New Order - Waiting For The Sirens’ Call
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
I’m surprised by most of the reviews for Waiting For The Sirens’ Call. What’s the fuss? Alternating with increasing awkwardness between the punk-pop and dance stuff which has made New Order’s career so frustrating for fans of Joy Division’s doom-laden transcendence, it’s no better or worse than Get Ready or, for that matter, Brotherhood or Power, Corruption, & Lies. It’s certainly not comparable to Technique, the 1989 album which looks more and more like New Order’s tipping point: nine exemplary songs, not a dud in the bunch, a boon to the newer fans who after 1987’s Substance understood what this band was up to before the older ones did.
If you love New Order, you’ll buy anything, even the second Monaco and third Electronic albums of which there’s so many copies at my local used-CD store. What’s most striking about WFTSC is that a band which had previously made no attempt to hide its amateurism—they may even have flaunted it—has mastered its craft just enough to write, record, and release unspectacular albums as often as Neil Young puts out a Silver & Gold, Paul McCartney a Driving Rain, and Oasis a Don’t Believe The Truth. Having established its own canon years ago, New Order stands ready to join the real thing.
Let’s check off the required elements: elegiac guitar-dominated single, sonic cousin to “Regret” and “Crystal” (“Krafty”, whose title suggests a bit of New Order’s talent for tweaking the expected in expected ways); up-tempo thrasher (“Working Overtime”); mid-tempo ho-hums which usually end up being someone’s Favorite Underrated Track (“Hey Now What You Doing,” “Turn”); the dance stuff crying for the expensive, unnecessary remix by this year’s hot deejay (“Guilt is a Useless Emotion”); and the duds (“I Told You So,” “Dracula’s Castle”). To expect transcendence from a group of paunchy men (we miss you, Gillian!) in their forties is to court rejection; besides, who needs transcendence? Transcendence is boring. Kraft—craft—produces better driving music.
If there’s anything WTFSC and Technique have in common, it’s the glistening mix, a lacquered sheen which allows the most perfunctory tracks to pulse beside the great ones, thereby advancing the dubious notion that New Order intentionally sequenced a killer album. I mean, come on: this is a band for whom happy accidents, it must be said, have been a boon to its creativity. The mix ensures that there are plenty of muso moments, suitable for fetishists, a development that should have given away the game: only craftsmen record passages that musos slobber over (young ambitious bands create Timeless Rock Masterpieces). Said glistening mix, for example, freezes the unresolved melody and story of opener “Hey Joe,” an ingenious way of making listeners tense from the get-go. The is-it-a-real-chime solo on “Krafty” substitutes for the usual Peter Hook showcase.
But my favorite is “Morning Night And Day,” in which Bernard Sumner’s consortium of non-sequiturs adds up to a shit-eating evocation of getting some Saturday night action, a worthy sequel to other New Order odes to hedonism like “Subculture” and “Sooner Than You Think” (my own Underrated New Order moment). Drummer Stephen Morris, whose bored scowl is no doubt the result of hearing adjectives like “machine-like” lobbed at him for years, is the musical equivalent of a lover shaking you awake when your hangover’s something awful, and your growl sounds a lot like Hook’s bass run.
Remember the last time you took Dad to the disco? Or watched him dance to the Isley Brothers at Uncle Joe’s wedding? Sumner, Hook and Morris write to this neglected age group. If you’re a member, then “I Told You So” probably gets you shimmying (the track also suggests that Sumner listens to Ace of Base more often than we suspected). Scissor Sister Ana Mantronix, competing with Billy Corgan as New Order groupie du jour, adds nothing to “Jetstream,” itself a lukewarm pastiche of the house music for which the band already showed little affinity on 1993’s Republic (think “Liar”). The title of “Dracula’s Castle” augurs greatness—at last, someone’s gonna take the piss out of all those kids who’ve discovered the horrors of Bauhaus and Siouxsie—but Sumner pisses away the opportunity, which might have been a deliberate aesthetic decision, actually.
Fuck it. Sumner is still my favorite lyricist, ever; Technique vies with Rumours and Rumour & Sigh as the closest musical approximation to a post-coital argument. If I prefer Technique, it’s only because its two predecessors didn’t conclude with the aptly titled “Dream Attack,” a track whose melody forces Sumner into a reverie as serene and chilling as he’s capable of. WFTSC offers nothing comparable, and perhaps that’s the point. These supermen are now Clark Kent, albeit a Clark Kent with an instinct for the perverse. The closer “Working Overtime,” three minutes of guitar thrash and pounding drums, proves that New Order are still as blessedly talented at pissing us off as they ever were. Long may they run.