Academic is second only to Ceremony as New Order’s finest guitar-driven song of all time. It is completely and utterly wonderful, and rounds out a quartet of songs on Music Complete that are faultless and peerless. And there it sits – like Plastic (and so many of New Order’s finest moments) – pure in its original form; unfettered by its non-issue as a single.
My first run-through of Music Complete was a revelation of pure joy. At this point seven tracks into the album and in my estimation nothing had yet to drop below bloody amazing, and four of which were as good as you can get! All of the heartache I’d been feeling at the festering toxicity overshadowing my favourite band over the preceding 5-10 years disappeared in an instant, and I’m sure many of you felt the same (feel free to share below). I have some correspondence from Andy Robinson (band management along with Rebecca Boulton) dated 21 May 2015 where he shared with me that the album was “finished, sounding great and we are mastering it today!” Even at that point I was (to my shame) a bit “…sure mate…“, but how incredibly wrong I was shortly (and happily) to be proven.
What makes a great New Order song? Can the qualities be distilled – KLF-style – into a cheap checklist for success and emulation? No, because the diversity in their best tracks is simply remarkable, and furthermore theirs has been a singularly unique, tragic / triumphant, and mad journey of places, people and situations that has influenced their art. It’s a once-only timeline never to be repeated, yet always to be celebrated through their body of work.
Academic is special in its own way; perfect in its guitar melodies & riffs, lyrics & vocal performance, and most importantly richness & depth in its self-production. Contrast Academic with the primarily-guitar driven tracks across Get Ready & ‘Sirens’ Call and it doesn’t take much to realise that it is a vastly superior work. Highlights for me are in the driving percussion and bassline, the gorgeous harmonies in the vocals, and the many additional flourishes held back until the extended outro; a quality that you find with quite a few tracks on this album – like a reserve of riches being shared out.
I’m pretty fond of the Extended Mix as well, isolating as it does a more electronic core around the synth-bass and strings. Complete Music is such a great companion release because it offers extended versions of the truest kind; reinterpretations by the band, most of whom are highly accomplished producers in their own right – so who better to cast different light and shade on the original works? The whole campaign around Music Complete was handled beautifully, and I can’t think of a single thing Mute and the band could have done differently or better.
Finally we have Mark Reeder’s supreme Akademix from the Music Complete Remix EP*; which itself was an unexpected treat when it came out on digital platforms in 2017. A fantastic mix: delivering a dark-disco core sequence, with flares of guitar feedback and the main guitar riff coming in and out of the reverb, a full set of vocals (rather than being picked-at, which is so common from other remixers), added depth in the synth layers (particularly around ~4:05), and a classic DJ-friendly extended subtractive outro. I have a lot of time for Reeder’s productions and his inside involvements, so I regret not taking the opportunity to tell him so in 2014 when he was in the country for the band’s Sydney Opera House residency. I’ll do it now (because I know he’s following this blog): thanks Mark 🙂
When New Order finally hang up their boots to permanently embrace the easy life, may they meander in their sailing ships and careen about the countryside in their armoured personnel carriers until they drop, because frankly they’ve earned it giving us so much incredible music like this to soundtrack our lives.
* …and shorter Academixxx edit from the Electronic Sound magazine 7″ freebie