s potential—the band members chose to work with relative newcomer Tom Atencio, and signed with Quincy Jones’ Qwest Records. Considering the label’s roster included R&B star Patti Labelle, soap-opera sex symbol Jack Wagner, and an arguably past-his-prime Frank Sinatra, it wasn’t the most obvious home for the post-punkers-turned-synth-savants. Yet Low-Life, released in 1985, was proof that New Order was never going to take the easy route. While the bandmates agreed to promote the album with a big lead-off single—an industry-standard practice they’d so far shunned—they did so with a caveat, releasing an 8-minute-long thumper, “The Perfect Kiss,” that didn’t exactly lend itself to radio play. And while Low-Life’s “Sub-culture” took its rhythms from Latin freestyle music, its lyrics focused on London fetish clubs. Still, despite some dark turns—and the album’s title—the overall mood of Low-Life is noticeably lighter than anything Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris had worked before. The lads had always been able to write catchy singles, but their album cuts were often po-faced dirges. With Low-Life, they were crafting vibrant tunes like the delicate, Ennio Morricone-inspired instrumental “Elegia”—a song that wound up in the hit teen film Pretty in Pink, bringing the band’s popularity to new highs.

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