NEW ORDER, Music Complete
After the most bitterly public rock divorce in an eternity, the newly configured New Order - minus Peter Hook, but with the return of Gillian Gilbert - bring their first 'new' album in a decade. “Music Complete” is the record most of us thought might never happen, and, at 64 minutes, it's the longest New Order album yet. And the best in what feels like an eternity.
It's the same, but different. The best New Order album – as opposed to a collection of songs – since 1993's “Republic”. Like “Republic”, “Music Complete” is awash in electronics. After two albums of guitar heavy crunch, the band are back and in love with circuit boards. And talking of Electronic, “Music Complete” is the nearest thing to Electronic's criminally under-rated 1996 'Raise The Pressure' – the pushing, metronomic rhythms, the dense layers of synths on synths, the swathes of guitar. It misses the trademark bass sound, and reflects perhaps a slight softening of approach that comes naturally with the march of time, but is still.. worth the name
Overall, “Music Complete” is the single most cohesive New Order record in twenty five years. Opening single 'Restless' is sadly underwhelming, and probably chosen with an eye on being the most obvious and likely hit, but it's probably the least interesting New Order single I've heard since 1986's “State Of The Nation”. Get beyond that, and here's the best two single New Order songs since 1993 : “Plastic” and “Singularity” are huge, Giorgio-Moroder style belters, on fast tempos, furious sequencers and the kind of bleeps and bloops that make me want to be a robot when I grow up. Just add lasers and a crowded room. It's not that Hooky isn't missed, but the songs don't need his flourishes. Even “Tutti Frutti”, is the kind of apparently simple basic stuff that sounds like a great summer which sounds, in places, oddly like Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
And, as an album overall, “Music Complete” is classic New Order – songs aren't hurried, or racing to the end. They luxuriate in detail and texture, in sound, like the classic New Order 12”s, a warmth and a playfulness the band haven't had in decades : there's a huge wodge of unexpected Chic style funk meets classic Italian house in the middle on 'People On The High Line' that reminds me of Electronic, but... better. Some naysayers criticise 'Stray Dog', where Iggy Pop narrates over the bands dense instrumental grooves – but to be fair, the band have never done anything quite like it, and it's a refreshing piece of experimentation.
Over all of this, Gillian Gilbert's subtle touch is all over here, and boy have I missed those understated, elegant and spare synth sounds, and Stephen Morris' human drum machine. New bass player Tom Chapman spares us an imitation of Hook's former bass style but adds an insistent and driving rhythm. Fifth member Phil Cunningham, on guitars and synths, fills out the sound. In no way does this sound like a tired band of 50-somethings making music from habit, but a record of young hearts and young ears. Of course, New Order can't reinvent music and technology the way they did thirty years ago, but I'd rather they be here and now and reflecting their world and the changes within it, than try to be anything other than themselves.