GIVEN THE ACRIMONY FOLLOWING Peter Hook’s exit in 2007, the album title could read as provocation: just how ‘complete’ can this New Order music be? Collective identity matters, especially in groups with such deep history; Hook clearly provided a signature element. But as the bassist himself doubtless realised the moment he spluttered his Frosties upon first hearing The Cure’s Inbetween Days, signatures can be forged. Throughout these 11 songs, if the cast sheet didn’t say it was Tom Chapman playing bass, rather than Peter Hook, there would be no way of telling.
Music Complete is closer to the popular conception of New Order – a rock band making electronic music – than either of the last two New Order albums. Both 2001’s hulking Get Ready and 2005’s lacklustre Waiting For The Sirens’ Call were made without keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, whose return here seems to have lightened the mood. Chairs are cleared, shoes kicked off. With its droll Club Med bump’n’grind, Tutti Frutti features La Roux’s Elly Jackson duetting with Bernard Sumner for an aerated house thrill evoking Fine Time from 1989’s Technique. More generally, that album’s dancefloor melancholia is the reference for both propulsive opener Restless and the closing Superheated, sweeping synth lines and semi-acoustic textures wrapped in a regretful embrace.
The album title could read as provocation: just how ‘complete’ can this New Order music be?
If Jackson’s is the most successful star cameo, Iggy Pop’s is the most striking: over a roiling orchestral pulse, his noir narration of Stray Dog, a Sumner-written meditation on “unconditional love” and “the darkness of the mire”, offers maximum thesp value. Only Brandon Flowers’ contribution to Superheated feels overbearing.
In terms of the core personnel, as significant as Gilbert’s return is the presence of a palpably more engaged Sumner. New Order’s legend is rooted in the tension of their early-to-mid-’80s records, where Sumner’s voice was a volatile wellspring amidst the mechanics. Today’s technical mastery mitigates that drama, but you can still hear the same emotion – the same band – on Singularity, when Stephen Morris’s real drums are sucked into the labyrinthine matrix and the song pummels along on sequenced chirrups, produced by Chemical Brother Tom Rowlands with all the excitement of a fan. After this band’s long, often traumatic journey so far, there’s real poignancy in Sumner’s lyric: “Four lost souls who can’t come home/For friends not here, we shed our tears.”
Despite two years spent on its dense construction, Music Complete rarely feels stilted, though it could use a stricter edit – People On The High Line is one handbag-happy throwback too many. Yet the compensatory highs go beyond expectations, most lavishly as Nothing But A Fool takes ecstatic flight upon orchestral synth waves and a visceral drum/bass interface that’s quintessential New Order. “Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got,” sings Sumner, tellingly. “Don’t ever let her slip away…” Arriving at this exalted place must feel complete indeed.
Watch Restless below: