New Order’s Music CompleteGreg Johnson
“What can you buy, that lifts a heavy heart up to the sky?” This question, the opening words of New Order’s Music Complete, is meant to be rhetorical. But there’s a straightforward and rather obvious answer: you can buy Music Complete itself, one of New Order’s most joyous and compelling creations.
I loved Joy Division, but let’s be honest: it was a bit unrelentingly dark. If they had recorded a third album, we all would have hanged ourselves. Thus, when Joy Division’s vocalist Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980, it was providential that the remaining band members reorganized themselves as New Order, which has provided the soundtrack to the last 34 years of my life.
The first New Order release, Movement (1981), was transitional: it sounded a lot like Joy Division. But their next singles and second album, Power, Corruption and Lies (1982) inaugurated a new era of keyboard heavy dance music. Clearly influenced by eurodisco and techno, New Order’s sound combines Peter Hook’s big melodic bass lines, beautiful and complex melodies and rhythms, tasteful keyboards, and Bernard Sumner’s increasingly expressive singing. To my ears, it is the most idealistic, inventive, and tuneful English pop since the Beatles.
The 1980s were the heyday of New Order. The band went from strength to strength with a swarm of singles, remixes, albums, and compilations: Low-Life (1985), Brotherhood (1986), Substance (1987, including “True Faith“), and Technique (1989). In 1993, the band had something of a misstep with the tepid Republic. Then they disbanded. It seemed that New Order was no more.
Eight years later, however, the band returned with Get Ready (1991), featuring a reinvented, somewhat grungy and guitar-edged sound. In 2005, they released Waiting for the Sirens’ Call: the new sound perfected. In 2013, they released Lost Sirens, a collection of outtakes from the Waiting for the Sirens’ Call sessions. Although this is rank heresy for ’80s purists, I consider 21st-century New Order to be their best work: emotionally mature, melodic, musically complex, and diabolically catchy. Music Complete belongs to this same stylistic period and is one of New Order’s finest achievements.
The opening track, “Restless,” is the first single. The lyrics deal with the inadequacy of consumerism to satisfy young hearts and the restless desire for experiences of self-transcendence rather than self-indulgence. They also hint at a coming collapse of contemporary urban society, complete with Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood:
Due to current studies
The fiscal climate isn’t looking good
Get out of town
The streets are running rivers full of blood
The video, which features entirely white, hot young people, suggests an alternative: an archaic path to national renewal, complete with blood oaths and the re-enactment of Arthurian legend:
The second track, “Singularity,” is my favorite: intense, with a magnificent anthem-like melody. “Plastic” as well as “Academic,” “Unlearn this Hatred,” and “Superheated” also have outstanding melodies. “Tutti Frutti,” “People on the High Wire,” and “Stray Dog,” are catchy vamps. The vocals on “Stray Dog” are spoken by Iggy Pop, sounding like a gravelly-voiced old prospector ruminating on love vs. drink, domesticity vs. wildness at heart. “Nothing But a Fool” and “The Game” are beautiful songs about domestic strife, hope, and regret. There is not a weak track on Music Complete, and it does not cloy with repetition. It has been on continuous rotation since I bought it Budapest almost a month ago.
Music Complete is the band’s only album without founding member and bassist Peter Hook. Perhaps the best way to express my love for Hook’s style is to mention that my favorite Blondie song is “Atomic.” I like a big, melodic bass sound, including bass solos. I found it hard to imagine New Order without him, and when I first heard “Restless,” there was a Peter Hook-sized hollowness to the sound that did not please me. The rest of the album, however, shows that although Hook may have been replaceable, his sound was not, so apparently they just cloned him, particularly on tracks like “Singularity,” “People on the High Wire,” “Stray Dog,” and “Academic.” Hook is gone, but his hooks remain.
Because of the names Joy Division and New Order, there has long been suspicion that the band members have some sort of Right-wing nationalist or racial sentiments. The band members have denied it, but, at the very least, New Order has never been a booster of PC causes. Regardless of the political convictions of the band, New Order’s music — along with all of its influences and offshoots, from punk and post-punk to techno, eurodisco, Goth, neofolk, martial-industrial, electronic, ambient, and neoclassical — are, to borrow a phrase from Kevin MacDonald, as “implicitly white” as country music and NASCAR. They will be the soundtrack of the next European Revolution.
