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Get Ready (2001)

Reviewed: August 2001

Seems like we’ve been here before. The last New Order comeback, 1993’s Republic, was a medium-sized hit machine but a meek disappointment to anyone who survived the terror of the ’80s sustained by this defining band and their perverse hybrid of rock, disco and Kraftwerk.

Republic produced a few decent singles, of which Regret remains one of their best. But four years had passed since its predecessor Technique, and the fusion of rock and dance which New Order pioneered had become the industry standard. Worse, Republic carried the sense that this most wilful of bands were happy to settle down and conform to that standard. There would be no more vaulting experiments, no more singles recorded on acid and eight-minute tracks produced to test a new drum machine – just clean drum loops and a safe enclosure for bass pig Peter Hook to stomp about in. Republic did quite well in America.

And now here we are again. Another impossibly long interval – this time eight years, long enough to encompass Joy Division’s career twice over – means that in 2001, to many music fans, New Order return not so much as lost heroes but as a mystery. Some pop consumers were paying more attention to 2 Unlimited last time around.

It should be pointed out that New Order have been nowhere near as idle as others of the one-album-a-decade brigade. Each member has made their own music, even if none of it constituted a proper New Order record, or even a quarter of one. But even so, their seventh album proper arrives less to the hysteria triggered by The Stone Roses’ Second Coming (the Marley’s Ghost of long-gestation LPs) and more to the mild intrigue which greeted the re-emergence of Stereo MC’s. In an unrecognisable world of S Clubs and Limp Bizkits, where the very notion of "alternative" seems as redundant as flour rationing, is there space for post-punk experimental rock’n’roll disco?

Except… there’s something about this title that jars. New Order records are supposed to sound blank and austere, like Movement, Brotherhood, Substance: full of Eastern Bloc promise, wholly in theme with Mancunian minimalism. Get Ready is unfamiliar and simple, an all-too-human challenge to get on up and have it out. It doesn’t fit the pattern; it’s like finding a Radiohead album called Party People In The Place To Be. And it makes you suspect that this time things will be different.

The first surprise is, it rocks. Get Ready’s first single and opening track Crystal feints the listener with a sheeny little electronic overture, then lets loose a splurging riff from Sumner’s guitar – New Order’s other trademark instrument. The touchstones are 1983’s Age Of Consent or Technique’s Dream Attack, but louder and fuzzed-over. As Crystal builds, a small army of Peter Hooks marches in to execute a spectacular synchronised growl-off. After 20-odd years, the patent New Order bass rumble is still there, gnarly with all the aggression that Republic lacked. The song is about mad love, how it knocks you sideways and how good that feels. "Keep it coming," Sumner begs, and New Order sound hungry for the first time since about 1989.

By the middle of the second track, 60 Miles Per Hour, it’s clear that this is going to be a very different kind of New Order record. No more alienation here: with brilliant absurdity, Sumner wants to run away to a desert island and worship pagan idols (Republic was more about nipping down the shops in a Ford Mondeo). The track takes a country-twang turn and comfortably out-rocks Crystal. In place of New Order’s usual metronomic robot funk there’s a euphoric human groove. If the name wasn’t taken you’d call it daft punk.

Assisted by retired Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan, Turn My Way completes an opening triptych that can fairly be described as stunning – and gives Get Ready its first emotionally piercing moment. New Order are no longer young, but Turn My Way is, defiantly, a young man’s song. It’s about the desire to stay different and refusing to play the game. What might sound trite from 20-year-olds gains weight when it comes from a band who’ve seen a bit of life and who, to be honest, sounded half-whipped last time around.

As on the greatest New Order songs, a rough-edged, broken-hearted melody alchemises a mundane lyric – "I don’t wanna be like other people are/Don’t wanna own a key/Don’t wanna wash my car" – into something strangely worthwhile and even empowering. Corgan’s harmonies are supernaturally appropriate on this, Get Ready’s centrepiece. Turn My Way is about choosing your path in life and sticking with it and, as New Order music, it’s up there with Run and Your Silent Face.

Throughout, Get Ready is full of, well, unknown pleasures. Slow Jam (yes, they have a song called Slow Jam) does not in fact sound like a Barry White symphony for satin sheets. Instead it’s Guns N’ Roses’ Paradise City rewritten for a substance-hungry Sumner, with much rocking and breaking-glass sound effects. With howlin’ tomcat Bobby Gillespie on board, Rock The Shack goes even more over the top on a riff transplanted from XTRMNTR’s Shoot Speed Kill Light. Primitive Notion is both a middle finger to an unfaithful lover and an invitation to all-night sex with same. Stephen Morris’s drums star as they did in the days of Joy Division, but this time they’re up against interstellar acid house as a backdrop. Everywhere, the old components are reshuffled, renewed or just piled up in the corner and torched.

If there’s a disappointment in Get Ready it’s that Morris’s and Gillian Gilbert’s beautiful electronica and dancefloor stompers have been flattened by all the rockin’ (family issues ruled Gilbert out of the recording process at an early stage). There was a time when it was said that New Order only had two types of songs – the one that was photocopied by The Cure and the other that ploughed a parallel furrow to the Pet Shop Boys – but at least that was one more than most. Now that demarcation is ended. Get Ready synthesises the Hooky rock-a-ramas, Sumner’s Torremolinos disco tendencies and the sonic-cathedrals element more effectively than ever before, at the expense of some variety.

But so what? New Order have made better records than this, but not many with such an emotional charge and the expansive noise to carry it off. Get Ready shows that there’s a
way to be 45 years old without dissolving into empty indolence; that you can keep your hunger and even rediscover it when you thought it had gone.

The last track, Run Wild, is a beautiful, acoustically driven song of love-against-death and its closing couplet is a simpler, more heartfelt lyric than Sumner has delivered in years: "I’m gonna live ’til I die/I’m gonna live to get high." Such words often sound callow from a young band and embarrassing from a veteran one. But here it sounds like a simple declaration that New Order are back in the game. Get Ready is the sound of a great band breaking free of their past before your ears. Who’d have thought it?

Source: Andrew Harrison of Q Magazine