Hooky-less, but with a few famous faces to take the attention away, New Order return with their first album in a decade – and that’s not the only first. Their first collection without Peter Hook’s low-swung bass-lines is also the first with Gillian Gilbert back on keys, with Tom Chapman taking Hooky’s place and long-time collaborator Phil Cunningham joining Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris. This line-up’s first release together is also the strongest New Order album for some time, creating dark dance music with moments as strong as their peak, and as relevant as recent releases from acts like The Chemical Brothers.
Restless With Sumner’s voice noticeably deeper and more brooding since last entering the studio, ‘Restless’ leads Music Complete in as if these are New Order’s American Recordings, only a much more British version, and only adding a new take on their former selves. “How much do you need?” Bernard sings during the greed-influenced bridge, before an uplifting chorus that sees swirls of strings blend with Gilbert’s vintage keys, and Morris’ underrated beat.
Singularity A darker intro instantly reminiscent of their earliest work and the band they were born from, and a brave bass heavy intro to doubt naysayer’s who question New Order without Hooky. Jittery laser gun-like synths lead into a subtle squelch pattern, while the post-chorus breakdown highlights a rock band breaking out from beneath. It’s instantly more New Order than either Sirens album, and quite possible Get Ready too.
Plastic Beginning with what could easily be a section from an Orbital headline slot, before jumping into a Giorgio Moroder rhythm (think ‘I Feel Love’). It’s New Order back in Ibiza, with La Roux’s Elly Jackson providing (shouty) backing vocals. Who ever Sumner’s singing about, he’s clearly a fan (“It’s official, you’re fantastic / you’re so special, so iconic”) while Gilbert switches from shiny glares to digital groans, on a seven-minute marathon that’s up there with the best of their extended cuts.
Tutti Frutti Staying in the European, Technique-era club scene, Sumner stumbles over the melody, repeating the line “Life is so crazy these days”. With his 60th birthday mere months away, and seemingly no time passed since Technique’s 1989 release, it must be so. The song’s a stopper and starter, with old Russian-sounding strings woven into the layers that make up New Order’s sound.
People On The High Line Instantly sounds like it should in fact be called ‘Tutti Frutti’, switching from a Chic/Deee-Lite disco/funk intro to the ‘90s hedonism of the Hacienda; It could quite easily soundtrack the opening montage to the next This Is England 90. As with most tracks, ’..High Line’ heads back to the time when their music would just play on and build, from it’s Madchester piano to a carousel-like middle-8.
Stray Dog Iggy Pop takes the lead, drawling over spooky music like poetry over electronics. “I can’t stop drinking; it’s in my blood” his smoke-cased vocal delivers, over horn blasts and piano patters, following up with words of wisdom including “I’d rather be a lover than a liar”.
Academic The indie-guitar instantly hints back to the band’s more recent output, with steady verses rising to uplifting choruses. As is always the case, there are instances of obvious-rhyming and simple lyrics, but for every dud there’s a “The temper’s rise that stops all time / When lovers’ eyes are locked in harmony” to reassure.
Nothing But A Fool As with ‘Academic’, the more sombre moments affect the tour-de-force of the first half of the album – and rhyming anything with ‘wine’ is always a terrible idea. You can almost imagine Sumner writing this with a view to an acoustic, solo album.
Unlearn This Hatred Chemical Brothers’ Tom Meghan brings the bangers back on a number that’s built on harsh, industrial loops before a hip-shaking chorus. Could the hatred that must be unlearned be aimed at a former band member? Any guitars are inaudible, but the Chemical Bros influence creates something you could easily expect to hear in a club this weekend.
The Game The music almost sounds like two robots in conversation, as if two tracks have been laid on top of each other, often blending but occasionally beeping out of time. This is, of course, no bad thing. The chorus segues into something more wistful, with strings and stumbling drums as Sumner muses “It’s so clear but we can’t see it, it’s in the air that we’re breathing. It’s so near but we can’t touch it but it is near and we love it… This is life and it’s immortal”.
Superheated As if the inclusion of stadium sound-filler producer Stuart Price wasn’t enough, Brandon Flowers (no stranger to joining electronic legends after stepping on stage with Pet Shop Boys and Duran Duran previously) adds vocals. The beat is quicker than New Order’s usual style, although it’s a softer track in general; too sparse for a Killers track, too delicate for New Order but a cracking combination.
Although focussing on the club-ready sound of their early ‘90s peak, there are hints of the complete music history of New Order; the debut and the shadows of Joy Division, the guitar-heavy euphoria of Waiting For The Sirens Call and the pick ’n’ mix of the Lost Sirens follow up. While Hooky seems content on celebrating the past, it’s clear that Sumner and co only want to join those they influenced in doing so, before creating something fit for the festival dance floors of today.
Music Complete is released on 25th September via Mute Artists Ltd.