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Really though, no music genre in recent memory is more classically-influenced and just screams “European” than some of the various types of metal. A good example that I like is the Finnish band Wintersun. Metal was only popular back in the 80s as an edgy rebellious type thing, but it’s certainly improved much as a genre both in Europe and with some bands in America like Iced Earth. Now it’s not a very popular genre at all (much like whites ourselves), though its fans are still almost all white.
I can’t name a genre more white than it. There are only a small number of Japanese, Korean and South Americans (who are mostly descended of white Spaniards anyway) that make music in the genre and they are far from the best at it.
Alas, I suffer from metal fatigue.
Metal is certainly a white form of musical expression. The problem is that because the energy of metal is all adrenaline and portent and aggression, and any open expression of these emotions as white racial consciousness is effectively forbidden, metal ends up either hiding behind fantasy style role-playing, or supressing and holding in it’s energy so much that it becomes constipated and literally inarticulate.
The advantage of more electronic style music is that because it’s nature (at it’s best) is more sublime and emotional/intellectual, it can express itself in a way that is lucent and expansive. (Dare I say ‘Faustian’?)
Good rock music is still a great white cultural form and has a special kind of energy and spirit that no other type of music can create, but electronic influenced music feels more like a sound that is current, that has a full sail and is facing the future.
The perfect synthesis is music with the weight and momentum of rock but breaking upwards with the expansion and superabundance of electronica.
In an interview with Bass Player magazine in the 1990’s, Hook said that the band came to find multiple melodies too confusing and they wanted him to play less obtrusively. (Keyboardists and guitarists can be such homophonic bigots.) Hook also confessed his lack of formal musical knowledge and had to be told by the interlocutor that a fourth up from F is Bb.
What about folk music, is that white enough? Who plays the mandolin anymore?
Major Joy Division fan and long time quiet admirer of New Order here. I heard one of their new singles on the radio the other day and was very impressed, might have to buy it now.
I think my favourite NO album was their transition one Movement because it combined the best of what they were with the best of what they were going to become. I think Dreams Never End is an incredible piece of work, one of my all time favourites.
And that wonderful, haunting nod to their departed friend: never guessing how the ‘him’ could scream. As ethereally wonderful as Ian himself could be with his words.
That guy truly was a genius. His lyrics – especially in songs like Transmission – were something beyond conception in brilliance.
I listened to JD and then something of New Order amongst much New Wave and Industrial Music/Muzak (Visage, ULtraVox an even the Berlin Blondes!) . . But it was of that time and wouldn’t want to listen to it again.
They still are Lefttists.
“I loved Joy Division.”
I myself loved Joy Div when they offered me a fortuitous way out of the metal/grunge rut as a teenager in the 90s. I still listen to Peel Sessions.
Loved this band I had most of their LPs. I saw them live play to a sell out crowd sometime in 1986?
Ironically I always thought how could children of that British generation, preverted and left-wing socialist Britain produce such gener post Beatles et al.
Re- “The streets are running rivers full of blood” don’t these words echo from the speech given by Enoch Powell in 1967 “Rivers of Blood”
Martial Industrial is also an interesting genre to explore. After 35 years, the Slovenian music group Laibach is still able to create uplifting songs like The Whistleblowers. Rome (Jerome Reuter of Luxembourg) is also worth listening. His lyrics are a mix of English, German and French words, which makes it easier for him to put his message across in as subtle way. I’m surprised songs like Querkraft or Novemberblut were not better understood in their time. That’s probably the reason the theme of his last album “A Passage to Rhodesia” is more explicit.
Thanks, Greg. Cool and interesting review of New Order’s new realease. Nice that I’m not the only one, who has a passion for JD/NW.
Greg, if you like thick bass melodies I recommend this anti-neocon anthem by Von Thronstahl:
VT is generally highly recommend, despite some flaws (much of their material is of low quality, too many re-mixes, re-recordingss covers etc.; also the whole “dandy” approach was rather shallow).
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