New Order Music Complete Review
New Order Music Complete deserves a detailed, song-by-song review, especially in our era of soundbites and 5-star ratings.
First thing to say: This album has taken a long time to arrive, and it has arrived after a chaotic time for New Order (and for the music scene and industry). What is going one out there? Rebooted disco-funk a la Daft Punk? More boys bands and pop-rap fly by night entertainers? Some of these are not bad, but not great either. Maybe there are some whose life will be marked by “Get lucky,” but frankly, there has got to be something deeper to remember the year by… When it comes to current music, technology (sequencers, plug-ins, DAW, etc.) has make it so easy to crank out good-sounding tracks. But there is a huge difference between a pounding beat and track and is in fact (as people used to say) a song with a lasting impact. So, the first point here is about the so-called new New Order, which is the band minus its historic bass player Peter Hook. This is a huge change in the band’s DNA, as front-man and lead sing singer Bernard Sumner admits. Peter Hook is the very man who played the iconic bass lines on Joy Division songs like “Decade” and “Here are the Young Men” – spine-chilling tracks even for new listeners today. So, does Music Complete suffer from the absence of Peter Hook? Yes, tremendously. Perhaps to his credit, Tom Chapman does not try to be the reincarnation of Peter Hook (which he is not, in spite of being a fine bass player) and so we have an album that is lacking that unique unique. It is there, or rather here and there, on a couple of tracks, but it is more organic (almost contrived) rather than organic… In a way, Hook’s departure is ‘made up’ by the return of Gillian at the keyboards. The result is that the new album is very synth driven, mostly for the better.
The second point of this lengthy introduction to the review is that New Order is (using Sumner’s age as a reference point) almost 60 years old. These people, one may hope, are way past the time to hang out on dance floors in the wee hours of the morning in whatever kind of city Manchester has become. The amazing thing that can be said, however, is that Music Complete sounds both fresh and young. Thanks to Antares Autotune, Bernard is (mostly) on tune and his voice is not pushed forward in the mix. Even on a track like Plastic, the vocals sound pretty good and convincing, considering that a 59 years old is driving this pulsating dance floor track.
The overall impression then is that New Order has delivered the best that it could deliver, minus Peter Hook’s bass fingerprint and with a slight decline in the quality of the melodies (taking Bad Lieutenant as a recent reference). On the plus side, the tracks are rather long (5-6 minutes) and display the band’s unmatched ability to move from electronic to retro to alternative rock and back to synth.
Before giving the entire CD/album an overall review, let us consider each track, one by one:
Restless is track #1
We have reviewed is elsewhere, but we can repeat that it is a classic and decent New Order track, nothing absolutely stellar, but good enough to open Music Complete.
Singularity is track #2
Singularity may well be the best track on this CD. It has a Joy Division bass line that works, and awesome retro synth sounds that are completely but timeless.
Plastic is track #3
We have reviewed Plastic elsewhere in a separate post!
Tutti Frutti is track #4
By any account, Tutti Frutti is what the title announced: low quality Italian stuff. It is retro and yet modern enough, but lacking the genius (that melody thing again) of a classic song like Subculture. Will probably be skipped by many listeners, except for die-hard Italo-disco afficionados.
People on the High Line is track #5
It was unavoidable. Disco-funk is back with a vengeance. Here is New Order’s effort to swim in those murky waters. The production is fine, but the lack of melodic quality is obvious. No real hook in there, and Daft Punk takes the gold on being infectious.
Stray Dog is track #6
Stray Dog sounds like a soundtrack for a David Lynch movie. Nothing really New Orderish or memorable on this track, expect perhaps for die-hard Iggy Pop fans…
Academic is track #7
“Academic” may well be the most classic New Order track on Music Complete. It has a lot of the classic New Order sounds here and there, and so requires a couple of careful listens to be fully appreciated. We give it a 4 out of 5 become the melodic quality is lacking. Again, great production and technical expertise on tweaking a song does not make up for lackluster melodies.
Nothing But a Fool is track #8
Nothing but a Fool has a Joy Division quality and calls for a comparison with Primitive Notion. But Primitive Notion has the real Peter Hook on it, whereas Nothing but a Fool is a decent attempt to recapture that unique bass effect. It is a good New Order track that requires a certain acquired taste and patience to full appreciate, like good wine.
Unlearn this Hatred is track #9
This is a track that will be either loved or detested. We think is that it is somewhere in the middle, nothing memorable, but still a decent track.
The Game is track #10
The Game seems to be a contrived track. It is neither good nor bad, but seems to be a composite piece of work that took a lot of effort to turn into a song.
Superheated is track #11
Being an old band, New Order now needs the endorsement and support of their own offspring to stay in the buzz, in this case with the guest vocals of Brandon Flowers of The Killers. After all, The Killers own their name to New Order (from the Crystal video) and quite a bit of their sound too. At any rate, Superheated is a very pleasant track, and both vocals work well. In the end, Superheated is a perfect track to end the CD and it has a very enduring and endearing melancholic quality that may make it the most played songs by fans in the years to come.
All in all, Music Complete is a satisfying New Order release with a place of its own in the bands now long history. There is sadness and consequences that Peter Hook is absent, and noticeably so. But the band has managed a tour de force by remaining amazingly relevant and exciting, delivering a rare mixture of alternative (and current) post punk tracks (Singularity) as well as the credible dance floor music that made them famous. However, the quality of the melodies (in the past a very strong point in Summer’s song writing) has declined, as it finding great melodies on existing material was getting increasingly difficult for the seasoned songwriter. Too bad…
Which leads to a now necessary question for all to ask: what is New Order’s greatest album? What is their most enduring and life-marking song: how about “Leave me Alone” on Power, Corruption and Lies? You tell us what you think?