Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I’ve Never Met Anyone Quite Like You Before

My critical facilities, tepid though they may be, grow even murkier when it comes to assessing the merits of New Order’s latest, Waiting For The Sirens Call. Any alacrity of judgment, especially when the opinion may veer toward the lackluster, is clouded by my past relationship with the band and their prominence in my teenage listening habits.

Second only to the solo output of Peter Gabriel, New Order was the most important band in my teenage cannon. Beginning in the early 80’s, when I first heard Blue Monday played on the local Cleveland rock station, WMMS, until the release of 1989’s Technique, the band was a constant of my immediate post-pubescent/ pre-adulthood years. The bands music, a peerless and highly salient mix of wistfulness and grandeur, provided those transitory years with a sublime soundtrack that will forever be overwhelmed with powerful and, for the most part, affirming associations. It also helped that the band, up until the late 80’s, maintained a mysterious, imperturbable air, rarely granting interviews or having their photographs taken, allowing designer Peter Saville plenty of leeway to refine an elegant if melancholy public persona though his album covers.

It’s that unyielding teenager who still exerts a considerable pressure- who fears any challenge to the bands honor- asking (or demanding) that my current “adult version” maintain a certain level of propriety when discussing the band. I’m happy to comply, especially if we’re casting back to their remarkable run through the 80’s (to which we could also include their previous incarnation as Joy Division, another favorite of my teenage years), an output that has held up remarkably well. As New Order, the albums Movement, Power, Corruption and Lies, Low-Life, Brotherhood and Technique in addition to the mighty singles and remixes collection, Substance 1987, continue to maintain their original luster, each gracefully maturing into singular classics.

In the late 90’s, I feel compelled to note, New Order became iconic, lauded by countless musicians, critics and aficionados alike, inevitably passing over that mysterious threshold where all the accumulated burnish and ardor becomes mythology. With this ascendancy of prestige they’re now larger then life. And they’re still releasing albums and, just like you and me, taking dumps, gods though they may be.

So into that autobiographical palaver arrives Waiting For The Sirens Call, an early promo copy of which I was the lucky recipient of thanks to Kristen. Listening for the first time, as I did a couple weeks back now, that affecting, dreamy 80’s teenager was full of hope, emboldened before a single note was heard that this would be another classic, another soundtrack for the married/home-owner chapter of my life. (But it's so, so much more then wedding wings and paying the mortgage, this chapter.) There would be Barney’s vapid but endearing lyrics and sweet guitar pluckings, the liquid churn of Hook's melodic bass, Morris’s metronome drumming and all of it bridged together by lovely cushions of keyboard. Be a classic!

It’s not.

I wanted it to blow my ears off and make me feel utterly, overwhelmingly alive. I wanted melancholy and grandeur butting up against each other. I wanted to churn up all those old passions and present them with something emboldened and entirely new. All that prestige practically demanded it. But what we have here, it hurts to admit, is a handful of songs, a handful of really good tracks, surrounded by a preponderance of efficient ho-hum.

The really good tracks:

1. Waiting For The Sirens Call
2. Krafty
3. Jetstream
4. Turn

So, 4 out of 11 ain’t too bad. Couple that with the best tracks from 2001’s Get Ready and you’re close to a full album of great, if not classic, tracks. We role with the punches better these days when our expectations aren’t met, we’re more resilient and more forgiving. And those above 4, especially the back to back punch of the title track and Krafty, are pretty darn good.

Against the grain of their newfound iconic status, we have a little middle-aged hero-slippage. Happens sometimes. I doubt they’ll ever again match those heights from the 80’s, but then, I’ll never be 16 and cruising in my Dad’s diesel Jetta to the sounds of Temptation rattling the dashboard speakers again either.

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