What does Music Complete mean to you?
Leading up this review phase there have been words thrown around like redemption and rebirth, but I don’t think either quite capture what in my heart is really a triumph. It is a triumph of such magnitude that even now – 4 years on – I stand in awe of what the band was able to achieve.
After nearly 40 years of continuous creative endeavour, to be able to offer an album that is (objectively) equal in quality to anything they have released over that lengthy career – one that includes albums like Unknown Pleasures, Power Corruption & Lies, and Technique – is nothing short of incredible, and it further cements this band’s reputation for artistic resilience.
Let’s lay it out:
- Original band (Joy Division) eschews a career with a major label to align with an untried & untested new label (Factory) that is single-mindedly Mancunian, with a manifesto of situationalism, design, and risk-taking.
- Original band’s lead singer dies from suicide at the peak of their powers.
- New band starts from absolute scratch, cutting off any & all association with its back catalogue and previous incarnation. No safe choices are made; from taking over new roles, to bringing on board new members, to adopting new technologies, to not writing ‘the same’ music, to not keeping their fanbase comfortable, to not playing along with the media.
- New band forges a career at the leading edge of electronic music, releasing some of the most seminal tracks and albums of all time. Whilst with Factory, never do they follow anyone’s lead. They make dark music, dance music, leftfield rock music, experimental music, and above all: a new alternative music.
- At the peak of their powers (again), the band’s label and club crumble around them; leaving them financially precarious and ending this singularly-unusual music industry experiment. They sign to a major (London) and finish a new album under what can only be described as ‘difficult’ conditions. Still, they manage to produce some pearls.
- It all gets too much and the band folds; for a long while going their seperate ways with solo projects, each of which is special in its own way. One member + one top-class manager pick up the remains of the Haçienda and continue for a while; this being a future bone of contention.
- Not long after reforming for some gigs towards the end of the millennium, a key member has to leave the band to care for family. Shortly afterwards, the band’s manager – such a critical part of the ‘family’ – dies.
- Against all expectation the remaining band members come together to record a new album, with a new member coming on board for an extensive tour. Then a second album. It’s a renaissance of sorts, but the song writing is somewhat hit & miss. Key ingredients seem to be missing.
- For various reasons well-documented band relations quickly deteriorate. Just as there is renewed peak interest in the Factory and Joy Division stories – and with 2 recent albums under their belt – a number of disasters befall them, again. Tony Wilson dies, Gillian is diagnosed with breast cancer, and Hooky – who was already (not) dealing with the financial collapse of the Haçienda and other pressures – calls time on (his version of) the band, without consulting the others. A legal quagmire ensues, lasting well over 5 years and causing untold damage to relations and reputations.
- It is, it seems, the end of it all. Perhaps it should have in fact ended there.
But then some remarkable things happened.
- The band – and by that I mean mainly Sumner and Morris – decided that, contrary to what Hooky suggested, New Order wasn’t finished just yet.
- Capitalising on the latent interest from the 24PP and Control movies, the brand continued its commercial enterprise including the Glasgow DVD, Total, Lost Sirens, and some Record Store Day releases.
- Gillian was given the all-clear.
- The band – to honour their American collaborator Michael Shamberg – decided to reform, with Gillian returning after 10 years and joined by Tom Chapman who’d played in Bad Lieutenant, to play some benefit gigs in Brussels and Paris. The positivity from this led to other gigs, which led to some live releases, which led to renewed hope.
- The band signed to Mute. Don’t underestimate the importance of this, because New Order were always an indie band needing an indie label (with means); ideally fronted by passionate people. Daniel Miller’s Mute was a perfect fit. The only fit IMHO. Above all this gave Bernard, Stephen, Gillian, Phil and Tom space to breathe and be creative, with discerning ears on hand, and the likelihood of any campaign being handled smartly.
And so the stage was set for the remarkable and wonderful triumph that is Music Complete. Did it deliver? Well I wouldn’t be writing this blog if it didn’t. It’s fair to say that the album saved me from a musical oblivion of sorts. It was a renewal of hope, joy and passion from a band that had been so important to me but had smashed into the wall so disappointingly.
