Music aficionados will greet the arrival of a fresh New Order album as film enthusiasts would a new Star Wars movie: with uneasy optimism. 'Optimism', because few can comfortably claim to have formed two bands worthy of the label 'seminal' (Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris were founding members of Joy Division). And 'uneasy' because, if we're being honest, the last time New Order released a truly great song was 22 years ago. That was their synth-pop magnum opus 'Regret', released in 1993.
This time round the Star Wars franchise of music is without one of its leading players: Peter Hook left in 2007, amidst gradually escalating tensions with Bernard Sumner. Whether the saga has lost its Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader varies depending on which camp you listen to. One thing is certain though - Hook is conspicuous by his absence – and the tracks on 'Music Complete' are no longer driven by his plaintive, melodic basslines.
The good news: 'Music Complete' is New Order's best album since 1989's 'Technique'. But temper your expectations. There is nothing here that reaches the heights of career zeniths such as 1981's 'Ceremony', 1983's 'Blue Monday' or 1986's 'Bizarre Love Triangle'. 'Music Complete' is consistently good but rarely great.
It's all the more frustrating because it flirts with brilliance. The Brandon Flowers-backed closer 'Superheated' is a wonderful, effervescent slice of soaring electro-pop. It recalls classic New Order in the way its star-scraping melodies trigger simultaneously heart-warming and melancholic emotions. The warped guitar lines and ominous bass of 'Singularity' channel a Movement-era ambience before the track detonates into a churning whirlpool of glitchy electronica. Elsewhere, the weary-hearted and wistful 'Restless' is cut from the same cloth as the synth-laden rock that clothed 2001's 'Get Ready' and 2005's 'Waiting for the Sirens' Call'. But it outshines anything from either of those LPs.
Sadly much of the rest of 'Music Complete' is by-the-numbers New Order, and revisionary as opposed to revolutionary. The album's greatest success is that it restores the band's dignity after their two previously uninspiring LPs, but it does little to enhance their formidable legacy.
Words: Benji Taylor
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