Republic (Qwest)
New Order

By Bob Bahr

Disco died at the end of the '70s, but New Order (then Joy Division) played on. Electronic dance music with disco overtones peaked in the mid-'80s, then fell out of favor, New Order played on. Disco returned at the end of the '80s, New Order continued to play their gloomy version of dance beats.

It's 1993, and New Order's new album is electronically-informed disco with a storm cloud hanging over it. Still. Throughout all the peaks and valleys of dance music, New Order has remained a smart, interesting voice. Republic maintains their reputation and shows the group growing enough to sound contemporary. It will please old fans and perhaps attract some new ones.

Bernard Sumner's recognizable vocals has never been so prominent, and that's good news for us patient fans. His limited yet distinctive voice (and Peter Hook's groovy upper-register bass lines) are what make New Order admirable. Those signature sounds return, with additional adornments.

This time out, keys and drum machines are used with taste, the group having fully explored and exploited the outer reaches of those instruments on earlier outings. An ear seems to have been bent in Jesus Jones' direction, with electric guitars coming to the fore as a texture of their own (with a minimum of electronic tinkering).

The most important element for New Order to retain is the melancholy mood that put the right spin on past songs such as "True Faith," "Blue Monday," "Confusion" and "Perfect Kiss." It's back, diluted but still strong enough and slick enough to leave other gloom-popsters in the dust. "Liar" and "Chemical" from the back half of Republic reveal this marvelous trait musically, even as "World" executes it lyrically. Mom would poke her head in the bedroom, hear the bouncy beat of "World," and think all's well. She may not catch the lyrics: "And it may all be too late/But I've no passion for this hate/That's the price of love . . . If we could buy it now/How long will it last?" Sumner is singing, only to get darker as the song progresses.

New Order is like the brightly colored ocean fish with poisonous quills. Pretty melodies and shiny dance beats pull you in, but touch the music and become poisoned by the hip cynicism infusing both notes and words.