New Order – Music Complete

When it comes to iconic bands of the eighties and nineties, Manchester’s New Order must be somewhere close to the top of the pile. Rising from the ashes of another act that has cast a long shadow over the independent music scene, what they achieved was quite extraordinary.

The tragic loss of Ian Curtis, the central figure and main songwriter in Joy Division could very well have been enough to bury any hopes of continuing  but to their credit, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris somehow pulled through, re-shaping the band with a completely new sound and rebranding that sound as New Order.

With additional member Gillian Gilbert on board, they went on to forge a hugely successful career, one of the true ground-breaking acts of their era, fusing indie and dance music in a way that nobody else came close to matching.

Inevitably, the band fractured, and the unseemly spat that ensued has continued to this day with bassist Peter Hook touring classic albums from Joy Division and New Order with his band The Light, while the rest of New Order continued as an entity with both factions firing very public broadsides at each other along the way.

Heralded by some as a triumphant return,  New Order’s tenth album Music Complete will either delight or disappoint depending on which version of New Order you prefer. There is the New Order of pre-1987, as represented by the excellent 12″ singles compilation album Substance and there is the New Order of post 1988, when the burgeoning acid house and Madchester scene began to influence the bands sound to a greater degree.

It is this latter version of New Order that the band return to, the Balearic beats and smooth electro pop of that incarnation, eschewing the harder edge of earlier releases. Songs like ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Plastic’ showcase this side most strongly; the opening bars of ‘People on the High Line’ sounds like a Happy Mondays outtake.

The record starts strongly – ‘Restless’ and ‘Singularity’ represent a band re-energised, classic New Order, albeit without the trademark Peter Hook basslines, but as the album progresses, it gets a whole lot more patchy. ‘Stray Dog’ is notable only for the inclusion of Iggy Pop doing a passable impression of Johnny Cash.

‘Academic’ briefly recaptures the New Order mojo but ‘Nothing but a Fool’ and ‘Unlearn the Hatred’ are slight inclusions, that do nothing to convince that Music Complete is anything but a solid if forgettable addition to the band’s illustrious body of work.

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)