Release Date: Sep 25, 2015
Record label: Mute US
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Three years ago, New Order returned to American audiences at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, where they were granted an hour-long set at the paltry and oft-ignored Live Stage. (How cordial of the festival, who vehemently boast about offering the world’s best DJs and unparalleled production on an annual basis.) It was a balmy Friday evening, most of the festivalgoers hadn’t even arrived yet, and the sun was still massaging the One Biscayne Tower. “It’s great to be back,” frontman Bernard Sumner told the devoted handful.
After 2005’s leaden Waiting for the Sirens’ Call and the subsequent departure of Peter Hook, New Order seemed to be washed up. However, this ninth studio album proper, the first with Gillian Gilbert since 2001, finds them revisiting the Balearic influences of their late-80s output and sounding surprisingly fresh and rejuvenated as a result. Tutti Frutti, with Gilbert’s synths to the fore and a guest vocal from La Roux’s Elly Jackson, is one of several songs that would have sat nicely on 1989’s career-high Technique, with Academic a thrilling echo of that album’s All the Way.
There’s been no love lost between Peter Hook and the rest of New Order since the bassist left the band in 2007: “an uppity session man” was Hook’s recent appraisal of his replacement, Tom Chapman. But it’s an acrimony that doesn’t seem to have held back Music Complete, the group’s first proper album in a decade. In fact, while Hook’s basslines always used to be an integral part of New Order’s sound, Tutti Frutti and People on the High Line both benefit from a freedom to experiment with the lower end of things: the former a camp disco number and the latter conjuring a bendy groove over which a riot of cowbells and funky Chic guitars can shake loose.
So after the fights, the recriminations, and the bitter bile subside, a brand new New Order album surfaces. From the outside looking in, there's a touch of Pink Floyd circa 1987 about Music Complete's genesis, with a bitter estranged founding bassist and key member complaining about the right for the band to exist, while the other members attempt to replicate the extraordinary success of previous records. But unlike that band's A Momentary Lapse of Reason, there's nothing clumsy or misconstrued about Music Complete.
For most bands, one career resurrection in the face of adversity would be impressive enough; to do it three times is simply remarkable. New Order have always been a band battling conflict, despair, triumph and tragedy. Theirs is a career that has endured for almost 40 years, yet at the turn of the decade, it seemed that the New Order legacy was in ruins.
The music world is built on hyperbole. But sometimes there is stone-cold fact. Like this one: New Order changed the face of modern music and shaped club culture in the UK and beyond. The Mancunian legends' first LP without Peter Hook is their 10th of a 35-year career that now sees them deliver, in 'Music Complete', an album of outstanding pop, shuddering dance-rock and intricate electronic moods.Opener 'Restless' is classic New Order: big chords, even bigger hooks, jangly guitars and the sound of bass player Tom Chapman laying down the sort of low-slung, hammering rhythm the previous incumbent trademarked.
Without their idiosyncratic bass-wielder, New Order – say the blinkered prophets of doom – cannot be New Order. And the band’s first album since Peter Hook left, their first in 10 years and their first on Mute, is indeed something of a departure. It has more disco, more guest vocalists and more diversity. And, yes, Tom Chapman isn’t quite as strident as Hooky with those trademark propulsive riffs.
Since New Order’s zeitgeist-defining Technique struck number one in 1989, it’s fair to say much has happened to New Order. The most recent big of big news was the departure of low-slung bass viking Peter Hook - since 2007, he’s been stamping his foot so loudly that even undiscovered Amazonian tribes wish he and Bernard Sumner would kiss and make up. It’s split the fans like a divorce, and Music Complete arrives from beneath the shadow of a man with a bass guitar at his ankles.
In his new memoir, Chapter and Verse, New Order frontman Bernard Sumner recalls the exact moment that the band, having only recently changed their name from Joy Division to New Order in the wake of Ian Curtis’ death, opted for a change in direction that would forever alter their career. "Our music had become so incredibly dark and cold, we couldn’t really get any darker or colder," he says. "I remember quite clearly sitting in a club in New York one night, around three or four o’clock in the morning, and thinking how great it would be if we made music, electronic music, that could be played in one of these clubs." The rest, of course, is history.
