At this point, the history of New Order is mythic. Like something Ovidian or divined by celestial heat, it is a creation story that begins in total darkness: "the dim rubble that was Joy Division fell, cleared, and gave way to a new earth— a New Order." The group's triumph today, 35 years since its original formation, is due only in part to its initial phoenix-from-the-ash story; it is just as informed by the changes that have taken place since its reunion in 2001.
Handsomely crafted, freshly configured and at least a little oily, "Plastic," off the Manchester band's cockily and righteously titled tenth studio album, Music Complete, is one of its most New Order-y songs since 1993's Republic. This too is a feat, since Music is the first album of new tracks (not outtakes) without the signature sound of co-founder Peter Hook's bass (he departed sourly in 2007) — though it does mark the return of original keyboardist Gillian Gilbert after a 14-year hiatus.
As with all of New Order's finest, the song is fatless and crystalline — no cloudy chord changes, no Trojan-Horse song structures — just clean, modulated Newness. It comes in silky layers: (1) the latest in rhythm-technology textures, (2) a beat as sparkling and carbonated as something produced by Giorgio Moroder for Donna Summer, and (3) synths that crest and fall like sine waves. As ever, vocalist Bernard Sumner's speak-singing is the gleaming glass topcoat, sealing the track with a serene little lyrical jab in it's coda: "You're like plastic, you're artificial........!"
The machinations of "Plastic" tell us that New Order understands the degree to which a band — an order — can remain locked in time. The myth persists. Reincarnated again and again, they remain just what they've always claimed to be — immortally, eternally, New.
Music Complete is out now on Mute.