Music Complete marks New Order’s first record of new material in 10 years, following 2005’s Waiting for the Sirens’ Call (2013’s Lost Sirens gathered up leftovers from the 2005 sessions). It also marks the return of keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, who last appeared on 2001’s Get Ready. And yet the most prominent detail of Music Complete is that it’s the band’s first offering without founding member and bassist Peter Hook, who left the band on bad terms in 2007.
The loss of Hook would seem like a fatal blow to New Order, since his distinctive bass is a signature part of the band’s sound. But based on the opening track and first single “Restless,” it appears the band doesn’t quite miss him. When the song’s swaths of synths and subdued, melancholy chorus give way to new bassist Tom Chapman (who played with lead singer Bernard Sumner in Bad Lieutenant), it feels like classic New Order—cut from the same cloth as “Regret.”
A lot of Music Complete feels more deliberate than their previous records, though none of the tracks feel particularly laboured or worked-over; the band still sounds effortless and cool. Tracks like “Singularity” and “Plastic” also sound like classics, particularly the latter which almost could’ve appeared on 1989’s Technique if it didn’t sound so modern. As well, “People on the High Line” is pretty much “Fine Time 2015”—a throwback to those Hacienda club days of the late 80s (I mean, just listen to that piano).
The album is also packed with guest turns, too, as a way to district from Hook’s departure. La Roux’s Elly Jackson provides vocals on three tracks, and nicely complements Sumner’s detached singing; Brandon Flowers guests on (and co-wrote) the album-closing highlight “Superheated” and Iggy Pop is front-and-centre on the bizarre spoken-word, mostly-dud “Stray Dog.”
“Stray Dog” also points to where the album falls down. Like every album from Republic on, Music Complete is about two tracks too long. Something like “Stray Dog” should’ve been best left off the album, and trimming another track would make Music Complete that much stronger and not have that mid-album lag.
Still, Music Complete is a worthy addition to New Order’s catalogue. It’s likely their best since Technique, which is not as big a compliment as it sounds since it’s only their fourth album in 25 years. A new New Order album is always something to celebrate. Their unique, pioneering mix of rock and electronic aesthetics is still thrilling and refreshing in 2015.