New Order - International (London)
I must admit, I never understood the acclaim New Order received. As a big fan of Joy Division's material, I always saw New Order as a very pale shadow. The classic 'Blue Monday' aside, the fact that parts of the media continually claims they were so influential in the '80s strikes me as a clumsy attempt to gloss over other acts like Cabaret Voltaire and Psychic TV, who were far more influential, but less socially acceptable.
That said, there is no denying the seminal influence of the biggest selling 12" of all time, 'Blue Monday'. But the band themselves admit it was a fluke, a piece of music they created to play after they'd left the stage at the end of their set because they don't do encores. There's a million miles between that and the rest of this CD that traces their development from '81 to this year. It opens with 'Ceremony', a track that's basically Joy Division without Ian Curtis, who committed suicide a year before, but co-wrote the track. The track clearly shows that, without him, they couldn't be Joy Division and had to change drastically. Alas, it took them quite a few years to get it right.
After 'Blue Monday', it goes downhill fast. 'Confusion', 'Thieves like us', 'The Perfect kiss', 'Shellshock' and 'Bizarre love triangle' are all horribly cheesy '80s synthpop. OK, the surviving Joy Division elements, Peter Hook's pounding basslines, Bernard Sumner's intermittent guitar work and Stephen Morris' driving mix of live and machine drums sound good, but they're topped with some dreadful keyboards and Sumner's atrocious singing.
It wasn't until the late '80s and 'True faith' that they got it right, smooth but edgy at the same time, great lyrics finally sung well, a classic electropop track, which finally proved that New Order had matured into the elder statesmen of electronic music in the UK. This position was confirmed when their Hacienda Club spawned much of the '90s generation of artists in the Madchester scene.
From that point onwards they had a formula from which they didn't divert all too much, every song is instantly identifiable as being a New Order song, though some of the tracks, like 'Round and round', 'Regret' and 'Crystal' are undeniable classics. The reality is that, while they did record some great stuff, their career has been very patchy and not deserving of all the acclaim they have received. They were easy idols; they were born of tragedy, had no skeletons in the closet like some others and rarely caused controversy. For a form of music that was born in the chaos and rebellion of the late 70s, New Order have become the poster-band for how it's grown up and lost its edge.