By: Eric Greenwood
I've been awaiting the new New Order with an equal amount of trepidation, apathy, and excitement ever since the re-grouping rumors surfaced a few years ago. Would the band lampoon itself, sounding horribly dated after an eight-year hiatus, or would it return to the tension that has underpinned its entire catalogue since Ian Curtis hanged himself on the eve of Joy Division's first American tour in 1980? The honest answer is a little bit of both. Actually, Get Ready exceeds any best case scenario; it is as good a New Order album as could possibly be expected at this point in its twenty-year career. Peter Hook's high-end melodic bass lines still have quite a punch, and Bernard Sumner's self-deprecatingly juvenile lyrical style is as gloriously clumsy as ever.
For a band with no image, no gimmick, and no pretty faces, twenty years is quite an accomplishment, speaking rather highly of the quality of its music to have sustained this long. Granted, eight of those years were spent pursuing dead-end side projects (Sumner's middling Electronic with ex-Smith Johnny Marr; Hook's New Order-copycat Monaco; and Steven Morris' and Gillian Gilbert's unfortunately named The Other Two), but New Order has created a mythic following around its honest yet flawed music. The group didn't exactly have an easy time amassing its fan base either, despite the built in Joy Division crowd. A long string of tragedies begat strange opportunities and a plethora of material for New Order to mold its dark electronic rock around over the years.
1993's Republic was dead on arrival. The only sign of life was the lead-off single, "Regret", with its crashing guitars, memorable hooks, and classic Peter Hook bass line. The album's ho-hum reception was no accident. New Order's sound had always balanced a naïve experimentation with electronic music and high-energy rock. Republic's biggest fault was its dependence primarily on the electronic side, which has always been New Order's most awkward idiosyncrasy. Peter Hook might as well have not even shown up for the recording sessions, as his contributions were all but non-existent. The back-up singers, the lame attempts at house music, and the stale melodies landed Republic at the bottom of everyone's list in 1993 and deservedly so.
Though, the band never formally announced a break-up, the writing was on the wall. New Order had evidently run its course. Too bad it had to end on such a bum note. So now the idea that New Order is back to redeem itself is a bit of a relief. Nobody wants to see his heroes go down so easy even though we all know how hard it is for a band to recapture its glory days when it's been sidelined for so long. But New Order does its damnedest here to destroy that myth. "Crystal" sounds like vintage New Order once you get past the cooing back-up singers. The band's peculiar mix of disco, punk, and pop has been reinvigorated for a new era. The crashing guitars are back, and Steven Morris is thankfully behind the drum-kit instead of a wall of keyboards.
Get Ready is surprisingly aggressive, rocking even. New Order hasn't sounded this vicious since Low Life, almost sixteen years ago. "Crystal" is easily one of the best singles of the year even with curious lines like "here comes love, it's like honey/you can't buy it with money." "60 MPH" may have a fairly standard New Order chorus (which means it's catchy as hell), but Peter Hook's punk bass lines sound amazing synched up with Sumner's dance-rock grooves. The thought of Billy Corgan playing on a New Order album made me cringe with embarrassment, but my fears that this would be a lame Santana-esque celebrity comeback attempt were quickly assuaged because he plays only minor vocal role in the moody "Turn My Way."
As any New Order fan (or critic) knows, Bernard Sumner's lyrics have always been precariously poised between the bone-crushingly honest and the absurd. His rhymes are predictable and often childish: "I don't want to be like other people are/don't want to own a key/don't want to wash my car/don't want to have to work like other people do/I want it to be free/I want it to be true" ("Turn My Way"). As rife with cliché as Sumner usually is, he hits upon such simple truths that most songwriters take for granted. Much like Robert Smith, Sumner has an unusual aptitude for capturing a child's perspective on everyday mundanities. Pompous asses that take themselves way too seriously often mistake Sumner's fleeting lyrical brilliance for ineptitude. Even if you can't reconcile yourself to accept his lyrics for what they are, you can't deny the genius of his vocal melodies.
"Primitive Notion" is the highlight of the album, perfectly re-capturing the spirit of Joy Division in its tense build up of shards of guitars that sound like glass and, of course, Peter Hook's pummeling, cocksure bass. Sumner even alludes, albeit slightly, to Ian Curtis in the verse, as you can vaguely sense the melody from "Isolation" creeping in: "I'm doing my best to confound you/your behavior is so volatile/not even a zoo would impound you/don't look at me with your critical smile." Not even on the glorious Technique did New Order achieve this level of intensity, and there's a bracing chorus to boot.
On the summery "Slow Jam" Sumner shouts: "I don't want the world to change/I like the way it is/Just give me one more wish/I can't get enough of this." Everything has fallen back into place as though the eight years apart never happened. From the first clanging guitar notes you can feel in your bones that it's going to be good, and Hook's bass only confirms that suspicion, driving the rhythm section with built-in pop sensibility. For keyboards to take such a background role on a New Order album is unprecedented, and the fiery guitars will, perhaps, even surprise longtime fans. "Rock The Shack" continues the aggression with help of Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie, who gives Sumner's chorus the gritty sneer it demands.
I just can't emphasize enough what a bad idea back-up singers are. "Someone Like You" slithers along perfectly with a rumbling bass line and ghostly keyboards until it hits the chorus, which smacks you in the face with a handful of girls helping Sumner out with some unnecessary "ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh's." New Order introduced back-up singers as early as 1986's Brotherhood, but it didn't work then and it doesn't work now. It's a small misstep, comparatively, and it's easily forgiven, especially in light of what a tremendous effort Get Ready is for a band that has threatened extinction for close to a decade. This album is certain to introduce a slew of new listeners to both New Order's and, by proxy, Joy Division's formidable and respective legacies. New Order fans can breathe a sigh of relief because Get Ready rocks.