Review Summary: its okay
Few bands can top New Order’s legacy and story. Its strength is big enough that most people can overlook the fact they’ve released mostly duds in the past twenty-five years. But when you’ve survived suicide, the opening and the death of one of the most iconic nightclubs in Britain, and authoring the biggest-selling 12” single of all time, you haven’t got a lot to lose.
does have a lot riding on it though, more so than any release since 1993’s dull Republic
. It is their first release without bassist Peter Hook, who was unarguably central to some of their biggest tunes (see: ‘Blue Monday’, ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘Ceremony’), and is their first since 2001 with keyboardist Gillian Gilbert. It is also their first new music since 2005.
Their early days were obviously clouded by the suicide of Ian Curtis, frontman of their previous form in Joy Division
. The band continued to play the morose post-punk, before new singer Bernard Sumner decided he wanted to release songs for the dancefloor. Accidental experiment ‘Blue Monday’ was released, and now the vast majority of dance music that’s followed owes a lot to those seven-minutes of cold, hypnotic genius. After that they were always on the cornerstone of the trends, perfectly mixing post-punk and synthpop (and eventually acid house). After the crumbling of their home Factory Records, they became lost. They released five studio albums and a truckload of singles in the 1980s, but Music Complete
is their fourth since 1993.
So the days of New Order completely shaking things up are long gone, but Music Complete
isn’t out for that. Instead, we get a journey through all of the ideas they’ve tried over the past thirty-five years, and as with even their best studio albums, there are hits and misses. ‘Restless’ is as strange an opener as it is typical. It’s a humbling tread back to 1993’s ‘Regret’, the song that signalled New Order turning from a dance band to a rock band. It’s a mid-tempo beast lifted by Sumner’s weary vocals and pleasant mixing that makes every layer audible. What’s strange is that every other song that follows harks back to their 80s days on the dancefloor. While the introduction to ‘Singularity’ is an incredible, aching and morose throwback to the days of Joy Division, the sheer energy and determination of the rest places it more in the likes of Power, Corruption & Lies
, their breakthrough album as New Order.
And on ‘Plastic’, we hear New Order playing their most brilliant dance music since the late 80s. The throbbing, atmospheric synths take you back to The Haçienda, with a pulsating bassline that assures Hook fans his departure shouldn’t be too missed. The wailing female back-up vocals on the chorus compliment Sumner’s exhausted delivery, and of course there’s a section of the song where the layers all fall back, so when they hit again for the last quarter of the song they hit that much harder. While it doesn’t match the brilliance of ‘Blue Monday’ or the sheer ecstatic giddiness of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, it’s still a reminder of just how important New Order once was, and is easily their best song in a long time.
Unfortunately, the rest of Music Complete
fails to live up to that incredible three-strong opening punch. While even New Order masterpieces such as Movement
had weaker songs, they still strengthened the better ones. Here, while complimenting the overall album’s aesthetic, the drop in quality is notable. 'Tutti Frutti' and 'People On The High Line' are New Order pop songs that go on for too long and are mostly unmemorable. The former features an interesting mid-section that features a pleasing beat that once again harkens back to The Haçienda, and the band clearly make an effort to make a stomping Euro-disco number, but it just washes over and the spoken-word Latin segments are more distracting than pleasingly camp. And 'People On The High Line' has a guitar line that sounds like sodding Maroon 5
‘Stray Dog’, on the other hand, is the kind of curveball that shows a possible intriguing future for New Order beyond this project. It’s backing instrumentation with images of swamps in forests, morbid guitar lines and delicate chipped synths that recall their debut, 1981’s Movement
. A guest monologue comes from Iggy Pop
, his ruminations on happiness, love and drinking aiding the noir-ish feel. Some may find this song a stop-gap in the album’s energy, others should see this as a welcome and creative refresher for a band that’s been treading water for ages, and does more to aid the overall vibe of the album.
If ‘Academic’ is representative of that treading water, ‘Nothing But A Fool’ shows what the band could have been doing with all that time playing mid-paced rock music. Here, instead of using the acoustic guitar as a mere compliment, the melody it creates is used to great effect in aiding the atmosphere. There is a lot of moody layering in this song, and it almost becomes a great song, but the chorus is muddy, and here Sumner’s vocal drawl doesn’t help. Fortunately, ‘Unlearn This Hatred’ is another upbeat effort at a dance-stomper, using an acid house-esque beat with an energetic and refreshing chorus.
But sadly that’s where the energy dissipates. ‘The Game’ is a dull dream-pop number, and ‘Superheated’ is a Brandon Flowers
-featuring ballad that might as well be a late-period The Killers
song for all its vacuous attempts at earnestness.
So all in all, Music Complete
is about as good as a New Order album could be in 2015. It won’t bring in new fans, but their incredible legacy will still remain untroubled. The opening three songs still show the band has still has some fight left, but if anyone is to expect another ‘Blue Monday’, they’re going to be left wanting for a very long time.