The role of dance music while club doors are bolted shut has been a persistent question in 2020 – and taking stock of many of the year’s best releases (from India Jordan’s excellent ‘For You’ EP to nightlife-flavoured pop records from Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga) it often feels like a bittersweet balm for a time of extreme and disjointed weirdness.
Accordingly, New Order’s Bernard Sumner has billed the influential group’s first release in five years as being prompted by these same “tough times” – and despite the fact that ‘Be A Rebel’ was originally a leftover that didn’t make the cut for for 2015’s ‘Music Complete’, its message feels strangely prescient now. “This world can be a dangerous place, but it’s all we got,” Sumner sings atop swooning hums of synthesised string, “and it’s quite a lot”. Melodically, it’s relentlessly chipper and upbeat; lending proceedings a certain hopefulness.
Instead of invoking classic New Order, ‘Be A Rebel’ feels like it could be a track from Sumner’s side-project with The Smiths’ Johnny Marr – it occupies similar sonic territory to Electronic’s past collaborations with Pet Shop Boys, while also pulling out lighter-footed threads from ‘Music Complete’. At times, it also feels lacking in the vaguely brutal post-punk thrust that New Order command so expertly on their greatest work; take as a golden standard the way that ‘Your Silent Face’ (from 1983’s ‘Power Corruption and Lies’) soars to orchestral heaven while also clobbering the listener with a stuttering great pulse of synth.
According to drummer Stephen Morris, ‘Be A Rebel’ is a stand-alone track for now. ”It’s just a one-off at the minute,” he recently told NME. “We thought we’d start with one and then see how it goes.” And the result is a rock-solid – if not especially revolutionary – slice of New Order occupying the dreamier end of the spectrum.