It would be generous to call New Order’s previous reunion albums patchy but ‘Music Complete’ at last succeeds in doing the Manchester legends’ pioneering dance-rock legacy justice. Overlooking recent by-numbers single ‘Restless’, it’s a continually surprising set, and their best since 1993’s original swansong, ‘Republic’.
‘Singularity’, one of two tracks produced by The Chemical Brothers’ Tom Rowlands, revisits the group’s Joy Division roots. Bernard Sumner’s guitar streaks and Stephen Morris’ silvery cymbals are cut straight from ‘Closer’’s dark cloth, fluttering among the synth grids of the returning Gillian Gilbert. The absence of acrimoniously departed bassist Peter Hook is sorely felt, however, and Sumner’s acidic lyrics to ‘Academic’ (“You had a strange perception of the truth”) suggest he won’t be returning soon.
Replacement bass player Tom Chapman isn’t called on to do much more than replicate Hook’s signature melodic style in a manner that can only pour salt in the wound. He does at least take the chance to broaden his palette on ‘People On The High Line’, channelling Chic’s late Bernard Edwards in a deep funk manner Hook never attempted.
‘Nothing But A Fool’ proves New Order can still pour out a classic guitar tune as effortlessly as they draw breath, but otherwise ‘Music Complete’’s finest moments gain strength from its guest vocalists. La Roux’s Elly Jackson lifts ‘Tutti Frutti’ into a disco wonderland of strings, while Iggy Pop’s growled sermon ‘Stray Dog’ (“I can’t stop drinking/It’s in my blood”) is a dark metallic cloud, unlike anything the band have created before.
Galloping synth farewell ‘Superheated’ finds avowed fan Brandon Flowers, whose group The Killers stole their name from the fictional band in New Order’s ‘Crystal’ video, repaying his debt, repeatedly crying “Now that it’s over” to heavenly harps and bells. If the title ‘Music Complete’ suggests New Order are signing off for good, it’s a grand final act.