When a heritage act such as New Order releases new material, there’s always something of an elephant in the room. The pressure to create something as lasting and seminal as the material that put the artist in the position they’re in, the tight rope walk of having to acknowledge modern music without merely pandering to or imitating it, and the ordeal of pleasing old fans in the process of gaining new ones.
Though these were the conditions under which New Order first thrived, rising like a disco drenched phoenix from the ashes of Joy Division's seminal ashes, the band broke records, became pioneers of the sound that made the 80s such a recognisable decade, and primarily transcended all expectations of what Joy Division minus Ian Curtis might become.
Minus another Joy Division member (the Marmite character of post-punk, bassist Peter Hook) and the act are showcasing a wealth of of eclectic songwriting talent once again, tracks such as Singularity and Stray Dog even channel some Martin Hannett-style atmospheric guitar and synth layers and effortlessly stream them into modern and 80s dance songs. While Tutti Frutti and People on the High Line play out like A Certain Ratio jamming with the Happy Mondays in a loving homage to acid house and funk, those seeking Ceremony or Crystal style gems have Academic and Nothing but a Fool to get their fill.
Opener Restless contains a suspiciously Hooky-esque bass line for the first track on their first album without him, and carries with it a beautiful beat from Stephen Morris as well as the synth strings and guitar hooks you were probably expecting. It sets the tone for the album well, undoubtedly fitting with the expectations that came with this release but augmented, updated and more evolved somehow – the inclusion of orchestral timbres that don’t hiss out of Yamaha’s but appear to be the real deal.
This experimentation yields varying results, Singularity manages to single-handedly trawl through the bands entire history in an intro alone, exploding into an incredible chorus that blends modern and old dance timbres in a way that manages to retain the credibility of both influences. Even some Fuck Buttons style fuzzy synths make their way in towards the tracks climax. While Stray Dog has Iggy Pop providing a spoken word narrative, (sounding more like Plastered Marv from Sin City than himself) it almost plays out like New Orders upbeat equivalent to The Cribs’ Be Safe. Unlearn This Hatred opens with a lead synth that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Tycho’s Dive before breaking into the most dance floor oriented track on the album, yet the closing track Superheated unfortunately seems to land somewhere between Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and any number of recent Gary Barlow releases.
Standing a cut above the rest are undoubtedly Academic and Nothing but a Fool, driving tracks that make the most out of having one of the best drummers of all time amongst their ranks. The former almost serves as the Platonic perfect form of a New Order song as well as a perfect representation of the album: undeniably familiar, yet a definite act of progression for the act. For a surprisingly experimental album from such an established band, it seems to acknowledge what is expected, but does not allow itself to be shackled down by such expectations. It genuinely harbours all the promise of a debut album, and their next release could follow any of the potential routes this album opens up – an impressive smorgasbord of timbres and influences. Fans that lived to buy Blue Monday on vinyl the first time around have all the choir synths and arpeggiated bass lines to keep them sweet, and the new generations of fans will simply find an objectively good album with a surprisingly varied amount of terrain to explore.
Words: Jake Williams