THERE is a comforting familiarity to the breezy flow of Restless, the first new music from New Order in a decade (discounting the belated appearance of Lost Sirens two years ago).
New Order: Music Complete Mute Records
It’s been a period of forging new ties (with Mute Records), sad goodbyes (to the late Tony Wilson) and reconnecting old partnerships (with their signature sleeve designer Peter Saville), but through the volatility, there is something reassuring in Bernard Sumner’s slightly reedy voice and the pacific swirl of synths from keyboard player Gillian Gilbert, playing on a New Order album for the first time since 1991.
As one founding member happily returns to the fold, another has departed. Although original bassist Peter Hook left the band acrimoniously eight years ago, this is the first New Order album without his huge presence and, for some, the substituion may not be entirely satisfying. His replacement Tom Chapman replicates that deep, distinctive bass rumble well enough but it seems like more of a background feature now.
However, the eagerly awaited and vigorously promoted Music Complete is far from a timid treading of old waters but a dancefloor-ready shot in the arm after the safe indie guitar territory of Get Ready and Waiting for the Sirens’ Call, which is likely to find favour with those who consider 1990s electronica trailblazer Technique to be one of their best albums.
New Order are such a venerable fixture that it’s easy to forget they forged an indie dance crossover before the term had been coined. And here are the children of that euphoric revolution queuing up to guest produce – Richard X, Stuart Price and Tom Rowlands of The Chemical Brothers.
The former presides over the driving Moroder disco of Plastic, while Rowlands conjures a happy marriage of claustrophobic gothic guitar and an insistent electro pulse on Singularity. People on the High Line, featuring La Roux on backing vocals, is a playful mix of 70s funk guitar and 90s Italian house piano. What larks.
Nothing But A Fool is one for the wallflowers, a more conventional wistful indie-pop croon, strung out over almost eight minutes with added slick backing vocals. The Game is shorter but feels more epic, if not quite as stately as those early New Order anthems.
The closing Superheated is notable for featuring New Order superfan Brandon Flowers of The Killers, and sounds as weedy and disposable as his usual pale imitations. In striking contrast, that old warhorse Iggy Pop is unmistakeable on Stray Dog, his gruff voice coming over like the wise rumble of a grizzly film noir voiceover. Over a plain but propulsive electro backing, he contributes a spoken word meditation on settling down which sounds neither cosy nor domestic. “I’d rather be a lover than a liar,” he intones, throwing a welcome curveball into the comeback in case things get too comfortable. FIONA SHEPHERD
Duran Duran: Paper Gods
Despite utilising the golden production touch of both Mark Ronson and their old mucker Nile Rodgers on a couple of tracks, Duran Duran revert to the familiar formula on their fourteenth album, with a roughly even split between slow, sweeping and utterly bland would-be anthems with portentous lyrics delivered by a vocally stretched Simon Le Bon and antiseptic white funk numbers with the same old John Taylor bass runs and tinny synth stabs reheated from their mid-80s heyday.
Guest star Janelle Monae injects a modicum of fun funk to the super slick production but this is the sound of musicians phoning it in from that yacht in the Rio video. FS
Stereophonics: Keep the Village Alive
Another group plugging away while the sun continues to shine favourably on them. Like Duran Duran, Stereophonics songs fall into two categories these days. They begin their latest album with the vein-popping mainstream rock of C’est La Vie and make a fair old meal of the bluesy Sing Little Sister.
You can feel the effort poured into these mediocre efforts, yet the generally more effective songs are
the ones where guitarist and lead singer Kelly Jones is not straining to prove his rock chops but adopting a softer, more persuasive tone in service to the U2/REM-patented blandly sentimental arena ballad. FS
Bach 2 The Future: Fenella Humphreys
Having heard Fenella Humphreys play solo violin recently in Orkney, it’s wonderful to hear that experience, albeit with different repertoire, transferred to disc in this radiant recording. Her Bach – the translucent E major Partita – makes for an arresting opening. She brings that same golden precision and effortless virtuosity to the second sonata of Ysaÿe and Biber’s Passacaglia from the Rosenkranz Sonata. Contemporary works by Cheryl Frances-Hoad (Suite No 1), Gordon Crosse (Orkney Dreaming), Piers Hellawell (Balcony Scenes) and Cyril Scott (Bumblebees) give a refreshing balance to a compelling programme. KEN WALTON
Liane Carroll: Seaside
The warm-voiced and open-hearted singer and pianist Liane Carroll pays tribute to her home port of Hastings, nailing her colours affectionately and often passionately to the mast, accompanied by a sterling assortment of musicians, including Grammy-nominated producer and multi-instrumentalist James McMillan.
She opens with the wistful waltz time of Joe Stilgoe’s title track, brass cranking the nostalgia to Hovis levels, and ranges through an engaging song choice, not all of which have much to do with the sea – the heady rush of Almost Like Being in Love, for instance, with her scatting over Steve Pearce’s racing bass, the sultry blues-stalking of Nobody’s Fault But Mine, or the powerful, gospel-inflected Mercy Now.
Bring Me Sunshine has echoes, perhaps of pierhead vaudeville, but not as Morecambe and Wise knew it, instead delivered easefully over Mark Edwards’ spare piano deliberations, while she ends with the salty old hymn, For those in Peril on the Sea, straight from the heart and complemented beautifully by McMillan’s dignified flugelhorn solo. JIM GILCHRIST
Fred Morrison Trio: Live at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Doing exactly what it says on the tin, this concert recording, made four years ago but only just released, catches the piping maestro in characteristically exuberant form. Crisply accompanied by his regular sidemen, Matheu Watson on guitar and Martin O’Neill on bodhran, he plays with formidable attack right from the opening reels.
Playing bellows reel pipes, uilleann pipes and whistles, Morrison delivers his regular showstoppers, much to the audience’s audible delight – The Train Journey North, Kansas City Hornpipe (on uilleann pipes), his fine strathspey Seonaidh’s Tune, now a widely played standard in its own right, and a blistering Hard Drive. Another old favourite, Sleepy Maggie, builds up tension over O’Neill’s bodhran before romping through Sandy Cameron, its maverick variations including the nearest thing to guitar feedback you’ll hear on a bagpipe.
In contrast are the mellifluously velvet tones of his low whistle playing, singing out beautifully in a nameless traditional air and bringing a stealthy pacing to The Lochaber Badger. JIM GILCHRIST