New Order: Retro

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New Order

Album: Retro
Label: Rhino

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The Joy Division/New Order repackaging game demands symmetry: New Order's 1987 singles collection Substance prompted a 1988 Joy Division set by the same name, and in 1995, The Best Of New Order and the Joy Division best-of Permanent shared similar packaging and promotion. The New Order four-disc box set Retro has just appeared, bearing the same design as Joy Division's four-disc Heart And Soul box from a couple of years back, but with a slight variation in philosophy. Heart And Soul packaged the bulk of its subject's three-year output, while Retro attempts to understand the more voluminous repertoire of its offshoot—which was born after Joy Division leader Ian Curtis hanged himself—by approaching it from four distinct directions. Disc one sports the subtitle "Pop," and was assembled by casual fan Miranda Sawyer, who puts together a set of the group's catchiest hits, including "Fine Time," "Bizarre Love Triangle," "Regret," and "Blue Monday." Disc two is dubbed "Fan," and has been sequenced by journalist John McCready, who starts with dour New Order tracks like "Elegia" and "In A Lonely Place," moves to rowdier numbers like "Sunrise" and "Broken Promise," and ends with the beautiful craziness of "Every Little Counts" and "Run Wild." Disc three ("Club") presents a collection of dance remixes chosen by Hacienda DJ Mike Pickering, and disc four ("Live") consists of live tracks picked by Primal Scream singer Bobby Gillespie. The last disc will likely pull in New Order fans, who otherwise may have had it with the group's clockwork anthologizing. Given the banks of synthesizers and sequencers that New Order uses in concert, it's not known as a great live act, but "Live" offers a surprising amount of variation on its signature hits, which draw new life from guitarist Bernard Sumner's slashing leads and the way his vocals explode from pinched to wailing. By and large, Retro is a nice-looking bookshelf stuffer, too unwieldy for newcomers and too redundant for the devout. Its greatest value lies in its expansive rebuttal to those who continue to revere Joy Division as the quintessential purveyor of angst-ridden post-punk storm-and-drone, and New Order as the sellout bastard child. Sure, New Order started out mournful and lightened up quickly, giving smart '80s teens and coke-sniffing yuppies a common point of reference. But the group's club-ready beats and hooks always supported a strong expression of emotional unsteadiness. New Order's songs sound as frustrated, confused, and despairing as Ian Curtis at his most suicidal, but they're also more mature, more complex, and in many ways more rewarding.

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