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Better late than never
on 14 January 2013
The album is dead, they tell you. Nobody listens to them anymore. But who has the patience to cherry pick a record, pay 99p for the best songs, and then fiddle around them on your iPhone? Who has the energy? I'm happy enough to just press "Play" on a title and let the rest of the songs follow. I might be old-fashioned, anarchronistic, or simply different, but an album is a selection by the artist (mostly). Cherry picking original songs might just be the equivalent of just selecting your best bits from a film and never watching anything else. And wondering if something else is missing : and make the Lord Of The Rings trilogy about 20 minutes long.
In this day and age then, you might question the point of "Lost Sirens", the latest / last New Order record. On its own merits, this is a short album - 38 minutes, 8 songs - and the shortest one New Order have made since their 1981 debut. It's history is also somewhat protracted - songs that were finished during the sessions for the 2005 "Waiting For The Sirens Call", and were intended to form the bulk of the next record, alongside any new songs completed after. The new songs never came. Peter Hook left the band along with several unreleased, finished songs, and New Order split for several years until a new, Hook-less version, reunited in 2011.
On first listen, these songs are a disappointment : trumpeted for many years, here they are and... they are a selection of eight pretty good New Order songs. Though missing an obvious, killer single, it is reminiscent of the mid Eighties New Order albums, in so much as it is made of solid, reliable songs, but no obvious works of genius that will instantly slot into the setlists forever. It is also a record that is fairly uniform : relatively slow songs that sit well in the middle of an album, a couple of energetic belters, and a alternate version of a song from the parent record, make it a somewhat reserved listen, coupled with a running order that veers to the emphasise the slow tone of the album and some of the released mixes have uncharacteristic fade outs, as if the band hadn't quite worked out how to finish the songs.
It opens with "I'll Stay With You", (also mooted as "Brothers And Sisters"), which - alongside "Shake It Up", and "Sugarcane" - are the most obvious New Order songs, sounding like the better picks from the bands later years, and with a mild polish, well worthy of single status : I wonder why these weren't picked up for the 2006 "Singles" compilation in favour of mild touring and yet another compilation record.
"Recoil", "Californian Grass", "Hellbent", for example on all leap straight into the area of three, somewhat uniform, mid-paced ballads (none of whom bear a particularly strong chorus), and "Recoil" is largely instrumental, which deflate the record and make the experience of listening to the songs drag more than it needs to. The other two are the kind of guitar driven material that New Order have done better many times before. Its not bad at all, but not really good enough to stand equally with their other records, especially when New Order set the bar as high as their past glories indicate.
It ends with a previously-only-on-vinyl remix/alternate recording of "I Told You So", which was a dirge on the original record and is far superior here with a new ending and different instrumentation, but not exactly the best song New Order ever released. On the other hand, given that these songs were largely untouched for several years, were they released at the time, they would have made the core of a solid and worthy New Order album.
One could wonder what if, what if, what if, the band had revamped the parent record, made some different choices, could both "Waiting For The Sirens Call", and this, fared better, been stronger releases? Who knows? Better late than never.