Album Review: New Order - Music Complete

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

Is there any band that has defined the sounds of early 80s like New Order? From the post-punk roots of "Ceremony" to "Age of Consent", and the new-wave brilliance of "Blue Monday" to "The Perfect Kiss", New Order are the figurehead of an era. They extended their reign through 1993's Republic, where Factory Records came to an end and the band decided to embrace a hiatus. The band returned strong in 2001 with Get Ready, but on the journey to their eighth full length album, Waiting For The Sirens' Call, something changed. Increasing strain between Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook led to a contentious writing environment, and even with two albums' worth of songs recorded, the band couldn't hold it together. Two years ago, the band returned to the stage, three original members strong. Fans were hesitant, but throughout the tour, Bernard reassured fans that the spirit of New Order lived on, even with Hook choosing to pursue work elsewhere as Peter Hook & The Light. This year, the band give us their tenth studio album, and prove all of that reassurance to be true. New Order have returned and given us their best album in 20 years. Music Complete is both a self assured statement and a reflective mantra - it puts New Order in a conscious perspective that both the band and the fans can agree on.

The best place to start with New Order's tenth LP is the title: Music Complete. At first, the title seems arbitrary if not pompous. After all, this is the band's first batch of recorded material in ten years. The recording sessions for Waiting For The Sirens' Call spawned two records, neither of which (with the slight exception of Sirens' single "Krafty") spawned material largely representative of the band's definitive sonic legacy. With ten years of time between now and the last time New Order recorded something timeless, it's hard to take Music Complete at its name. But with the title, New Order do something much more self aware than would be expected. With Music Complete, New Order look to the past to guide themselves to the future. Never before has the band put together a record so conscious of the sonic path they've forged up to this point. On Music Complete you'll find every flavor that New Order has offered us in their 35 years of existence. They've taken their body of work as a complete symphony and given us a masterful coda. Music Complete is, by name, both an acknowledgement and and an addendum. New Order have their legacy locked down. Nothing is going to change the fact that both Joy Division and New Order have influenced millions of fans to embrace their sound and recycle it for a new generation. But with Music Complete, instead of venturing further into the horizon, New Order look backwards and prove once more that they are the masters of their craft, from beginning to end. This approach is what makes Music Complete a trip worth taking, both for the band and for their audience.

And truly, New Order don't miss a single beat on their journey through the decades. Whereas "Restless" kicks things off with a very timeless "Let's Go"-type New Order track, "Singularity" takes us back to Joy Division's "Shadowplay" before venturing into a full on dance track seasoned with a drum break straight out of the Movement era. "Plastic" takes Giorgio Moroder to the Technique acid house scene, before "Tutti Frutti" goes full new-wave in a Low-Life style bounce. As the album goes on, there are more and more of these nods to the past - not for nostalgia as much as they are for recount. New Order just operates in this territory so well. There's no denying the simple brilliance of the guitar-driven masterworks of New Order's legacy, including "Ceremony", "Love Vigilantes", and spreading into the Technique era with "All The Way" and "Love Less". But as early as "Temptation", New Order has defined itself separate from their Joy Division roots by using a powerful, intimate, euphoric dance tendency. After two records driven by a majority of guitar-based songwriting, it is refreshing to hear the band return to their love of carnal, body-driven dance music. Here, the band seems to be firing on all cylinders. There's no divisiveness - just a full throttle gambit of new wave excellence.

Of course, there might be another reason why the bipartisan nature of the band finds itself absent on this record - founding member and bass god Peter Hook has left the group. In his absence, Tom Chapman does his best to replicate Hooky where necessary. Songs like the slow-burning "Academic" and the massive, driving "Nothing But A Fool" see guitar parts given incredible harmony by very Hook-like high register bass-lines. But elsewhere, New Order choose to consciously steer elsewhere. With all of its nods to "The Perfect Kiss", "Tutti Frutti" shows off a full disco bass line that you'd never catch Hooky playing. The same goes for "On The High Line", where we have bass slides and funk rock abounding. With all layers combining, somehow it never feels apart from New Order's flagship sound. But there's definitely a conscious acknowledgement of Hook's absence. While space is definitely made for classic, pick-driven New Order bass lines, Hook isn't emulated. He is honored without ever being replaced. For this, we can give the band immense credit.

I am absolutely giddy to say that not all of the album goes towards tribute and legacy - New Order somehow still have time in all this to write a forward thinking banger of a dance song, and that song is "Unlearn This Hatred". Holy shit, could this song be any cooler? Taking a nod from today's UK house producers of their liking like Lxury, New Order hone in on a very modern house sound with this burner of a track. While the verse is pure house gold, the chorus couldn't be more classic New Order in its presentation. Chapman's bass part could cut diamonds, and Bernard's vocal layer on top is the best he's given us since "True Faith". This is a song by a band more than 35 years into their career that you could hear in a modern club and lose yourself to. New Order haven't lost an ounce of their power, and they are showing it in full force here. "Unlearn This Hatred" isn't the focus of Music Complete - more so, it's a treat for those of us paying attention. The band has plenty to offer going forward, but the refocus on this record is a necessary step.

Music Complete finishes off the same way that their best records have. Just like "Leave Me Alone" on Power, Corruption, & Lies, and like "Every Little Counts" on Brotherhood, Music Complete ends with an emotional climax. "Superheated" features Killers frontman Brandon Flowers, and truly, this is a special moment, given Flowers named his own band using the name of the fake band from New Order's "Crystal" video, from 2001's Get Ready. While all of the record's features feel incredibly intentional - La Roux's Elly Jackson lending backup vocals throughout and Iggy Pop giving a spoken word piece on "Stray Dog" - Brandon seems to take this moment as his own Music Complete given the opportunity. Flowers accompanies Sumner wonderfully, giving full life to this sweeping number, sending us off into the night with a heart full of love. On Music Complete, New Order take a loving journey back through time, not only for themselves, but for all of the fans that have made their own way on the trial that they blazed. It's a collective affair that somehow never feels self serving. It's a reinterpretation of the greatest hits. It's a remix of a textbook on an unmatched career in sonic evolution.

Music Complete is out this week on Mute Records. Go pick it up at your local record store on CD, vinyl, or special expanded deluxe vinyl. New Order are touring Europe through the remainder of the year, but check their website for any possible North American dates early next year.

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