I love the way the album has been managed. By itself the album is brilliant, however: the packaging has been great, the choice of singles great (and not necessarily obvious), the issuing of a companion album of extended versions (Complete Music) a fantastically realised idea and not at all a crass / token gesture, the overall standard of remixing has been great, and the touring of the album has been nothing short of joyous and a creative high.
Restless then. Having said all of the above, funnily enough it didn’t connect with me immediately, but I’ve since come to really appreciate it. It’s most certainly not among the strongest tracks on the album, and I might be over-thinking this but I reckon it was a very carefully considered move to release this song first* ahead of other more obvious candidates.
My strongest impressions of Restless are in the lyrics, with wise man Bernard offering good first-person advice to the (restless) younger generations on need vs. want in a changing world, where success and the cult of celebrity are all-consuming. The “how much do you need?” question is frankly a very a good one, and his “it’s not hopeless if you take less” line is spot-on. In fact Sumner is in great form right across the album with his observations borne from experience and the wisdom of age… to a dance beat 🙂
Musically the highlights for me are in the beautiful chorus & bridge strings, and the lovely guitar motifs e.g. at 4:40 on the album version, and can I say right now: Tom Chapman welcome to New Order. No complaints from me and thanks for stamping your own mark on the band & album.
The single version of Restless offers a typically tightened edit and slight changes in mix emphasis, but it’s the Extended Mix from Complete Music which really shines for me** because it offers time and space with all of the beautiful riffs & tones, and it made me realise how lovely this track is. Just listen to the breakdown from ~6:15 and subsequent rebuild to crescendo in the final minutes… terrific. The Extended 12″ Mix from the single edition is a re-edit of this, but I think I prefer the aforementioned for its ambient start. Either way Restless in extended form is very good.
The song is also well served by its remixe(r)s, signalling good form from Mute in its selections and boding well for the follow-up singles. The loungey beats of the Agoria versions are good, but I definitely prefer the Agoria Dub from the Music Complete: Remix EP because Bernard’s vocals sound too languid in the main remix. I think there’s a general return to form with Music Complete‘s single remixes, all of which generally honour a major part of the source, and none of which suffer from the nothing-to-do-with-the-original pox that plagued New Order singles during the ’90s.
The xxxy Build Up Mix has a darker edge to it, with some deep bass tones underpinning a new rolling drum program, top-end bleep patterns and filtered arpeggiations. Very good actually, and second only to the RAC Mix; the best of the remixes IMHO. This version is excellent, with some nicely effected vocal loops, reverb, phasing and depth in the production. Very pure synth-based with some new riffs & melodies, and it suits the tempo of Bernard’s vocals really well.
The only remix which misses the mark (pretty badly actually) is the one with the ‘biggest name’ attached; namely the Andrew Weatherall Remix, which never escapes its main (and strangely muted) acid pattern. All life has been sucked out of the song and I can’t see myself playing it much, if ever again.
With New Order firing my world is a better place, and in recent years I’ve enjoyed their company whilst on tour in Australia***, been involved in some of the planning for their forthcoming deluxe editions, assisted with their official websites, and seen some of their finest performances ever (their 2016 Sydney Opera House residency in particular). So yes… Music Complete has delivered 🙂
* Not sure if it’s a Mute thing to do this, but I’ve seen it time and time again with Depeche Mode albums for example where the lead single is a bit challenging e.g. Personal Jesus (Violator), I Feel You (Songs of Faith & Devotion), Barrel Of A Gun (Ultra), etc. These are songs that unbalance you, and perhaps reset your expectations and presumptions about the album ahead of you. The best is reserved for the follow-up, and often only on the album. Such lead singles are a bit like a teaser-trailer for a movie, commonly throwing a curve-ball before getting it between the eyes with the real deal.
** As is the case with some of the other album tracks; wonderful as-is but made glorious in their extended form.
*** Thanks to Andrew Robinson and Rebecca Boulton; also top-class managers, who have navigated this juggernaught of a b(r)and through some very tricky waters.