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Pitchfork's Review of Music Complete

(Pitchfork) - Published 2015-09-25 10:23:00 PM - 10:23:00 PM

In his new memoir, Chapter and Verse, New Order frontman Bernard Sumner recalls the exact moment that the band, having only recently changed their name from Joy Division to New Order in the wake of Ian Curtis’ death, opted for a change in direction that would forever alter their career. "Our music had become so incredibly dark and cold, we couldn’t really get any darker or colder," he says. "I remember quite clearly sitting in a club in New York one night, around three or four o’clock in the morning, and thinking how great it would be if we made music, electronic music, that could be played in one of these clubs." The rest, of course, is history. New Order would go on to become one of the most successful and innovative dance acts of all time, creating an aesthetic that split the difference between guitar-heavy post-punk and club-ready dance music. Some 30 years later, New Order continue to develop and refine the template they essentially created with surprisingly positive results.

Music Complete is New Order’s 10th studio album, and for all intents and purposes, it’s the first thing they’ve recorded since 2005’s Waiting for the Sirens' Call (2012’s long-delayed Lost Sirens was essentially a hodgepodge of Waiting outtakes). It also reflects a series of shifts within the band, created after the departure of bassist Peter Hook and reintroducing original keyboardist Gillian Gilbert back into the fold. For longtime fans, the acrimonious departure of Hook is potentially worrisome, as his melodic basslines were so integral to many of New Order’s most beloved tracks. As it turns out, they needn’t have worried too much. New bassist Tom Chapman, who formerly played with Sumner in Bad Lieutenant, creates a pretty faithful simulacrum of Hook's signature sound both live and on record. Having largely eschewed the heavy guitars that weighed down much of their output for the past decade, New Order embrace electronics again on Music Complete, conjuring the kind of synth washes and house-y piano runs that could have easily pulsed across their records during their mid-'80s heyday, making for what is arguably the most refined record they’ve released since 1989’s Technique.

The 11 tracks on Music Complete essentially touch on all the things that New Order do best, from the wistful melancholy of the record’s first single, "Restless"—a lovely "Regret"-like bummer ode to the perils of never being satisfied—to the pounding eurodisco of "Tutti Frutti", it is as if the band tried to assemble a record based on all of their most iconic vibes. In large part, they manage to succeed. On even their most classic records, New Order can be amazingly inconsistent, the truly great songs always eclipsing the simply forgettable ones. In this way, Music Complete is no exception. "Plastic" is the most inspired bit of dance music the band has recorded in years—a sprawling seven-minute bit of Moroder-ish synesthesia in which Sumner’s perfectly affectless vocal—"It’s official, you’re fantastic, you're so special, so iconic"—plays against tastefully employed bits of Chic guitar jangles and a classically New Order-ish bassline that somewhere is making Hooky's head explode. It’s really the only track on the record that belongs on the same kind of rarefied dance floor as classic New Order jams like "True Faith" and "Fine Time"—which means it’s the kind of slick, slightly chilly, and grandly magisterial electro pop that is essentially begging to be remixed into some kind of ecstatic 12” version that can play on a loop for days.

Elsewhere, "Singularity" opens with what literally sounds like an old Joy Division outtake—an ominous bassline and some warped guitar lines that sound as if they were being played in a room just adjacent to the actual recording studio—before exploding into a digitized electro banger, while "People on the High Line" could be a distant cousin to Republic’s "World", complete with chorus-echoing female backup vocals. "Tutti Frutti"—one of three tracks featuring additional vocals from La Roux’s Elly Jackson—reaches for a similar state of dancefloor euphoria and almost gets there. As always, Sumner’s lyrics are hit and miss ("You got me where it hurts / but I don’t really care/ ‘Cause I know I’m OK / Whenever you are there.") but he always manages to sell it effortlessly. In fact, effortlessness has always been New Order’s greatest trick. The best tracks on Complete are the kind of tastefully deployed dance track that the band has spent decades articulating—perfect, polished, airtight—but one can’t help but wish that Music Complete had a few more of them on board.

The record’s weakest tracks are generally the most tepid. "Academic" and "The Game", while certainly not terrible, suffer from being both unmemorable and somehow overly familiar, sounding like a dozen or so other fine but mostly unremarkable New Order tracks haunting the latter halves of previous albums. Elsewhere, "Stray Dog"—a track featuring a long spoken word passage growled by none other than Iggy Pop—would make for an appropriately larky B-side, but is something of a momentum killer when placed squarely in the middle of a pop album. The record does end on a high note though, with the swooning "Nothing but a Fool" adding the requisite dollop of perfectly-metered melancholy and album-closing ballad "Superheated" (featuring Brandon Flowers in what one can only imagine is his ultimate wet dream of a guest spot) bringing all the feelings to a charmingly earnest song about lost love that sounds like it could/should have played during the penultimate scene of a John Hughes movie (in the best way possible).

For longtime fans, Music Complete is something of a return to form for New Order—complete with appropriately chic minimalist artwork courtesy of Peter Saville. The record’s carefully considered aesthetic and meticulous production bear all the hallmarks of the band’s most iconic work. Still, it’s hard to know if anyone other than the band’s legions of devotees will find most of this material truly arresting. Music Complete certainly doesn’t do anything to diminish New Order’s formidable legacy, but it doesn’t necessarily expand upon it either. That being said, it still sounds like classic New Order, and now over three decades deep into their career, it's kind of amazing that nothing else really does.

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Excerpts taken from Pitchfork.
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