Last year, I happened across the best live album I’ve ever heard: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, performing their classic albums Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships, in full, with extras, to a packed Royal Albert Hall. The record, available exclusively through PledgeMusic, was gorgeously packaged, brilliantly done and tear-jerkingly good. Unlike so many other ‘heritage’ acts, OMD sound wiser and fuller than ever before. They are, in this respect, almost peerless…
I say ‘almost’, because New Order are still doing the rounds – and quite magnificently too, might I add. Now Peter Hook-less and embroiled in a catty legal battle with their former Joy Division band-mate, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert are joined by Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman to form a sort of new New Order; one that’s big on analogue synthesisers and very distinctly ‘80s arrangements. Not only this, but their new live record, NOMC15, recorded live at London’s Brixton Academy in November 2015, opens with a flagrant Wagner sample and bears artwork inspired by the Third Reich films of the latterly-troubled woman filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl. What more could you ask?
On NOMC15, New Order bring the nostalgic magic of latest record Music Complete’s deluxe, 12” treatment to the stage – they perform proper extended versions of their material, expertly deploying the rise and fall/thick and thin mix techniques that LCD Soundsystem have built a career on; techniques which, to some degree at least, Sumner and co. helped to invent. Temptation is (as one can imagine) a particular highlight – a sprawling nine-minute take, this version features a gorgeous orchestral intro and rich, throbbing synthesiser bass. Bizarre Love Triangle has been similarly reworked; it sounds extremely modern now, and yet its digital quality cannot detract from the song’s anthemic squelch… the reason? Well, it’s all in the bass – just as it always has been. With decades of experience in rhythm programming, Morris and Gilbert have truly outdone themselves on these cuts, which, unlike the digital forays of groups like Erasure, sound mature and warm, not blandly pre-set. In doing so, they subtly account for Hook’s absence too, blending the bass guitar into the mix in an electronically focused way that (to their advantage) was experimented with even when he was a member (ref. 1989’s proto-Balearic beat, Technique).
Throughout NOMC15, the band also demonstrates a knack for the seamless integration of material new and old. Case in point: the tonal proximity of two-year-old opener Singularity to its successive track, Ceremony, a song so old that it’s got an Ian Curtis writing credit. This architecture also means that selections from the group’s drier, ’93 – ’07 years are thankfully infrequent; Crystal and Waiting for the Sirens’ Call each make an appearance (the latter in a radical rearrangement from the song’s Planet Funk remix), but both sound like outtakes from Brotherhood, and thus the illusion of the band’s forty year consistency is successfully evoked.
In a few places, the set will have die-hard fans shrugging instead of throwing crazy shapes. Tutti Frutti and People on the High Line are as annoyingly incongruous as when they first featured on Music Complete in 2015; La Roux’s guest vocals don’t help the matter, and for nearly thirteen minutes, there’s some very uncomfortable funk stuff going on that sound far more at home on a Change record from the late ‘70s… not a live album by a band whose frontman is sixty-one. Joy Division’s Atmosphere doesn’t quite make sense here, either. It isn’t, and can never be in Sumner’s register, and, unlike Love Will Tear Us Apart, it doesn’t command the same sense of musical belonging. It’s a song trapped quite firmly in the ephemeral film-cell labelled ‘Joy Division’, where its tortured author rendered it with quite profound beauty – with that in mind, it doesn’t really need to be heard and so probably shouldn’t.
When that final, rousing smash-hit strolls out, however, you can’t help but crack a smile. After a Shep Pettibone-styled True Faith, and a pounding Perfect Kiss, there remains a single track that simply must be played. “I recognise that beat,” smirks a coy Bernard Sumner, as the heart-attack drum hits smatter into being… and fair play to him, you know… imagine if you were the jammy bastard that wrote Blue Monday.