Ah gee, another New Order "Best-Of" collection. What is this now - their third or fourth?
I'm gonna be upfront about this: any New Order disc purporting to be the creme de la creme that does not include "Temptation" (the "Oh, you've got green eyes/Oh, you've got blue eyes" song) is engaging in false advertising. But take away that personal grouse, and you've still got a strong selection from one of the best damn dance-groups ever.
Never would've thought they could've done it actually. When Brit gloom popsters Joy Division passed with frontman Ian Curtis, I sure didn't expect much to emerge from the rubble. Wasn't much for Joy Div's strum and gloom myself: to these ears, the band's peak moment lies in its poppy swan song, "Love Will Tear Us Apart." So you can understand why I wasn't holding out much hope for the band with the second Nazi Germany ref in its name. '81's debut single "Ceremony" (co-written with Curtis) didn't provide much hope either. Sounded like rehashed Joy Division right down to the murkily mixed vocals.
It wasn't until "Blue Monday," the second single on International (Rhino), that the band's great nervous dance style emerged for this listener. Bernard Sumner found his own weedily neurotic voice; Peter Hook's strumming bass (one of the great dance-pop sounds) took hold, while Gillian Gilbert's keyboarding frittered with grandiosity without ever giving into it. Add Steve Morris's slippery-yet-tight-assed drumwork, and you have a near-perfect dance club unit.
By the fifth song on this collection, "Perfect Kiss," the band really kicks in as beat-crazy romantics - even if the band's idea of perfection is the "kiss of death." Once they reach that space, they never fully leave. Great songs and rhythmic exercises abound: "Bizarre Love Triangle" (presented here in an extended dance mix - part of the brilliance of New Order lies in the fact that their extended mixes never sound padded) or the cautiously optimistic "True Faith," to name two prime examples. Ideal music for a dweeb like yours truly who does most of his dancing in an office chair.
Because it's the newest "Best-Of" set, International is able to cull from the group's 2001 release, Get Ready. "Crystal" shows the band adding fuzzier guitar sounds along with gospel backing vocals a la Moby. Neither element subtracts from the group's stressed-out tune-y ambience. Considering the ephemeral lifespan of most dance groups, New Order's career is even more amazing: for over two decades now, this low-profile band of introverts has produced one of the most consistent bodies of music in clubland.
Rhino's collection (a budget set culled from a more ambitious New Order big box) remains true to the sense of a group that has never put credits on its albums. (Watching Jonathan Demme's video for "Perfect Kiss," one of three collected on a limited edition bonus DVD included in the package, you can barely tell what the foursome is doing in the studio.) Its liner notes consist of lower-case smartyboots commentary that adds little to our understanding of the group and its history, and, as usual, there are no pictures of the band. But - you know what? - that doesn't matter. It's still a great set of songs.
Another New Order "Best-Of." Okay, I'm sold.