“What can you buy, that lifts a heavy heart up to the sky?” This question, the opening words of New Order’s Music Complete, is meant to be rhetorical. But there’s a straightforward and rather obvious answer: you can buy Music Complete itself, one of New Order’s most joyous and compelling creations.
I loved Joy Division, but let’s be honest: it was a bit unrelentingly dark. If they had recorded a third album, we all would have hanged ourselves. Thus, when Joy Division’s vocalist Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980, it was providential that the remaining band members reorganized themselves as New Order, which has provided the soundtrack to the last 34 years of my life.
The first New Order release, Movement (1981), was transitional: it sounded a lot like Joy Division. But their next singles and second album, Power, Corruption and Lies (1982) inaugurated a new era of keyboard heavy dance music. Clearly influenced by eurodisco and techno, New Order’s sound combines Peter Hook’s big melodic bass lines, beautiful and complex melodies and rhythms, tasteful keyboards, and Bernard Sumner’s increasingly expressive singing. To my ears, it is the most idealistic, inventive, and tuneful English pop since the Beatles.
The 1980s were the heyday of New Order. The band went from strength to strength with a swarm of singles, remixes, albums, and compilations: Low-Life (1985), Brotherhood (1986), Substance (1987, including “True Faith“), and Technique (1989). In 1993, the band had something of a misstep with the tepid Republic. Then they disbanded. It seemed that New Order was no more.
Eight years later, however, the band returned with Get Ready (1991), featuring a reinvented, somewhat grungy and guitar-edged sound. In 2005, they released Waiting for the Sirens’ Call: the new sound perfected. In 2013, they released Lost Sirens, a collection of outtakes from the Waiting for the Sirens’ Call sessions. Although this is rank heresy for ’80s purists, I consider 21st-century New Order to be their best work: emotionally mature, melodic, musically complex, and diabolically catchy. Music Complete belongs to this same stylistic period and is one of New Order’s finest achievements.
The opening track, “Restless,” is the first single. The lyrics deal with the inadequacy of consumerism to satisfy young hearts and the restless desire for experiences of self-transcendence rather than self-indulgence. They also hint at a coming collapse of contemporary urban society, complete with Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood:
Due to current studies
The fiscal climate isn’t looking good
Get out of town
The streets are running rivers full of blood
The video, which features entirely white, hot young people, suggests an alternative: an archaic path to national renewal, complete with blood oaths and the re-enactment of Arthurian legend:
The second track, “Singularity,” is my favorite: intense, with a magnificent anthem-like melody. “Plastic” as well as “Academic,” “Unlearn this Hatred,” and “Superheated” also have outstanding melodies. “Tutti Frutti,” “People on the High Wire,” and “Stray Dog,” are catchy vamps. The vocals on “Stray Dog” are spoken by Iggy Pop, sounding like a gravelly-voiced old prospector ruminating on love vs. drink, domesticity vs. wildness at heart. “Nothing But a Fool” and “The Game” are beautiful songs about domestic strife, hope, and regret. There is not a weak track on Music Complete, and it does not cloy with repetition. It has been on continuous rotation since I bought it Budapest almost a month ago.
Music Complete is the band’s only album without founding member and bassist Peter Hook. Perhaps the best way to express my love for Hook’s style is to mention that my favorite Blondie song is “Atomic.” I like a big, melodic bass sound, including bass solos. I found it hard to imagine New Order without him, and when I first heard “Restless,” there was a Peter Hook-sized hollowness to the sound that did not please me. The rest of the album, however, shows that although Hook may have been replaceable, his sound was not, so apparently they just cloned him, particularly on tracks like “Singularity,” “People on the High Wire,” “Stray Dog,” and “Academic.” Hook is gone, but his hooks remain.
Because of the names Joy Division and New Order, there has long been suspicion that the band members have some sort of Right-wing nationalist or racial sentiments. The band members have denied it, but, at the very least, New Order has never been a booster of PC causes. Regardless of the political convictions of the band, New Order’s music — along with all of its influences and offshoots, from punk and post-punk to techno, eurodisco, Goth, neofolk, martial-industrial, electronic, ambient, and neoclassical — are, to borrow a phrase from Kevin MacDonald, as “implicitly white” as country music and NASCAR. They will be the soundtrack of the next European Revolution.