Sunday, February 12, 2006

New Order: WAITING FOR THE SIRENS' CALL (Warner Bros. 2005)

Yet another solicited but unpublished review. Perhaps it's just as well - I somewhat overrated this latest from the greatest. But I still stand by the coda of "Who's Joe?" Usually by 4:30 of a 5:43 song, New Order would've already laid down all their cards (never mind that instead of jacks and queens, they turned up seers and mystics). But just as you're about to shout "Land ho!" up jumps this classic New Order fragment - guitar moans so archetypically misterioso they may be mocking their own pretension; drums skipping to catch up with themselves; bass straining against the stars. We jump over one wall of sound only to find another. And who IS Joe? He has no gun in his hand, not like Johnny in "1963." But he does have "eyes like a wounded soldier," perhaps the one returning home in "Love Vigilantes." In any event, Bernie's gotta find him (before he gets a gun in his hand?). Where Jimi Hendrix (and countless pimple-poppin' garage punkers) sang "Hey Joe" as both observer and observed, witness and murderer, Bernie sings as observer only or, more precisely, potential preventer. The deed (whatever it is) hasn't happened yet. And he still hasn't found Joe by song's end. How do we know this? The coda tells us so - it's searching, open to myriad meanings, myriad encounters. Classic New Order.

The quintessential eighties band, New Order mated punk with disco and took the concoction farther than any other post-punkers of the era. The Sex Pistols side of the equation afforded the British foursome a certain arty forcefulness while the Donna Summer half built in a sleek distance. By the end of the decade, they managed to score huge hits like “Bizarre Love Triangle” and True Faith,” gaining recognition in the public eye yet shrouding their private selves in enigma.

With that feat achieved, they released one album in 1993 then took eight years off. 2001’s Get Ready was a rock record that shined like a disco ball. But with Waiting For The Sirens’ Call, the dance moves recede further into the mix. The production still sounds like a million bucks. And Peter Hook’s ever-cresting bass still leads the groove. Only this time, those elements clear pathways towards clear, inoffensive rock. A song like “Turn” could be the mildly alternative cut on the next Matchbox 20 or Maroon 5 album.

Whenever a synthbeat lays down the rhythm, the tempos are too moderate to push you on the dancefloor. And only “Working Overtime,” the closing number, contains guitars loud enough to ruffle grandma’s feathers. It’s their most modest album ever, something you might put on after the storm and stress of New Order albums of old.


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