New Order chose a succinctly foretelling name in the aftermath of Ian Curtis's suicide. It speaks of a group intent on putting their glorious but infernally doomed past behind them. A group who would engineer a pioneering musical vision and, interestingly, write the first decent football song.
'Retro' - in theory - bids to reflect the resurrection of these gloomy, post-punk torch-bearers, who sparked a pop revolution and ultimately infiltrated and shaped modern music in a more consuming fashion than even Joy Division could consider. However, these four CDs ask more questions than they answer. Like, what is the point of a box set, could New Order really be so contrary in compiling their imperious legacy and where the f*ck is 'Thieves Like Us'?
Both the 'Fan' and 'Pop' collections bring together some of the finest British music of the last 20 years, as New Order brought club culture smashing into the soul-infused, enthrallingly lucid but 'traditional' sensibilities already honed by Sumner, Hook and Morris. Here is a sound that began in the jagged but propulsive shadow of what had passed before, and, impressively swiftly, grew sleek electronic wings and an aloof, enigmatic sense of identity, emotion and sophistication.
'Fan' is the most intriguing compilation. You get the opening track from New Order's first album 'Movement' - the Peter Hook intoned 'Dreams Never End' - alongside a collection of dark, atmospheric beams of light, spanning primarily their most compelling period - 'Movement', 'Power, Corruption and Lies', 'Low-Life', 'Brotherhood' and 'Substance'. Particular mention should be made to the eerie, Gothic downpour of 'Elegia', the bass lizard sliding across 'Lonesome Tonight' and the almost holy 'Your Silent Face', which is Kraftwerk rolling to infinity alongside Sumner's maddening grasp of two-fingered melancholia. These recordings capture New Order in transition, a band unlike any before, whose avant sensibilities would soon become ever more user-friendly.
'Pop', understandably, throws some sublime, everlasting New Order chart action - 'Regret', 'True Faith', 'Crystal', 'Bizarre Love Triangle' - into an accessible, if formulaic mix. It includes 'Ceremony', the first ever release, sung in a low, sub-Curtis drone, with Sumner filling in uncertain lyrical gaps left by his tragic brother, and 'Slow Jam' from 2001's comeback guitar tour-de-force 'Get Ready'. Elsewhere, there are a couple of tracks from New Order's Valhalla - the 'Blood On The Tracks' Ecstasy electro-pop of 'Technique' - in the painfully obvious shape of 'Fine Time' and 'Round And Round'. There is no 'Vanishing Point' or 'Run', let alone 'Run 2', which was released in very small quantities. Wherein lies the problem - if there could possibly be one - with 'Retro'.
A limited edition fifth CD contains a few nuggets - the colossal 18-minute version of 'Elegia' - and does redress the balance somewhat. But you'd have to be a psychopath to listen to all 13 tracks on 'Club', despite the - rather odd - presence of a shimmering 'Everything's Gone Green' and the towering 'Touched By The Had Of God'. The 'Live' collection fares better, as it charts a fast-evolving New Order emerging from the Joy Division cocoon and into a truly spectacular and colourful beast, but this is ultimately an opportunity blown, in fine, who gives a f*ck New Order style.
There is not enough unreleased material for an obsessive fan and, for the uninitiated, too much unenlightening bluff on 'Retro' for it to serve its purpose. Which, presumably, was to chronicle one of the most remarkable chapters in music history.
Source: Ben Gilbert (DotMusic)