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May 10, 2005

Siren's Call shows signs of classic New Order glory

In 24 Hour Party People, a movie that tells the story of the rise of post-punk bands like New Order, the main character looks around a club in Manchester, the birthplace of this overwhelmingly influential music scene, and muses, "This is the moment when even the white man starts dancing."

This quote characterizes the music of New Order, whose newest album is Waiting for the Siren's Call, much more than it does the revered band that begat them, Joy Division. After Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis's suicide in 1980, New Order created a more pop/dance-oriented music while preserving something of the punk scene that preceded their music. The most prominent British post-punk bands were centered in Manchester, England and led both to rave culture and modern day successes like Bloc Party and the Killers. After massive success with singles like "Blue Monday" in the '80s, New Order disappeared for the majority of the following decade, only re-emerging relatively recently to ignite fanboy debates about whether or not they are still any good.

Their latest album, Waiting for the Siren's Call, won't end the debate about whether the aging members of New Order can still turn out brilliant, classic songs like "Temptation." It does, however, feature a number of good tracks that are reminiscent of their best work and goes a long way toward reminding the trendy, modern-day acts that are cribbing their sound that New Order did it first, and better.

Waiting is an uneven effort that features the varying sounds that have always characterized New Order's work. The tension between rock and pop/dance music is evident here. The first two songs lean toward the rock side; "Who's Joe?" is a dull choice for an album opener and "Hey Now What You Doing" is a better, but still not great, guitar-oriented track.

Next, however, comes a series of synth-and-bass driven songs that recall the brilliant pop that made New Order famous in the '80s. The title track has a great bass line and a solid hook. The first single, "Krafty," is another song reminiscent of this band's best offerings. It's upbeat and fun without being brainless. The next few songs are a return to the darker "Blue Monday" sound that most associate with New Order.

The most irritating track on the album is probably "Jetstream," and unfortunately, it will be the second single. It features guest vocals from Scissor Sisters's Ana Matronic, and sounds like a boring song that got a bad remix from Zero 7. It's an exception rather than the rule on Waiting, luckily.

The last couple songs are a more successful return to the rock orientation that yielded less sterling results in the first couple tracks of the album. "Turn" is one of the catchiest songs on the CD and is probably the track that pushes Waiting from the decent to the good category.

In the end, New Order's latest release isn't going to start any revolutions. The only reason for that, however, is that they already helped start one back in the '80s. The legacy of New Order is both rave culture (i.e. dancing white people) and most British or post-punk guitar rock that came after them. Waiting for the Sirens is basically a good pop album that's worth buying if you like New Order's past work or any of the bands they've influenced. They may not be the great band they once were, but they certainly haven't lost much of the spark that once defined one of the most interesting periods of pop music.