With New Order having parted ways with Peter Hook, whose melodic basslines have long been a signature component of the band’s sound, and having seen a markedly uninspired live performance a few years ago, my expectations for a new album weren’t particularly high. Indeed, Lost Sirens, an album of outtakes from the sessions that produced 2005’s Waiting for the Sirens’ Call, is probably the most solid collection of music the band has released in years, aside from the plethora of greatest hits collections they’ve put out over the last two decades, of course.
As much as compromise is lauded as a worthy goal in most situations, when it comes to creative endeavors, it frequently leads to the best ideas being squashed in an effort to accommodate different points of view. I suspect that mediocre albums like Get Ready and Waiting for the Sirens’ Call were the result of singer and guitarist Bernard Sumner and Hook attempting to put aside their differences. With Hooky now out of the picture, though, Sumner’s ideas have no doubt been given free reign, and however nice it would be to have the original lineup intact, it’s perhaps for the best as Music Complete (Mute Records), despite the horrible title, is New Order’s strongest record since Technique.
Sumner was long the yin favoring electronics to Hook’s rock-leaning yang, and that is readily apparent on Music Complete, with cuts like “Plastic” and “On the High Line” pulsating with ecstatic energy and club-ready beats and melancholic closer “Superheated” comprised of layers of synth. But it has always been the push and pull between the organic—Sumner’s ringing guitar notes and dry vocals, in particular—and the synthetic that has made New Order pop music’s greatest anomaly. Such is the case here as well. “Restless,” the album’s lead single and leadoff track, follows in the tradition of songs like “True Faith” and “Round and Round,” blending emotional lyricism, synthesized atmospherics, and guitar hooks into the post-modern pop equivalent of a soft serve ice cream—sweeter and smoother than the original incarnation while retaining the morphic resonance. Similarly, “Singularity,” which adds minor chords into the formula, at once recalls the gloom of Movement, when the ghost of Joy Division still hung over them, and the freneticism of later records like Brotherhood. Even “Stray Dog,” a pairing of moody backing and spoken word courtesy of Iggy Pop that could easily have fallen flat on its face had it been more clumsily done, is evocative and memorable. Overall, there seems to be no logical reason why the band should have created an album this good at this point in its lifespan, but Music Complete is New Order at its best.