June 5, 2016. Sydney. The last of New Order’s 4-night residency at the Sydney Opera House for the Vivid event. Last night’s set was with the Australian Chamber Orchestra but tonight is just the band. These will remain my favourite ever gigs, not only for the sublime tracks and performances (in the world’s-best location) but also because of the full access Andy R provided Anna & I on both nights. It was wonderful to chat to everyone; band, management and others who’d made the trip including Paul Morley. Serendipitously our seats for the final show were right beside Kevin Cummins – greatest rock photographer of all time IMHO – with whom we struck up a great conversation and who left me with an indelible memory from the final night: the band’s encore featured – as expected – Blue Monday and Love Will Tear Us Apart, but what to end on… What to mark the completion of 4-nights’ of triumphant New Order and Joy Division classics? What to have ringing in our ears as we depart the cavernous glory of Jørn Utzon’s iconic Opera House? What career-defining celebration can top those 2 preceding songs and take us from ecstasy to delirium?
To the opening strains of Superheated I look over and catch Cummins shaking his head and expressing none-too-softly “Fucking hell Bernard…” 🙂
Bit of an anti-climax I agree, but is it really that bad?
For me Bernard Sumner flies under the radar as a writer of love songs, and on a good day he can write a cracking one – usually involving regret, yearning, heartache and lament; all quality ingredients, and when combined with New Order’s classic alt-indie-electronic backings, we’ve all benefitted from having an atypical soundtrack to the emotional journeys of our lives. I know I have.
Having said that, I’m not convinced that Superheated‘s Bryan-Adams-meets-Robbie-Williams bake-off of Mills & Boon schmalz – to the ultra-cliched tones of harp and Christmas chime – is what we wish for. I choose to blame Brandon Flowers and Stuart Price for this travesty, although who are we to deny Flowers’ closure in working with the group that inspired his own band back in 2001; even though the shlager is dialled up to 11 as we weep over make-up, photographs, kisses, hanging birds, life thieves, anger, blame, desire and leaving. Pass the tissues and chocolate…
But… there’s still enough in this cheese fondue to suggest possibility. Sumner and Flowers actually complement each other vocally. Their performances are tastefully produced (much preferred to the swining on Rock The Shack et al), and the core instrumentation and programming are quite OK; particularly in the synth-bass and strings, which are very Pet Shop Boys-esque. These parts just needed another’s ears, however the basic stretching applied via the original Extended Mix didn’t cut it either.
I’m so glad they went back (well, Richard X anyway) and had another go, because of all the restructures on Complete Music, Superheated (Extended Mix Two) gets the Most Improved Award; particularly with its smooth extended intro and lovely breakdown/rebuild. The harps and chimes are rendered innocuous and we’re left with some smartly re-programmed synthpop that I feel no shame in tapping my fingers to and singing along with.
Kevin, you were probably right in your assessment on that blustery evening in Sydney, but in a funny way the echoing strains of “Now that it’s over” seemed just fine for a band closing out a remarkable gig in 2016, as distinct from 35 years earlier when the encore would be them filing off stage leaving the sequencers running. Different needs for different times, but both effective in their way. Still, I enjoyed your reaction and the discussion afterwards. Your work is much appreciated – we’ve all seen New Order through your eyes…
Music Complete is wonderful, but is it their best ever? Not quite, but it’s a remarkable album that renewed my faith in my favourite band when I thought all hope was gone. Of course it’s a new version of the band without Peter Hook but it is no less valid. New Order now is sublime. It is evolved. Matured. Fine-tuned. The return of Gillian, the incorporation of Tom, and the signing to Mute, have all given the band – dare I say it – greater class, and I don’t think there is a better time to see them live than right here in the late teens of the 21st century. Some of the gigs in recent years have been exquisite, and in my estimation the NOMC15 and ∑(No,12k,Lg,17Mif) live albums are their finest.
May Bernard, Stephen, Gillian, Phil and Tom continue on this remarkable journey, and Peter on his own adventures too. This blog has been my personal thank you to the six of you, straight from the heart. Ceremony to Superheated eh? Job almost done, but I’m far from finished. Keep watching for a couple of remaining outliers and my final analysis.
Rating (mainly for Extended Mix Two and because I like it slightly more than Unlearn This Hatred):