This New Order article was written by Leonardo Verzaro, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Hazel Webster
‘Music Complete’ is the title of New Order’s 10th studio album, the first without long-term bassist Peter Hook and the first in the last 10 years. After a break-up period followed by the unconvincing ‘Waiting for the Sirens’ Call’ (2005), the Manchester band’s comeback isn’t one you would have bet on this year. By the way the “Newer” Order includes Gillian Gilbert on keyboards (back in since 2011 after a 10-year hiatus) and the new entry Tom Chapman on the bass.
Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris’ fondness for synthesizers is still alive and their choice to leave it aside for too long didn’t work at all: the latest LPs tending to be more rock-oriented, actually ended up lacking inventiveness, dynamism and freshness. Instead both The Haçienda and Factory Records experiences clearly proved that New Order have always given their best in mixing post-punk with electronic and dance music. And that’s a lesson learned with such a seminal album as ‘Technique’ (1989). This assumption probably led Sumner to new inspiration for the band’s future.
Seeing ‘Music Complete’ as the finest throwback operation in the band’s career wouldn’t sound inappropriate and it has to be said it was needed. The opening track ‘Restless’ appears to go in the opposite direction, sounding identical to any other recent New Order tune. In spite of the melody being predictable and the lyrics elementary, what’s really different in this first single is a rejuvenated playing-attitude along with a stronger attention to production. It’s like admitting “we’re exactly at the same point as in 2005” right before switching to something else.
Joy Division’s roots are re-established in the bass-line for ‘Singularity’, its new wave nature soon enough turns into an irresistible synth crescendo. Here starts a “nightclubbing trip” composed of three tracks, as if the band were walking into The Haçienda again, back to the floor for a night. Italo-dance and disco-funk influences merge with modern trance, electro samples and extremely catchy choruses. Female backing vocals feature Elly Jackson from La Roux, currently one of New Order’s synth-pop disciples. Even the flamboyant ‘Tutti Frutti’ sounds like being in the right place with its sexy baritone voice saying nonsense in Italian. The “dance-suite” is definitely captivating and songs like ‘People on the Highline’ appear lively and enjoyable.
Meanwhile, right outside the club, a man passes by; it’s Iggy Pop reflecting about unconditional love and despair in the instrumental ‘Stray Dog’. The party is over and the atmosphere gets misty and introspective like in a noir movie. The rock-icon declaims his solitary condition like some kind of Humphrey Bogart thrown in the middle of Blade Runner. The arrangement becomes more and more intense as the dramatization increases and the song marks the divide between the first and the second part of the album.
If you’re looking for a classic New Order song, the one you want to sing out loud at their next gig, then ‘Academic’ is the one. The track is a little jewel and Sumner’s vocals and guitars have never been so authentically new wave. This stage of the album brilliantly manages to revitalise the band’s rock tendencies which appeared to be weak and repetitive in the previous two albums: ‘Nothing but a Fool’ stands out for its unexpected psychedelic-rock arrangement and its bitter-sweet melancholic lyrics. Bernard Sumner has never been renowned for writing astonishing pieces of poetry, his language is indeed plain and unpretentious; but moving the listener’s emotions without using high-sounding words is undoubtedly a gift.
“Two steps forward and one step back” is the first line in ‘Unlearn This Hatred’. As if on purpose, that’s exactly what happens with this song. The lyrics are extremely poor, the arrangement suffers from overproduction and its floor-filling atmosphere is nothing more than an excuse for testing some new synth-toy. Simply the most forgettable track on the album.
‘The Game’ at least reopens the synth-pop dimension yet it isn’t remarkable at all: it sounds a bit flat and boring but functionally prepares you for the final act. With the last song, the overview of what New Order’s career consist of is accomplished. ‘Superheated’ is a beautiful new-romantic pop song and it’s like a band’s business card giveaway. Special guest Brandon Flowers from The Killers, another musical disciple, has the honour of the closing refrain.
‘Music Complete’ is ultimately both a throwback and a breath of fresh air. Indeed this title says it all as it sums up what New Order have been in 25 years of activity, but it reveals a newfound creativity at the same time. The bitter-sweet atmospheres, the ability of mixing tragedy and love without sounding melodramatic, the genius of relocating post-punk tunes to the dance-floor: all of these elements are restored and still compose the mosaic of one of the most unusual musical adventures of all times.
‘Music Complete’ is out now via Mute.