New Order’s Music Complete: A Track-By-Track Preview

Luke Turner celebrates New Order's return with an album that is "largely thrilling, progressive and fun, which ought to stand as a highlight of their career"


I’ve drawn a sad face emoticon in my notes for this opening track. I must admit when ‘Restless’, by far and away the weakest moment on New Order’s new album Music Complete, emerged as the lead single I was sore perplexed. It’s an electro indie clunker of the sort that have rather bogged down the group’s recent output, typical Barney Sumner naiveté in the lyricism (there a girlfriend who’s as pretty as a star etc). It is a bit of a grower but if you’re one of the many people I’ve spoken to who’ve heard this and gone ‘eh?’, fear not – there’s much better to come.


This is more like it. A two-tone synth line, tight bass and menace. It drops in all martial around 30 seconds in a right old sci-fi thwacker. ‘Singularity’ feels like a virtuous circle – early New Order filtered through groups that they inspired, Factory Floor or The Horrors say, and then given another twist by the originators. The Tom Rowland-produced track builds to a concluding noisy synth vortex, gurgling away in the plughole of a Pennine reservoir full of molten metal.


Richard X is on production duties for this absolute belter of a track, a thousand miles away from the ‘Restless’ stodge. There’s a house-stabby intro rhythm and a terrific melody chiming away before it all goes DOOOOF. This reminds me of the ecstatic electropop that Pet Shop Boys came up with on their brilliant most recent album Electric. Then it all goes rather Giorgio Moroder / ‘I Feeel Love’, Sumner’s vocals sliding in around the arpeggios in a track that’s their most sophsticated in years. The last third of the track is pure steely-eyed dancefloor whammer that must have quarried a few residual nuggets of MDMA from that infamous New Order excursion to New York.

‘Tutti Frutti’

There’s no pause before the hammer of ‘Tutti Frutti’ comes clanging down and again, it’s about as Euro and sexy as New Order have been since Technique. With their big-venue-filling lad appeal, they have never felt particularly camp, but this is one of the moments on Music Complete that really changes this. ‘Restless’ is now forgotten and I’m rather excitedly scribbling that this is the sound of New Order remembering that they’re one of our greatest synth pop groups.

‘People On The High Line’

After all the glinting disco, New Order summon the funk. This isn’t the sort of bassline I could imagine Hooky playing, though the track is curiously reminiscent of a souped-up ‘We All Stand’ from Power, Corruption And Lies LP. There’s a great house inflection before ‘New York Deli’ goes all Chic meeting Kraftwerk on a fruity dancefloor – which is exactly where New Order should be.

‘Stray Dog’

Iggy Pop guest on this track. Iggy Pop. On a New Order track. This could have been a really stupid idea and when I first heard of the collaboration I must admit I was expecting and dreading a rock bellow, but in fact makes for a brilliant curveball. Iggy’s voice begins accompanied by recordings of a nocturnal landscape, buzzing insects and the odd lupine howl. "The secret of all happiness is unconditional love," he growls, spoken word rather than singing. It’s a really odd track, with pesky rhythms and strings that lend a noirish soundtrack feel. It’s existential stuff, Pop growling away "I can’t stop drinking… not getting pulled down into the wastes of the mire / I’d rather be a lover than a liar".


It was all going so well! But there we are, another grumpy-faced emoticon on my notepad. This is another unwelcome appearance by the Acoustic Guitar Chug thing New Order have done a lot in recent years, presumably aimed at those for whom the band are a daring diversion away from #properindieforthelads. It is probably just a matter of personal taste, as the arrangement is spot on, the melodies are solid, the chorus just so, but songs of the ‘Academic’ illk do feel rather thick-set compared to the electronic bangers. Maybe it’s here (and, really, only here), that Hooky’s presence is missed. It was always his billowing basslines that gave this style of New Order song more life.

‘Nothing But A Fool’

Having said that, next track ‘Nothing But A Fool’ is guitar-led and works really well. A picked acoustic guitar reminds me of Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’, and then suddenly the mid-paced and moody beast sees New Order become… Sonic Youth! But Sonic Youth… with synths! Egads! This is excellent, with special notice for the stiff drums of Stephen Morris.

‘Unlearn The Hatred’

An intergalactic engine starts to rev, vocals are looped, there’s a twinkling cosmic noise, Sumner sings "two steps forward and one step back" before New Order go all techno. It’s a batterer, this one, a futuristic take on ‘Confusion’. Brilliant.

‘The Game’

Perhaps it’s dominance of all the whumping, compression and Autotune, but New Order’s influence on pop music has been hard to discern in recent years. Hopefully Music Complete might be a counterattack to that. They have after all never shied about from the big chorus, daft lyrics, cheap hooks and the search for mass appeal, and here they make an absolutely brilliant combination of all the above. There are analogue gurgles, Sumner singing about being high again. ‘The Game’ is shaped by just how sprightly the rhythm section sounds. It’s another cleverly-arranged track, a wistful and slow chorus which what sounds like a physical drum weaving in and out of the more electronic percussion. It’s the most successful realising of New Order’s conversation between rock, pop and the dancefloor here.


And so they bring everything to an end with a gorgeous track written with and featuring Brandon Flowers. Yes, you read that right. There are strings, a light vocal melody that might have been plucked from the ether of the Mute office after Vince Clarke and Andy Bell forgot to take it home. It’s a big wet ballad that stays clear of schmaltz thanks to the exertions of Morris. This is even despite chimes, ludicrously overwrought orchestration and a choral effect lurking around as the vocals that start bellowing around like Robbie bloody WIlliams. Only New Order could have got away with this, a surprisingly fantastic end to a largely thrilling, progressive, fun, and doofing record that ought to stand as a highlight of their career.

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