Grandfathered into coolness by their tenure in Joy Division, the members of New Order never had to consider fashion when writing songs. That freedom spawned an amazing, groundbreaking, and almost impossibly disparate '80s catalog of computer-assisted pop: The road from dour post-punkisms (1981's Movement) to wonderfully naïve synth-rock (1983's high-water mark Power, Corruption & Lies) to shiny, happy house-pop (1989's Technique) is notable not only for its solidity, but for its unexpected bends and twists. Whatever shape New Order took, it always remained convincing and unpredictable.
Things quickly got rocky after 1990, though: New Order's principals scattered to decent side projects (Electronic, The Other Two, Revenge), reconvening for 1993's Republic, a mostly disappointing dance-rock album whose faults were almost forgivable in light of its incredible lead single, "Regret." Eight years passed before the more rocking Get Ready, another middling album buoyed by a solid single. Waiting For The Sirens' Call, New Order's eighth proper album, brings another first for the British band: It just treads water, running through familiar themes and sounds without sparking much new life. It's the aural equivalent of 15 pieces of flair—flashy and notable, but the minimum allowed.
Even when predictable, though, New Order can occasionally sound great: Waiting hits the mark enough times to save it from outright dismissal. "Krafty" pays tribute to Kraftwerk with both its title and its keyboard swirl, but tacks on Peter Hook's irresistible basslines and Bernard Sumner's droll vocals, each delivered with grace and experience. Without Hook's hooks, there wouldn't be much of a record—or much of a band. Rather than a thumping undercurrent, his instrument provides as much melody to New Order's songs as the voice or guitar. For his part, Sumner brings his alternately moving and cringe-worthy lyrics to the table: Quoting every clumsy couplet could fill a fat pamphlet, but consider that "You've gotta hold your head up high / You know it's not too late to try" (from the otherwise fine "Hey Now What You Doing") sounds almost poetic compared to some of Waiting's even-lesser lyrics. When all elements click—about a third of the time—the album can be feisty fun. In the context of New Order's catalog, it may sink to the bottom, but listening to a great (or at least once-great) band phone it in can at least occasionally be rewarding enough to make the effort worthwhile.