If there’s one thing that New Order might conceivably feel inclined to thank their erstwhile bassist Peter ‘Hooky’ Hook for, it’s that seven years of him relentlessly slagging them off has pretty much forestalled any criticism that might be made of their decision to continue without him. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, New Order’s tactful silence in the face of Hooky’s barrages of accusations has almost certainly done them more good than harm. If nothing else, it just feels a bit churlish to criticise them for soldiering on without Hooky when it seems so apparent that it would be impossible for them to work together again.
It’s been ten long years since New Order fans have experienced the excitement of a new release by their venerable musical heroes from Manchester. The waiting ends with the arrival of Music Complete, the band’s first album since 2005’s Waiting for the Siren’s Call. Of course, a lot can change in ten years. Founding member and bassist Peter Hook exited the band acrimoniously in 2007 after which he and singer/guitarist Bernard Sumner engaged in a nasty and disheartening public feud.
A New Order album without founding member Peter Hook — one of rock's most aggressive yet distinctively melodic bassists — seems about as appealing as Joy Division without singer Ian Curtis. But just as Curtis' suicide inspired his bandmates to reinvent themselves as New Order in 1980, Hook's departure frees them to create their most varied and substantial work in decades. Euphoric dance beats lift the band's heavy emotionality, with La Roux's Elly Jackson, the Killers' Brandon Flowers, Chemical Brother Tom Rowlands and Iggy Pop all pitching in to add some light to the group's shade.
For Music Complete, New Order's ninth album and first in a decade, the band signed to new label Mute and welcomed keyboardist Gillian Gilbert back for her first recordings with them since 2001. Unfortunately, original bassist Peter Hook, who quit in 2007, didn't return and his bass duties were taken over by Tom Chapman, who played with Bernard Sumner in Bad Lieutenant. The return of Gilbert is a clue that the band is looking to the past for inspiration here and forsaking the guitar-driven rock orientation of its last couple albums for something more balanced, if not tipped in favor of more electronic and dancefloor-oriented songs.
Despite arriving almost 40 years since Joy Division first helped pioneer post-punk, ‘Music Complete’ marks somewhat of a watershed for Manchester’s (erstwhile) finest. Their tenth studio album, it is also New Order’s first without Peter Hook, while keyboardist Gillian Gilbert ends a hiatus that stretches back to 2001’s ‘Get Ready’. Unfortunately, for all the change, the results are predictable at best.
New Order's wistful, strummy guitar riffs are so recognizable that hearing them is like a kind of reassurance. Such sounds bookend the British new wave heavyweights' 10th album, the first since their acrimonious split with bassist Peter Hook. Music Complete blends the band's signature sounds into a contemporary electronic palette, with added pop muscle from producers Richard X and Stuart Price.
New Order returns after a 10-year absence, rejoined by founding keyboardist Gillian Gilbert for an often exhilarating set of electronic pop that reminds everyone why this is one of the greatest dance bands of the modern era. Coming after 2005’s redundant “Waiting for the Sirens Call,” this overflows with ideas and intricate synth patterns while maintaining the emotional resonance of the band’s best work. New Order has always been song-based, rarely relying on easy hooks like most contemporary dance; here, it delivers pure pop songs of the highest order in “Plastic,” “Singularity,” and the dizzying disco of “People on the High Line.
Music Complete is New Order’s best album in more than 20 years, an accomplishment that sounds more impressive than it actually is: The legendary British band’s post-1993 output has been so sporadic that it seemed at times that New Order was actually gone for good. Since 1993’s Republic, there have been just two studio albums, 2001’s Get Ready and 2005’s Waiting For The Sirens’ Call, both decent but hardly essential, and neither in the same league with the band’s genre-defining (and frequently genre-defying) ’80s work. And while Music Complete doesn’t entirely qualify as a return to that rare form—that’d be a small miracle at this point—it does seem to have found some path back to what made New Order great in the first place.