Towards the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, New Order were effectively finished. For long term fans, their last album Waiting For The Siren’s Call was a barren effort with few memorable moments.Bassist Peter Hook called time, thinking the band were over. Much to his chagrin this was not the case. Thankfully so, as Music Complete is New Order’s finest album in over, well, 20 years.
Hook-less as a unit they may be, the songs are anything but. The opening burst of tracks, “Restless”, “Singularity” and “Plastic” (the latter two undoubtedly future singles) amount to some of the finest New Order have recorded. Each song bursts to life in flurry of synths and sequencers riding a hi-energy bass-driven beat. With the guitars taking a deserved back-seat, it’s the sound of New Order asserting themselves as an electronic dance act.
You can have fun trying to work out which songs (if any…) are about their estranged ex-bandmate (…but I think there are two), but the only moment bound to divide opinion is the Iggy Pop-fronted “Stray Dog”. Like its title, “Stray Dog” feels like something that has wandered into the album and then refused to leave. Where it might’ve worked for Death In Vegas a decade or more ago, it feels a gamble here.
Produced largely by themselves with Tom Rowlands of The Chemical Brothers taking two tracks and Stuart Price one, Music Complete is an album of two halves. Front-loaded by the La Roux assisted bangers (including the oddly wonderful “Tutti Frutti”) and with “Stray Dog” in no man’s land, the second half is more moody and contemplative. The guitars return (“Academic”), a weak track outstays its welcome (“Nothing But A Fool”), but the dancefloor momentum returns with “Unlearn This Hatred” and the bittersweet Brandon Flowers-assisted closer, “Superheated”.
It’s exciting to see a band you had creatively written off bounce back so confident of the music they’re making. It brings to mind Pet Shop Boy’s Electric, an album that seemed to effortlessly remind you of everything you loved about them without sounding contrived or desperate. How New Order managed to do it is anyone’s guess. But they have, and they did.