Thursday, July 06, 2006

Latter-Day New Order: Any Good?

While most right-minded observers would point to Mancunian legends New Order's early and middle-phase works as their most accomplished and rounded, the real question that needs to be asked is this: can the new-millennium albums (since their apparent reformation at the turn of the century) match the all-round brilliance of standards like "Blue Monday", "True Faith", "the Perfect Kiss" and "Bizarre Love Triangle"? Or are they merely pale imitations of the real thing, much like the works from Bernard Sumner's pleasant-but-vacuous Electronic project?

I'd like to argue the case that there are several tracks worthy of the "New Order Classic" tag, although, of course, not one of them can really emulate, let alone surpass the sheer power of the tracks from the 1980s. Still, these representations of the new-look New Order (minus Gillian Gilbert, who opted for early retirement) are still potent examples of their peculiar blueprint of effortlessly mixing post-punk guitar-pop and underground dance-music aesthetics:

1. WAITING FOR THE SIRENS' CALL (Waiting for the Sirens' Call, 2005)
Arguably the finest composition New Order have written since the band's restoration, "Waiting for the Sirens' Call" (off the 2005 album of the same name) is a virtuosic, elegant gem that consciously acknowledges several important stages of the 1980s New Order: a "Power, Corruption and Lies"-informed synth-string overlay, "Low Life"-approved melodic-guitar riffs, and a"Technique"-styled rhythmic backdrop. Combine all these elements together, and you get an instant masterpiece that is already becoming a confirmed fan favourite.

2. CRYSTAL (Get Ready, 2001)
Admittedly showing a harder-edged New Order than any previous song, "Crystal" is a propulsive, driving number that relies heavily on Sumner's jagged guitar riffs (he hasn't played this fiercely since those faraway Joy Division days) and Peter Hook's familiar high-register bass lines. The addition of those female backing vocals are an unexpected, welcome touch, and ably displays the band's newfound adventurism.

3. TURN (Waiting for the Sirens' Call, 2005)
A straightforward guitar-rocker that shows Sumner's tuneful guitar chords to great effect, "Turn" is almost a throwback to the type of indie guitar-pop that fellow Mancunians The Smiths used to excel at, way back in the early 1980s. Hook's usual bass embellishments constitute the icing on a satisfying musical cake.

4. PRIMITIVE NOTION (Get Ready, 2001)
The spirit of Joy Division is resurrected in this dark-hued, brutal guitar-shred fest that has Hook doing a variation of his spooky bass line for 'Twenty-Four Hours". "Primitive Notion" could have benefited by some judicious editing, especially on the slightly meandering outro, but it's still a persuasive rock-out that reaffirms New Order's standing as rock luminaries.

5. HERE TO STAY (24 Hour Party People Soundtrack, 2002)
A storming collaboration with big-beat stalwarts Chemical Brothers, this is dancier than anything else New Order have done since the early 1990s. The usual array of Chemical Brothers sound effects are present, but this is still a New Order tune in overall nature, by virtue of Sumner's guitar pyrotechnics, Hook's ever-reliable bass flourishes and typically melodic structure.


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