Review Summary: Assembled mostly from leftovers from a 2007 recording session, New Order's latest studio album (and last with Peter Hook) is better than it has any right to be.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment that New Order transitioned from one of the world’s Great bands to one whose new music is always compared unfavorably to their “heyday” back in the eighties. Republic
(1993) may have been their first moment of relative weakness, but their image was salvaged by the awesome hit single “Regret”, which kept them on top. But when New Order regrouped for Get Ready
eight years later, they switched themselves out with a fictional band for the video for its lead single, a clever but calculated move: they were getting too old to look cool like they did back in the close-up filled video for “The Perfect Kiss”. “Crystal” was a great song, but New Order had become less a visionary band than one just barely getting by. They had a terrific run, but as the Waiting for the Sirens’ Call
(2007) confirmed, they were still talented craftsmen but their creative peak had long passed.
Even longtime New Order fans will likely be puzzled that Lost Sirens
, a collection of leftovers from the weakest album by a band that was in its prime twenty-five years ago, is as spectacularly good as it is. Even New Order seems lukewarm about it. Sure, Peter Hook (who split from the group acrimoniously after this recording session) has spoken fondly of Sirens
, but Sumner and co. dropped it almost entirely from their current setlists (with only the first track making rare appearances) while still finding time to regularly cover Ennio Morricone film music. While nothing here tops “Crystal” or “Regret”, I’d readily call Lost Sirens
the most accomplished New Order album since Technique
It works for the same reason their new Live at Bestival 2012
album works: devoid of all pretensions, the band is having fun. With no weak tracks, the album is a joy to hear front-to-back. It’s easy to dismiss a collection of 8 breezy tracks as a minor release, but for a sense of perspective, Lost Sirens
just as long as classics like Brotherhood
(1986) and Low-Life
(1985). It’s less a dance album than a rock album, with Sumner firmly in the center. He’s a strong frontman here, particularly on the charming “I’ve Got a Feeling” and Waiting for the Sirens’ Call
remix “I Told You So”.
The lyrics aren’t deep – occasionally, they are even awful – but they fit the mood just right. “I’ll Stay With You” is a great, earnest rock song underlined by Hooks’ jagged bass and sweltering electronics. The rest of Lost Sirens
is about living a life of fame and success, and its observations are whimsical and blunt. Highlight “Sugarcane” is a catchy meditation on the conveniences and inconveniences of superstardom (“Girls just wanna be with you, lawyers wanna deal with you” ) and the demands of suppressing your real self in the name of a rigid public persona (“Wake up right now, stop what you’re doing/It’s gotta be true”). “California Grass” similarly examines the dichotomy of just being a regular guy in the face a large fan base and media attention. I’ve read criticism of lines like “We can stop at a grocery store/Buy a thing for a few dollars more” as trite, but that’s precisely the point: life as a star doesn’t have to be drug-induced tragedy and exhaustion – you can just be a regular guy picking up some groceries.
But who listens to New Order primarily for their lyrics, anyway? Lost Sirens is New Order doing what they do best: 8 tracks of catchy, bustling electro-rock songs. The production is slick, the hooks are plenty. That it exists only on the surface isn’t a fault but a virtue, one that allows Sumner to speak his mind and for the fun that the band sounds like they’re having to carry over to the listener. It works, and each time I play through Lost Sirens
I just want to go back and play it again.