music complete.jpg

#33. New Order: Music Complete

Some thirty-five years ago, influential English band Joy Division suffered the loss of their lead singer Ian Curtis. His death triggered the band's dissolution, and the remaining members reformed into the now-famous group New Order. New Order kept one foot in the post-punk roots of Joy Division, but made a deliberate shift into the new wave dance scene that was exploding at the time. Three decades and two breakups later, New Order haven’t lost any of their potency.

An argument could be made that Music Complete is the band’s first bona fide album in ten years. Following the release of 2005’s Waiting for the Sirens’ Call, New Order broke up for the second time. While they did release an album in 2013 after reforming, it was a glorified B-sides compilation, comprised of music recorded during the 2005 Sirens sessions that never made it onto the original album. Music Complete was probably met with so much praise upon its release not because it’s groundbreaking in any way, but because the deck was stacked against New Order and despite all odds they released one of their strongest albums.

Nobody would have faulted New Order if this album sounded rusty and hackneyed. It’s their tenth project in a career that spans more than thirty years. They hadn’t created new music since 2005. And their genre is inherently dated, having never weighed anchors when the rest of the world left the 1980s behind. But Music Complete is refined and fresh as could be. The album opens with “Restless,” one of the best songs the band has released to date, and doesn’t drop the ball once. “Plastic” places heavy emphasis on the “electronic” in electronic dance music, while “People on the High Line” counterbalances it with some of the album’s funkiest guitar, bass, and piano. “Tutti Frutti” takes what could’ve been a simple, stereotypical new wave dance song and spins it into a soaring tune with plenty of momentum and a refreshing amount of harmonic motion.

The drawback to Music Complete is that it was a missed opportunity for New Order to finally lift their sound into the present. They’ve released an album that can stand toe-to-toe with the best new wave dance albums of the 1980s, but they took minimal efforts to modernize their sound. Perhaps that’s expecting too much of the band; Music Complete proves they still have a mastery over their genre, and that should be enough. It’ll likely be enough for their sizable fan base. But the songs on this album are strong enough that I’m sure New Order could do some great things if they decided to push the envelope, even just a little bit.