Deep breath. “Music Complete” is a FABULOUS album but it should have been the second Bad Lieutenant album rather than the tenth New Order album. There, I’ve said it. Shit. Please don’t hate me, New Order.
The group are without bass monster Peter Hook, of course, more of which I’ll come to later. Latterly, they feature Bernard Sumner on lead vocals and The Other Two (drummer Stephen Morris/keyboardist Gillian Gilbert) with “new boys” Phil Cunningham on guitar and Tom Chapman on bass guitar. New Order aside, this is an impressive array of musical talent whose combined C.V. can boast membership of bands such as Joy Division, Electronic, (personal favourites) Marion and, er, Rubberbear (only joking, Tom!) Adding to that mix of personnel, this record carries on the tradition of the last two by utilising guest artists. In fact, we have THREE likely candidates; Elly Jackson of La Roux, Brandon Flowers of The Killers and last man standing, my God, IGGY POP!!! On paper, it’s a mouth-watering proposition of an album.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, the focus for “Music Complete” is on the dance-floor rather than on the cerebrum. We find killer dance-tracks mixed in with classic Electronica plus the occasional guitar-pop number for us purists. I guess that it’s a natural progression for them under the circumstances but IS IT REALLY NEW ORDER, more of which I’ll come to later. Additional production/co-writing is provided by The Chemical Brothers’ Tom Rowlands and even Jaques Lu Cont himself gets in on the action on last song, “Superheated.”
The only pill I ever popped in my life was an aspirin. Everything dance-related both pre and post-Madchester completely passed me by. Therefore, I’m UNIQUELY qualified to begin this review with the dance stuff (?) Track 3, current single “Plastic”, is a ramped-up version of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” with some nice backing vocals by long-term assistant Dawn Zee. Echoes of Hooky’s sublime bass playing can be heard in the far-off distance. If you can’t move to it, you’re probably dead. Of the two Chemical Brothers collaborations, track 2, “Singularity”, is the most enjoyable for me. Beginning with a Joy Division-esque introduction, the song soon turns into an all-out rave-attack reminding one somewhat of “Guilt Is A Useless Emotion” from “Waiting For The Sirens’ Call.” Similarly, track 9, “Unlearn This Hatred”, has only one thing on its mind- World Domination by Beat Blitzkrieg. As always, Sumner’s wistful vocals mix so well with techno-oblivion. That style never, really was my cup of tea but I can appreciate it.
Moving on to more Simo-friendly material, first single and first track, “Restless”, is a catchy enough slice of electro/guitar-pop but it’s a bit throwaway and it simply ACHES for the “real” Peter Hook bass. Lead singles from their respective parent albums have been a bit hit-and-miss for the band over the years. For every “Regret” there has been a “Krafty.” This one HAS grown on me but I don’t think I’ll be looking back on it in years to come as a classic. On the other hand, my fave track, number 7 “Academic”, sounds very much like classic New Order and it may be the Rockiest thing in the collection along with “Nothing But A Fool”, track 8. They keep us guitar-fools extremely happy indeed. In fact, if you add track 10, “The Game”, to create an Alt-Rock quartet of songs, you would have the basis of a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT album to the one on offer. Contrariness Rules, KO!
Thereafter, we begin to venture into uncharted (New Order) territory. “Stray Dog”, track 6, is a spoken-word affair narrated by the Prime Stooge himself, Iggy Pop. It’s an interesting enough experiment but I can’t say that I’m partial to this type of a thing (I didn’t like “Dark Star” by Freebass and Howard Marks, either). To be frank, I think they missed a trick here. They could have had the Legend SINGING on something, instead! Track 4, “Tutti Frutti”, blows all of our expectations out of the water with its Disco-revision of “Fine Time” from “Technique.” Its own hilarious Barry White moments are provided by Giacomo Cavagna with striking co-vocals courtesy of La Roux/Elly Jackson (another Richie Rochdale favourite). I love, love, LOVE this song! The full-Funk workout of track 5, “People On The High Line”, again features Elly and it’s a toss-up between this one and last track, “Superheated”, for Song Of The Album. Certainly, there are no apologies from the band for unashamed use of da Funk on track 5 whilst Jaques Lu Cont aka Stuart Price brings a surprising Pop approach to the final song. Better than The Killers, Brandon Flowers graces this beautiful sign-off number and, LISTEN TO ME, it HAS to be the next single! I switch off my Spotify with mixed feelings of both elation and, yes, regret.
Please don’t get me wrong, I love these people. Personally. They are my absolute, fucking HEROES. But—. The problem with “Music Complete” is that it doesn’t have Peter Hook on it. Could The Smiths have been The Smiths without Marr? Did Oasis try to carry on without Noel? Would The Stone Roses have tried to complete their 1996 tour without—, er, forget that one (only joking, Aziz!) Hook’s lead-bass work gives New Order its “X”-Factor whether he’s written anything with Bernard since “Power, Corruption And Lies” or not. His sound is intrinsic to their muse and it’s irreplaceable. In the Internet Age, we have so many keyboard warriors ready to stick the knife in from the safety of their own sofas but, in this case at least, I do so hope that a reasoned argument might be considered? In fairness to the band, they have conducted themselves with impeccable dignity since “the split” unlike Peter. However, however—. Without Hooky’s Godlike bass guitar playing to inform and uplift proceedings, this album simply can’t be seen as a part of New Order’s canon. Possibly, at a stretch, “Music Complete” might even have worked as an Electronic album (with The Pet Shop Boys on it but not Johnny Marr). Is it the best body of work that Barney has been involved with since 1989’s “Technique?” Probably. Is it a body of work produced by “New Order?” Most definitely not.
Also, forgotten Bad Lieutenant man Jake Evans sadly doesn’t get a look in—. For which, to be honest, I’m a bit gutted cos the guy’s got a DYNAMITE voice. Somewhere in an alternative universe, New Order split up definitively in 2007. Peter Hook left to pursue his on-going Freebass project. Bernard Sumner and the others reconvened as Bad Lieutenant with each successive album following “Never Cry Another Tear” showcasing the vocal talents of Jake Evans more and more (here “Nothing But A Fool” and “The Game” seem tailor-made for him). Dignity was saved all round and everyone looked to the future instead of to the past. Ah, well, reality bites.
Richie Rochdale’s verdict? As “a” dance-rock album it gets 9 out of 10. As a “New Order” album it gets 0 out of 10.
(Oh, bollocks, I forgot to mention Peter Saville’s rather colourful and minimalistic sleeve in all this excitement. Well, I have now).
4, Tutti Frutti,
5, People On The High Line,
6, Stray Dog,
8, Nothing But A Fool,
9, Unlearn This Hatred,
10, The Game,