In the run-up to the release of 'Music Complete' there was a lot of negative noise that New Order couldn't possibly be New Order without Peter Hook, the charismatic bassist that had given the band their distinctive melodic bass sound. On the strength of their first album in a decade, the absence of Hooky isn't the main issue: it's the fact that New Order haven't really produced a coherent album since 1993's 'Republic' - an album that had swansong written all over it and which served as a beautiful epitaph to their legacy, one loaded with hubris, melancholy and finality.
That's not to say that 'Music Complete' doesn't have some powerful moments worthy of this band's importance.
First single 'Restless' manages to sandwich reference points from their entire career into a curt little pop song, Bernard Sumner singing about the world's current problems like his songwriting always had a social realism to it; the irrepressible energy of 'Singularity' (one of two tracks produced by Chemical Brother and Sumner collaborator Tom Rowlands) evoke memories of 'Power, Corruption And Lies', while 'Plastic' and ‘Unlearn This Hatred’, with their acid squelches and euphoric builds, act as timely reminders that New Order played a pivotal role - from 'Blue Monday' to 'Technique' - in the genesis of dance music in the UK.
Thereafter, 'Music Complete' begins to drift off into the patchiness that has been evident in everything they've done post-'Republic', partly because it becomes a little like how ITV would approach 'An Audience With New Order'. Guest spots here come from La Roux, Iggy Pop and The Killers' Brandon Flowers. The chorus of the bouncy 'Tutti Frutti' with La Roux is about as close as this entire collection gets to 'classic' New Order, but the rest is problematic, feeling like a collection of tracks by other people fronted by Bernard, carrying occasional echoes of how New Order approached rhythms, jangly guitar passages, melodic hooks and so on, but nothing more concrete than those echoes.
Perhaps the intention was, post-Hooky, to push themselves as far away from their past as possible, and bands this far into their career (well over thirty years, even if only ten albums) attempting some brave new set of directions is surely something to be celebrated. For this reviewer it just makes the job of making sense of New Order - from the dour post-Joy Division bleakness of 'Movement', through the slew of breathtaking singles in the Eighties and the Balearic hedonism of the end of that decade, to the problematic albums this century - so much harder to comprehend.
The antidote: suspend judgement and avoid backward-looking nostalgia. Rid yourself of that and what emerges is a good electronic / rock hybrid album fronted by one of the most iconic songwriters to emerge from the ashes of post-punk British music.
Restless / Singularity / Plastic / Tutti Frutti / People On The High Line / Stray Dog / Academic / Nothing But A Fool / Unlearn This Hatred / The Game / Superheated
'Music Complete' is released on September 25th 2015 on CD, Vinyl and Digital Download.
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