Republic©' is something of a reunion album, New Order's first outing since 1989. It follows the four individual members' side projects as Electronic (singer-guitarist Bernard Sumner), Revenge (bassist Peter Hook) and the Other Two (keyboardist Gillian Gilbert and drummer Stephen Morris). Yet the album's discreet dance style is pleasingly familiar, suggesting the band members' resumed mutual sympathies rather than their newer enthusiasms. New Order knows what it's after, and as always, that's nothing less than a striking reinterpretation of traditional pop-music verities.
On "Chemical," Sumner and Hook start out dueling bravely on guitar and bass, both leaping forward into mechanistic funk, then into gossamer melody, and for the rest of the track, where they're joined by Morris and Gilbert, the driving rhythm never relents. In songwriting terms, New Order isn't a subject-oriented group; its "songs" are actually musical themes: Chemistry is what the group is about and what it demonstrates by inventing lively sonic textures throughout a piece. The band's sense of improvisatory interplay is the weirdest element in the techno-age New Order helped usher in, because it gives the music an uncannily emotional core.
New Order's earliest albums mocked passion through anonymous arty synthesizers and Sumner's hesitant, nearly robotic vocals and gnomic lyrics. This remoteness even when sublimely rendered seemed to express a kind of embarrassment about the band's undeniable musical intensity. But since New Order's 1985 American-label debut, Low-life (which contained "The Perfect Kiss"), and its 1986 album, Brotherhood (famous for the splendid "Bizarre Love Triangle"), New Order has championed and successfully revived the rock guitar as a bearer of unsloppy emotion. Its albumless singles "Temptation" (1982), "True Faith" (1987) and "Touched by the Hand of God" (1988) incorporated the ineffable into the pop vocabulary in sometimes orchestral but always beat-happy ways. Republic©'s most recent predecessor, Technique (1989), showed New Order broadening rock convention by investigating disco euphoria, and to their credit, the band members took the disparaged form seriously both as pop fans and pop practitioners. Along those lines, Republic©'s "Liar" is a neo-Spinners tune transformed into a miniature dance epic, complete with nostalgic doo-wop falsetto, and the upfront club energy of "Spooky" is an idiosyncratic blend of atmospheric electronics, rock guitar and piano-based dance rhythms.
Only Madonna absorbs as much from dance music as this group does, but New Order doesn't settle for strict genre compliance. With coproducer Stephen Hague's knack for sculpting imaginative aural spaces, the band creates mysterious waves of melody and rhythm on Republic©'s wistful first single, "Regret," and the gorgeous "Ruined in a Day." With an emphasis on instrumental tension and release, these tracks approach verse-and-chorus structure with the sort of logic that governs twelve-inch remixes rather than typical pop songs. This compelling sound, simultaneously soothing and rollicking, is a genre unto itself. Remember postpunk? Forget it. New Order's evolving method forsakes discordant depression the mood that most characterized the group during and immediately following its origins in the late Seventies as Joy Division for varieties of optimism.
"Everyone Everywhere," Republic©'s pinnacle, features lyrics that are at once Sumner's dreamiest and most lucid: "So we beg and we steal/For we know love is real/When we kiss we speak as one/In a single breath/The world is gone." And as Sumner delicately sings, his harsh guitar burns through the sentiment, challenging and strengthening its emotional force. This expression of sympathy toughened by musical passion the secret of any great pop group is New Order's new truth, Republic©'s tangible advice for surviving disappointment and desire. (RS 659)
(Posted: Jun 24, 1993)
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