Godlike or Clodlike? Electropunk Vikings kicking the footlights into the front row of the NME Awards or huffing old codgers strapping their man jugs into manky cagoules like the fellas off Last Of The Sumner Wine? It’s a thin line between loved and dated, but where do New Order sit?
There’s no denying New Order’s days of messing with music’s DNA are behind them – a good 20 years behind. As Neil Tennant’s Awards speech stated, they’re a band who changed music twice – with ‘Unknown Pleasures’ as Joy Division and ‘Low-Life’ as New Order – but both times pre-1984. The next decade was spent refining the murky electro of ‘Blue Monday’ until, by ’93’s ‘Republic’, it boasted all the glassy blankness of the Lightning Seeds (while, admittedly, inventing the Pet Shop Boys and modern dance culture). The next eight years were a bitter, cocaine-blighted languish resulting in 2002’s ‘Get Ready’, which sounded like it was recorded minutes, not years, after ‘Republic’.
So only the most optimistic fans would expect New Order’s eighth album ‘Waiting For The Sirens’ Call’ to change their life. And it won’t. Touted as half ‘Get Ready’, half ‘Technique’, it lives up to every predictable stylistic retread that entails, to the point of self-parody. Oh, the opening promises a smorgasbord of Nathan Barley-style post-futuristic, neo-everything electronic delights. But fear not, here be no experimental kazoo solos, electro-ska interludes or guest raps from Dizzee Rascal. Five seconds in, Stephen Morris pushes his ‘Standard Mid-Tempo Pop Beat’ button and we’re in 1989. Barney sounds, as ever, like a panic-stricken choirboy, Hooky’s spectral bass, made entirely of spiderweb, drives the melody like the ’90s never killed goth and all is euphorically sinister in the world of Northern synth-pop once more. Maggie Maggie Maggie! Out out out!
Yup, it is a New Order record, like so many New Order records before it, and countless New Order records to come. Thank Christ, then, that the songs are so good. Easily the best collection they’ve released in, ooh, 15 years, the first half of ‘..Sirens’ Call’ practically bubbles with ‘Regret’s. ‘Who’s Joe?’ is a winsome elder cousin of ‘Get Ready’’s stand-out ‘Crystal’, the android cowboy lament about storms a-comin’ and brave men with “eyes like a wounded soldier” you can dance to.
Eyes still turned to Texarkana, ‘Hey Now What You Doing’ weighs in with some guitars nicked off REM’s ‘The One I Love’ and rides the M62 in a rusty Cadillac, the radio tuned to the sorry tale of a DIY musician (“You have the brightest future/Writing songs on your computer”) who gets into drugs and guns. It’s one of those ‘don’t do what I did, sonny’ morality tales usually sung by gnarly old duffers who hate to see young upstarts taking all the drugs they can’t and making better music than them.
If ‘Hey Now…’ is New Order gone as rock as they dare, ‘I Told You So’ is the only track on ‘..Sirens’ Call’ that truly reflects their Kraftwerk techno roots. Awash with digital crickets, soul divas, electro-ska interludes (um, sorry) and what appears to be an army of marauding DFA warbots stopping off at a Macclesfield chippy to play Frogger, it alone has its shoulder to the tech-rock envelope here. Indeed, as if to shield us from the white heat of invention at its core, it’s cushioned by a trio of Sumner-by-numbers top pop hits – the title track is ‘Regret’ chilled out on methadone, ‘Krafty’ is ‘Regret’ taking so much methadone it thinks it’s Tinkerbell and can fly (it is and it can), and ‘Morning Night And Day’ is essentially U2’s ‘Vertigo’ if it woke up gay.
At which point ‘…Sirens’ Call’ hits the skids harder than Courtney Love on a knackered skateboard. ‘Dracula’s Castle’ features the line “You took my heart/To Dracula’s Castle in the dark”. It’s asinine, pointless and unable to spot a tune if it bit one on the neck but not as awful as the plinky pop of ‘Jetstream’, the sort of cheese even Ian Broudie’s embarrassed about these days. Slightly better is the housey ‘Guilt Is A Useless Emotion’, for all the terrifying flashbacks of Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’ it brings on. Respite comes in the Big Overcoat On The Moors jangle of ‘Turn’ – a disco Smiths! – before we tumble home with the technobilly rumble of ‘Working Overtime’, a welcome shatter of beer glass rounding off a record notable for its formulaic slickness.
If the rumours are true that New Order scrapped several songs from ‘…Sirens’ Call’ because they sounded too much like The Killers, it’s a testament to their status as a national monument that’s been around long enough to be wrong-footed by their own revival. But ‘…Sirens’ Call’ is not a ‘grower’ but a ‘glarer’: see past the shameless obviousness and there’s limitless unknown pleasures within. Godlike, no. More God-ish.