"Would you like me to play you a song?” asks Peter Hook, the bassist for New Order, as he plucks the strings on a long bass guitar in a conference room on the first floor of the Soho Grand Hotel. With his rangy beard, long, curly brown-blond hair, and northern-England accent, Hook looks and sounds something like a Renaissance-era troubadour. This almost courtly scene is an unlikely way to encounter a band whose very name signals the modernist distrust of the past and that has managed to revolutionize pop music twice over. First, Hook and bandmates Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris were members of the legendary post-punk band Joy Division in the late seventies, combining the wide-open sonic spaces of dub with claustral, melancholy lyrics. Then, in the wake of front man Ian Curtis’s suicide in 1980, the remaining members of Joy Division recombined as New Order; by the early eighties, the band was masterfully fusing a purist punk-rock ethos with electronic dance grooves. Hook & Co. created some of the most innovative, and most pleasurable, pop music of their era.
But Peter Hook’s minstrel-hippie mien can’t help but make you wonder just what era New Order now believes it’s in. With its new release, Waiting for the Sirens’ Call, the band seems firmly planted in the more emotionally direct sort of rock that marked its early releases. The songs are lilting and melodic and could be played acoustically without any significant reduction in power or resonance. “Our fans were complaining because they missed the prettiness,” Hook says. “So we went back to what we did best, we sort of relaxed, and that’s why it’s so lovely. ‘Lovely,’ I think, is a nice way to describe it.”
This new, lovelier New Order is partly the result of age. “As you get older you tend to get lighter,” says Hook, who will turn 50 next year. But New Order’s lightness, its ease with itself, is also a direct outgrowth of the band’s tragic past. “When you come off something as traumatic as the lead singer’s suicide, you have to be optimistic, really,” Hook explains. “The thing is, we all thought Joy Division would be finished then. And yet here we are 25 years afterward still playing Joy Division material, and people are making films about Ian.”
The legacy of Joy Division is so potent that it tends to overshadow New Order. And the earlier band is gaining a fresh bout of renown thanks to the many film projects surrounding it. Jude Law is rumored to be up for the lead role in the upcoming Ian Curtis biopic tentatively titled Control, Moby is working on yet another film about the band, and Curtis was played by Sean Harris with vivid, twitchy intensity in the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People. But Hook says he doesn’t mind. “We’ve been asked to meet with the producers of Control, which is great,” says Hook, “and we’re meeting Moby later for dinner. I mean, two Ian Curtis films? It’s fucking wild, innit? But I loved Ian. In all the years since he’s been dead, we’ve never been without him. He’s always there. He’s not there. But he’s always there, and he’s always fucking everywhere else. I live with him every day, someone mentions him every day, I hear him every day, so I’m absolutely fine with all of this. One thing the transition from Joy Division to New Order did was give us the opportunity to look at it all more objectively.”
But New Order is an enormous influence in its own right. Up-and-coming bands and pop stars—e.g., the Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, Bloc Party, and (yes) Moby, who covers the band’s hit “Temptation” on new CD Hotel—have clearly adopted New Order as a key reference point and stylistic influence. “It was weird at the beginning, but I suppose I’ve gotten used to it,” Hook says of the many acts now staking claims to parts of New Order’s legacy. “It doesn’t change anything, though. It doesn’t give you money, doesn’t give you security. It’s like someone saying you’ve got a nice shirt on. It’s like, ‘Cheers, fucking great, thanks.’”
Much of Waiting for the Sirens’ Call is also a nod back to the band’s pop-romantic heyday—albeit without the pulsating synthesizers of its eighties work. “Simple is good; it’s very, very good,” Hook explains, “but it takes a long time to be simple. You tend to always overthink, to push yourself too far.” Waiting for the Sirens’ Call was made in a few months, a big change for a band that has famously taken years between projects. “We recorded eighteen songs, and we didn’t hear any B-sides,” Hook says. “So now we’re in the unique position of being three quarters of the way though our next LP, which I’m sure our fans will be over the fucking moon about because usually we take so long. It took 28 years for this to happen—but it finally happened.”