For Music Complete, New Order's ninth album and first in a decade, the band signed to new label Mute and welcomed keyboardist Gillian Gilbert back for her first recordings with them since 2001. Unfortunately, original bassist Peter Hook, who quit in 2007, didn't return and his bass duties were taken over by Tom Chapman, who played with Bernard Sumner in Bad Lieutenant. The return of Gilbert is a clue that the band is looking to the past for inspiration here and forsaking the guitar-driven rock orientation of its last couple albums for something more balanced, if not tipped in favor of more electronic and dancefloor-oriented songs. To that end, they brought in Chemical Brother Tom Rowlands as well as Richard X and Stuart Price to produce tracks. Not the most daring or forward-looking choices for collaborators, but their efforts result in some of the album's highlights. Rowlands invests "Singularity" with some Chemical Brothers-style punch, while "Unlearn This Hatred" has a passionate, almost industrial drive. The Richard X-mixed "Plastic" is the most new wave-sounding moment on the record, full of sparkling surfaces and fueled by some retro sequencers. Elsewhere, the bandmembers take it upon themselves to craft songs that have more joyful bounce than one would expect from them. "Tutti Frutti" is a tricky bit of electro-disco with a rubbery electronic bassline, some vintage keyboard wash from Gilbert, and a vocal cameo by La Roux's Elly Jackson. She's also on "People on the High Line," which is probably the funkiest track they've ever recorded, with finger-popping bass, house-y piano, and a beat that pulsates like a hot N.Y.C. summer night. (The other guest appearances on the album are by the Killers' Brandon Flowers, who adds some over the top crooning to "Superheated," and Iggy Pop, who mumbles semi-coherently through the interminable, momentum-sapping "Stray Dog.") The melancholic guitar-driven songs are a little less interesting, with only "Restless" coming close to the feel of the group's classic tracks. Too many of them come off like New Order by the numbers, with seriously banal (even for him) lyrics from Sumner and a string section that only serves to add more weight to the already too-soggy sound. It's hard to say which is most disappointing -- the songs or the sound -- but it's clear that Hook's bass would definitely have made a huge difference. Though Chapman tries his best to conjure up Hook's famous style without sounding like he's making copies, his efforts really can't compare to the melodic grace and sheer power of Hook's playing. New Order without Hook is like Joy Division without Ian Curtis, only instead of New Order forming in the wake, it's Bad Lieutenant. Even making an allowance for Hook's glaring absence, Music Complete is still a watered-down and uninspired album by a band that lost the plot long ago and can now only capture an occasional glimmer of what made it so great in the first place.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra