New Order ‘Music Complete’ / Disclosure ‘Caracal” – Review

14 Nov

The other week, New order and Disclosure occupied the top two positions of the UK album chart; two very different bands in many respects but bound by similar perspectives. Both groups tackle dance music but come from an indie background. And both groups changed the face of their genre, albeit thirty years apart.

Although both albums were highly anticipated, and there must have been certain pressure, New Order’s task has to have been the less formidable one. After thirty odd years and ten albums, their reputation is assured, come what may. They were dance rock pioneers who altered the course of popular music. There is no arguing with ‘Blue Monday’, ‘Temptation’ or ‘Regret’. Disclosure on the other hand are in a far more vulnerable position. Debut album ‘Settle’ was certainly acclaimed and influential but the Pop music landscape is more fickle in 2015 than it was in 1985 and there are no guarantees of continued interest. New Order’s fan base will always be there but Disclosure need to consolidate their early success with another great album.

This is telling in the two very different moods. New Order sound relaxed, confident and self assured. Disclosure on the other hand sound uneasy and, for want of a better word, a little bit desperate. ‘Caracal’ is  full, from start to finish, of songs straining to be hits. No space is left for ambiance or texture and there is a curious lack of movement and energy throughout. Every song wants to be THE ONE. Their debut was built as an album but this has been built as a collection of potential singles. And devastatingly, considering that aim, none of them are quite good enough.

New Order’s ‘Music Complete’ has no greater aim than sounding like a New Order album, which it does. It isn’t always the case that when a band return after a long time out that they sound like themselves but New Order have done a magnificent job of retaining the elements that made their music so memorable. The bass line of ‘Singularity’ SOUNDS like Peter Hook’s classic Joy Divison bass, even if it isn’t Hooky himself playing. The camp samples on ‘Tuti Fruity’ could have been snatched from ‘technique’. The synths are genuine mid 80s synths and the melodies are typical Bernard Sumner melodies. Brilliantly, they mingle this nostalgia with something new and exciting. These tracks aren’t dated, they simply sound authentic and true; the work of auteurs with an inimitable style and unique point of view.

Contrary to popular wisdom, New Order have never made a bad album and so ‘Music Complete’ can’t be called a return to form. But considering the pop and rock leanings of their last two albums, it can be called a return to their classic, late 80s, dance sound. Disclosure’s ‘Carcel’ also sticks solidly to Disclosure’s signature sound (albeit with a darker vibe and slower pace) but this feels more disappointing considering their age and position in contemporary culture; they should really be pushing boundaries and challenging with more innovation and ambition.

Of course these are just my expectations and wants, projected, perhaps unfairly, on to Disclosure. Taken out of this context, stripped of the hype and with expectations put to one side, ‘Caracal’ is a strong, if unextrodinary, dance pop record. It’s leans more towards r&b than ‘Settle’ ever did but many of its sounds and motifs are recognisable to anyone who heard that excellent debut. Ultimately though they pay offs aren’t as enjoyable second time around. The production feels safe and the songwriting is is somewhat laboured. It takes quite something to write a song that doesn’t send Sam Smith to the top of the chart at the moment, as evidenced by his completely forgettable Bond theme hitting the top spot recently. The fact that his sole contribution to ‘Caracal’, ‘Omen’, didn’t even crack the top ten speaks to its utter mediocrity. If Sam smith wasn’t on it I wouldn’t even expect it to break the top 100.

For the most part Disclosure have worked with popular, established singers this time around, which only draws attention to the second rate material. Would ‘Nocturnal’ have stood out on the weeknd’s recent album? Or ‘Magnets’ on Lorde’s? Or ‘Good Intentions’ on Miguel’s? The honest answer is no. They are all solid pop songs but they aren’t brilliant. The tracks that feature fresh talent fare better, perhaps because they have a more discernible sense of risk and the unknown. Rising star Kwabs shines on the moody ‘willing and able’ and ‘Gregory Porter’ is a revelation on album standout ‘Holding On’.

New Order’s ‘Music Complete’ also features a lack of upper tier material, which is all that holds this back from being the late career classic it nearly is. First single and opening song ‘Restless’ has a catchy chorus but it’s too long and bleak to be worthy of a greatest hits slot. Closing number ‘Superheated’ is as close as they come to writing a hit even if its sugar sweet melody comes courtesy of guest star Brandon Flowers, who is on a hot streak of his own at the moment. But overall, New Order have done enough to deserve all the recent acclaim. They’ve distilled their influential and instantly recognisable sound in to a modern, enjoyable and finely produced collection of songs. They’ve also, inadvertently, shown up the heirs to their indie dance crown, who have stumbled over that age old pop problem – how on earth do you follow up a classic debut album? It may have been Disclosure who claimed the number one position in the album charts but New Order have shown that, actually, they are still top of the pops.

New Order ‘Music Complete’ – 7.5/10

Disclosure ‘Caracal’ – 6/10

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