It took a crisis to reunite New Order. The pioneering dance-rock group had ostensibly called it quits in the latter half of the Aughts, but in 2011, they learned that their friend, “Blue Monday” and “True Faith” video director Michael H. Shamberg, had taken seriously ill. So the band regrouped and booked some gigs to raise money for his medical bills.
Originally, the band — which consists these days of frontman Bernard Sumner, drummer Stephen Morris and returning keyboardist Gillian Gilbert (who had left in 2001), along with guitarist Phil Cunningham and bassist Tom Chapman — was set to play only three gigs. But Sumner, who is age 59 and typically soft-spoken, says the reunion snowballed. “We’ve been on tour for three-and-a-half years off and on,” he says from his home near Macclesfield, England. “It seemed like the opportunity to write an album.”
New Order’s first record of new music in 10 years — and first without founding bassist Peter Hook, who acrimoniously departed the group in 2007 — sounds like a triumphant rebirth, their best record since 1989’s Technique. After two LPs of largely guitar-oriented alt-rock in the 2000s, the new album, the 11-track Music Complete, signals a return to kaleidoscopic synthesizer-driven dance-rock. From its wistfully melancholic opener, “Restless,” to its uplifting, poppy closer “Superheated,” and its diversions into bouncy house piano (“People on the High Line”), dusky, poetic tableaux (“Stray Dog”) and ebullient alt-pop odysseys (“Nothing but a Fool”), it shows everything the band — now in its 35th year — is capable of, without ever lagging. Moreover, guest appearances by Iggy Pop, the Killers’ Brandon Flowers, La Roux singer Elly Jackson and former Primal Scream singer Denise Johnson blend in and add to tracks rather than serving as distractions. Like its title, the album is indeed music complete, well thought-out and executed.
“It still sounds like New Order,” says Morris — who is age 57, quick to make jokes and lives in the same area as Sumner — with a laugh. “We’re not trying to be New Order on this record, because why the hell should we? It all jells really, really well.”
Before the group could really get back to business, though, they had to deal with some unpleasantness. Months after what became their last gig with Peter Hook, who had co-founded both New Order and Joy Division with Sumner and Morris, the band had to rebuke the bassist’s claims in mid-2007 that they had broken up. “New Order have not split up,” Sumner and Morris said in a joint statement that summer. Hook retaliated by threatening to sue them.
“What actually happened was we wanted to take a few steps back from New Order, just to get away from it for a little bit,” Sumner says. “So I made a Bad Lieutenant album. Gillian got ill; she had breast cancer. So Steve [who married Gilbert in 1994] had to make sure she was OK. So he looked after her, spent time with her and their kids. She got through it all and made a full recovery, which I’m glad to say. So when Bad Lieutenant reached its conclusion, we were like, ‘What are we going to do next? ‘Cause I could make a Bad Lieutenant album or we could do New Order again.’ And then we got the request to play the charity gigs for Michael.”