As nightclubs everywhere shutter due to the coronavirus pandemic, dance music has turned inward, offering fleeting moments of respite during troubled times. New Order, a pioneer of synth pop, has always seemed best poised to embrace this change. The band’s 1983 masterpiece Power, Corruption & Lies was a heavenly mix of both euphoria and melancholy — the loss of Ian Curtis, the band’s frontman when it was known as Joy Division, is instilled inside the restless energy of every track.
The band’s new single, “Be a Rebel,” arrives in the midst of quarantine, once again channeling the memory of lost times into a post-pandemic club anthem. It’s a bittersweet breath of fresh air that transports the listener back to a time before isolation, looking hopefully toward the future.
Delivered Sept. 8 as a one-off single, “Be a Rebel” marks the band’s first release since 2015’s Music Complete. The track was recorded remotely during quarantine; a first for New Order. “In tough times, we wanted to reach out with a new song” said frontman Bernard Sumner on the band’s website. “We can’t play live for a while, but music is still something we can all share together. We hope you enjoy it … until we meet again.”
The song starts comfortably in typical New Order fashion. Gillian Gilbert’s keys give the track a bright, sunny feel. Then, the rest of the song rushes in with drummer Stephen Morris’ frenetic dance beat and a second wave of synthesizers before transitioning fully into dreamy club music. While not revolutionary, it holds a blissful quality that is both disarming and infectious.
Lyrically, Sumner envisions a better time: “There will come a day/ When your fear and self-doubt fades away.” But the song isn’t total escapism; Sumner makes a case for the present: “For this world can be a dangerous place/ But it’s all we’ve got.”
The song’s arrangement is lighter on guitars than a usual New Order affair, leaning less on the band’s post-punk tendencies and more toward the disco sounds of Electronic, Sumner’s collaboration with The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys.
New Order has never been known for its lyricism, but Sumner’s earnest vocals keep the band from coming across as overly bombastic or corny. Lines such as “Take a look at yourself/ You may not be the same as everyone else” feel genuine, narrowly lifting them above cliche. In the chorus, the song’s hopeful message lands with sincerity and style: “Be a rebel, not a devil.”
“Be a Rebel” embodies what the band does best; it’s a shot of uplifting dance music that radiates optimism and buoyant energy. There’s nothing fancy here: The song is straight-forward and the lyrics are simple yet as sincere as it gets. The band pulls off a tone so pure of heart that it sounds as exciting as ever — even at its most uncomplicated. New Order is a pop band after all.
There’s a new space for dance music: a nightclub inside our minds. New Order understands that no amount of tragedy can stop the human propensity to move; its comeback single arrives with danceable grooves to inspire us accordingly.
Vincent Tran covers music. Contact him at [email protected].