If ever there was a model band for Introvert Dance Rock, it’d have to be New Order. The British group has long been the ideal soundmakers for an audience that does most of its dancing in their head. This is by no means meant as a putdown because I’m one of those souls – it’s been decades since I’ve trod the floors of a rock club, but I’ll regularly return to the New Order catalog.
That noted, I had to admit to being somewhat wary when I learned that the band was releasing a new album sans long-standing bassist Peter Hook. Melody-carrying basslines have long been a part of New Order’s sound, and I subsequently wondered if Music Complete (Mute Artists) would have the drive of earlier discs. Well, after more than two months of playing (and, yes, some mental dance clubbing), I can attest that vocalist Bernard Sumner and his remaining band mates have kept their sound intact. The new release is a solid slice of rhythmic alt-rock.
With new bassist Tom Chapman now responsible for the bottom line, Complete is more electronically based, though as soon as you hear Summer’s soft-spoken opening vocals, listing all that he misses on in the cash-strapped world of “Restless,” you know you’re still with the band you grew to know and love in the music video years. To be sure, they’re added some guests to the mix: Brandon Flowers, himself much indebted to that 80’s sound, croons on “Superheated,” while punk godfather Iggy Pop himself makes like John Cale talking over a Velvet Underground instrumental on “Stray Dog.” If the latter sounds a bit too self-consciously arty a move, the former finds Flowers right at home in New Order’s cadenced academy.
Elsewhere, the band gets more openly discoid with the campy “Tutti Fruiti” and the funkier “People on the High Line” (neat backing vocals by La Roux on both tracks), blend U2 style guitarwork with new wavey keybs (doubtless courtesy of returning player Gillian Gilbert) on “Singularity,” channel the Scissor Sisters in the chorus of “Plastic,” and bow out with the ace dance rock Flowers collaboration “Superheated.” If the disc seems to flag a trace (as with “Unlearn This Hatred” and its unfortunate evocation of Flock of Seagulls) just before that sweet finish, it definitely ends on a grace note.
A good, if not great, effort from this band of eighties survivors: good to hear ‘em keep on keeping on . . .