Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Album Review: New Order - Music Complete (2015)

The majority of online reviews so far have been positive, but comments on my social media feed over the past fortnight would suggest the early reaction to Music Complete has been rather mixed. I’ve seen it called “a return to form”, and I’ve seen it described as “shit”. As ever with these things, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

I'm not even sure what we should realistically expect from a New Order album in 2015. I certainly don't think we should be looking for anything too revolutionary or progressive, or anything game-changing. My own starting point for Music Complete was an appreciative "wow, great, more New Order after all this time"... which is not to say I wasn’t really looking forward to it.

Music Complete is the band’s tenth full-length studio album, and the first set of brand new material in ten years. It’s the band’s first album as a five-piece, and the first album without Peter Hook. Not that any of those things stand out as being overly obvious when listening to it, and the album has a comforting “old” New Order vibe all the way through. Which is just how I like it.

If anything, the album feels heavily front-loaded. Virtually all of the real gems arrive within the first 35 minutes – from opener and advance single ‘Restless’, through a half dozen tunes to the Iggy Pop-voiced ‘Stray Dog’, the band doesn’t miss a beat. The Tom Rowlands-produced ‘Singularity’, the bouncy disco of ‘Plastic’, and the unrepentant pop of ‘Tutti Frutti’ (clip below) are all as good as anything the post-Technique New Order has done.

From there, things taper off a little, quickly moving from the sublime to the ordinary, before the truly awful ‘Superheated’ – a regrettable Brandon Flowers collaboration – closes the album on a massively cheesy note. The only real dud here, ‘Superheated’ might better have been called ‘Overcooked’, in deference to the type of music the vocalist’s own band usually coughs up.

The other collaborations work well enough; Iggy’s cameo appearance is an unexpected bonus, Chemical Brother Rowlands offers a deft hand as co-producer on a couple of tracks, while vocals from La Roux, Denise Johnson, and Dawn Zee all add texture on tunes where Barney might otherwise lack the requisite vocal chops.

Old Order, not unlike New Order

Mostly though, this is archetypal New Order, classic guitar lines blended with driving high-bpm electronica/techno. Hook’s absence isn’t obvious, and I no longer buy the idea – as I once did – that if you don’t have Hook, you don’t have New Order. Tom Chapman proves to be a more than adequate replacement here. And naturally the whole thing is stylishly packaged up in a fetching Peter Saville sleeve design.

I’m not sure Music Complete is the ubiquitous “return to form” if form is assessed by 1981-1989 standards, but neither is it “shit”. If pressed to place Music Complete into some sort of historical context, where Power Corruption and Lies or Technique sit at a notional summit, where Movement is the black sheep, and Brotherhood a dark horse, this album is a mid-ranking effort, something akin to a Republic or a Low Life. It’s better than any of the other post millennium releases, but not quite a masterpiece in its own right. Which, when you stop to think about it from a 2015 perspective, is still a rather marvellous thing to be.

A week or so ago The Guardian’s Miranda Sawyer wrote a great interview piece about the band’s return (click here).


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