CD: New Order, Waiting for the Sirens' Call

New Order have a stunning reputation - but it wasn't built with albums like this. By Alexis Petridis

A few weeks ago, the Daily Mirror featured an article in which New Order bassist Peter Hook ruminated upon the pressing issues of the day, among them the estrangement of former Westlife singer Brian McFadden from I'm a Celebrity winner Kerry Katona. "The way he's treated his missus is disgusting. Why would anyone still buy his record?" fumed Hooky. "He makes Darren Day look like a saint."

You couldn't ask for a more telling demonstration of New Order's unlikely ascent from truculent enigma to something approaching national treasure status. In recent years, the messy public collapse of their label Factory, the onset of middle age, and their immortalisation in Michael Winterbottom's film 24 Hour Party People, have combined to lift what their sleeve designer Peter Saville described as the band's "veil of secrecy" that had enveloped them since their days as Joy Division. And something else has emerged with this loss of mystique: New Order enjoy a quite staggering level of influence. It is hard to name a new rock band not in thrall either to Joy Division's gloomy intensity or New Order's effortless melding of technology and rock guitars, a fact underlined by the presence of Scissor Sister Ana Matronic on Waiting for the Sirens' Call.

Theoretically, critical acclaim and commercial success should be a given for New Order's eighth album, but it's not as simple as that. Their current position mirrors that of David Bowie 20 years ago: despite an unparalleled hold over artists half their age, their own quality control seems to have gone slightly awry. Unlike Bowie, they're not being driven mad by the sound of youngsters recycling their oeuvre; they have yet to film a Pepsi commercial while dressed up as a nutty scientist or belt out their hits while abseiling onto the back of a giant spider, as Bowie did in the mid-1980s. But nor have they released a consistently great album since 1989's Technique. Instead, there have been middling solo works and two patchy collections: 1993's Republic, delivered to raise cash for the ailing Factory, and 2001's tentative reunion Get Ready.

Waiting for the Sirens' Call initially appears more confident than its predecessor, which tactfully skirted around New Order's status as dance pioneers on the grounds that "we don't go to clubs any more". The dance beats are now back, but it proves a mixed blessing. While no embarrassment, the house-influenced Guilt Is a Useless Emotion and the lumpy reggae of I Told You So have none of the dazzling purpose that marked New Order's previous dancefloor experiments. Then you felt the band were grabbing acid house or electro by the neck and forcing it to submit to their own unique will. Here, they appear to be doing what's expected of them in order to appease their fans.

Indeed, New Order's relationship with their fans underscores Waiting for the Sirens' Call's failings. Too much of the album passes by in a pleasantly inconsequential blur. Bernard Sumner's lyrics sound dashed-off even by his famously sketchy standards: Hey Now What You Doing finds him rhyming the line "Is it love or is it hate?" with the highly improbable "banging on an open gate". You get the distinct impression that the band are relying on the fact that, for a music fan of a certain age and certain persuasion, the very sound of New Order - Hook's high bass, the chilly synthesisers, the propulsive clatter of Steve Morris's drums and Sumner's voice, pitched somewhere between strained emoting and reedy diffidence, apparently unsure whether he means every word and or is desperately trying to suppress a smirk - is impossible to resist, regardless of the material. They have a point: even the album's weakest moments, Morning Night and Day and Turn, successfully transport your average thirtysomething listener into a nostalgic reverie. It's beguiling - but not quite beguiling enough to stop you wishing they would throw you something more substantial or unexpected.

That happens three times. Working Overtime, with its odd rockabilly rhythm, Stooges-inspired riff and hilarious approximation of Lou Reed's bitchy monotone, at least sounds like nothing New Order have tried before. Krafty is a pop song so strong that not even Sumner announcing: "I think the world is a beautiful place, with mountains, lakes and the human race", can spoil things. And the title track is perfection itself: softly pulsing electronics, an improbably simple and beautiful melody and a bassline that wraps itself around the vocals in a way no other band would think of doing. That one moment suggests a teenager, drawn to New Order for the first time by their current influence, might understand what all the fuss is about.

Contributor

Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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