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“Crystal,” the opening cut on Get Ready, New Order’s first album of new material in eight years, is a six-minute-50-second history lesson in the band’s sound. As percolating dance beats throb behind a wash of portentous organ, frontman Bernard Sumner threads a single-string guitar riff down the middle of the track’s (minor) chord changes. Meanwhile, bassist Peter Hook lives up to his last name, never letting the song’s atmospherics wander too far away from the catchy parts, even though Sumner, in his guise as the band’s vocalist, does just about everything he can to spoil the fun. “We’re like crystal,” he intones like the career malcontent he’s always been. “We break easy.”
Some things never change. Back when New Order was just a specter rising out of the ashes of Joy Division, the group perfected danceable melancholy, fusing early-’80s-style club rhythms with pensive melodies and the dramatic interplay between Sumner’s minimalist guitar heroics and Gillian Gilbert’s lush synthesizers. As a post-Ian Curtis lyricist, Sumner was on about half the time, capable of moving from such profundities as “A thought that never changes remains a stupid lie” to “Why don’t you piss off?” during the course of just a single songin this case, the great “Your Silent Face,” which opens the band’s 1983 LP, Power, Corruption & Lies.
That record was both a culmination of sorts, capping an impressive string of 45s (and the brilliant 1981-1982 EP that collected several of them) and a somber, beautiful debut LP, Movement, recorded under the auspices of Joy Division’s helmsman, Martin Hannett. Post-Power, New Order landed a single in the U.S. Top 40, appeared on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack (a veritable New Wave time capsule), and penned “World in Motion,” England’s World Cup Soccer anthem. But once the surge of inspiration following Curtis’ suicide and the decision to get on with it finally subsided, each record the band made was slighter than the last.
With Get Ready, though, New Order mostly bounces back to where it once belonged, tapping into the same droning, poeticized art-rock that made its early music (and Joy Division’s) a force of nature. There are occasional flashes of new musical ideasa soulful female voice, for instance, sweetens Sumner’s dry style on “Crystal”but most of these seem designed to augment the theory that early New Order practiced and later New Order forgot: emotional resonance first, recreational DOR second.
In fact, there seems to be a little bit of legacy realignment under way on Get Ready, with the group playing up its alt-rock godfatherhood at the expense of the rave-style BPMs it could also lay claim to. “Primitive Notion” even comes on like a Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth track, at least at first, connecting the musical dots between New York’s greatest post-punk outfit and the musicians who virtually invented the form. True, the band reins in the moody guitar noise just as it threatens to get chaotic, but Hook’s orderly bass riffing and Sumner’s measured recitation are nearly as seductive. Elsewhere, former Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan makes a guest appearance, paying tribute to the group via a snaky lead run and his weird, nasal buzz of a voice on the predictably Pumpkinsish “Turn My Way.”
Lyrically, the band will probably never rekindle the fire that powered its early tunes, when even the most elliptical of lines seemed packed with the kind of significance that kept fans awake at night puzzling out the meaning. On “Turn My Way,” Sumner comes on like a modestly bohemian grumpy old man, declaring, “I don’t want to be/Like other people are/Don’t want to own a key/Don’t want to wash my car.” And the generic dance-rock of “Close Range” is matched by the banality of the line “You’ve got to pull yourself together man/You’ve got to get back on your feet again.” Some things are better left unsaidand those are certainly two of them. And musically, Sumner & Co. will likely never recapture what sparked classics such as “Temptation” or Movement’s “Dreams Never End,” either. But good for them. At this stage, just trying would probably lead to a heart attack.
But does that mean that Get Ready isn’t worth your attention? Hard to sayI don’t know you. As for me, I still think that the melodica is the most underused instrument in rockdom, so it’s an especially moving moment when, on the aching “Run Wild,” Sumner uncorks a plaintive little riff that echoes the same one he played all those years ago on “Your Silent Face.” And later, when the synthesized strings kick in and things get gloomy in that unsentimental, understated British way, just about everybody will go home happy. Or sad. With New Order, those are always perfectly mixed emotions.
If you were to plot its music on a graph illustrating the evolution of “post-rock,” sonically adventurous D.C. trio LU would probably fall somewhere after New Order and before Add N to (X). Or maybe somewhere after Devo and before A Flock of Seagulls. You wouldn’t suspect either, though, if all you’d heard was “Mood Elevator,” the first tune on the instrumental band’s fine new self-titled debut. The track is a wistful mope-rocker that recalls more organic ambient antecedents such as Athens, Ga.’s, Love Tractor, though the driving motorik pulse of ur-Krautrockers Neu! (an obvious influence here) is never far from the surface.
Elsewhere, LU lives up to the kind of musical theory you might suspect would be behind songs called “Biometric Authentication” and “Cathartic Disintegration.” The former appropriates Add N to (X)’s Casiofied synth attack for slightly mellower purposes; the latter is a four-minute slow-burner than never quite lives up to its title. “Information Police,” however, does the trick. With the band building a skittering, off-kilter guitar/bass duel on top of a throbbing rhythmic foundation, the track seems like an urgent message sent in Morse codeinsistent and almost random-sounding, but also carefully structured. “Aquarium Furniture” is much looser and nearly jazzlike, with a descending bass line and a metronomic cymbal making sure all the guitar ambience coheres.
Best of all, however, is “Pink Sock,” wherein the group serves up a percussive synth symphony complete with Devoesque man-machine rhythms and beat-box handclaps carefully syncopated to seem even more artificial. It’s easily the LP’s most thrilling moment, a percolating dance number that effectively puts the “new” back in New Wave. True, the track never really goes anywhere, but why would you ever want to leave? CP