Album cover for New Order Education, Entertainment, Recreation

Album Review: New Order – Education, Entertainment, Recreation (Live)

Something happened last year preventing me from seeing New Order for the first time in nearly 30 years.

I forget. I can’t remember what happened…Oh! Now I remember.

Hopefully, that too long of a streak ends in October as New Order and Pet Shop Boys rescheduled their 2020 tour with a date at one of the best places in the world to watch a concert. The Gorge. A place I have fond memories with and the location of one of the best concerts I have ever witnessed.

Until then, New Order tantalizes fans with their latest live release Education, Entertainment, Recreation (Live at Alexandra Palace) out May 7. New Order is no stranger to the live album as this marks their sixth live album, their last just a few years ago and the fifth in the last ten years.

Recorded in 2018 during their concert held at London’s Alexandra Palace, Education, Entertainment, Recreation (Live at Alexandra Palace) offers a robust  2-hour, 21 song career spanning set filled with deep album cuts, newer tracks, of course a number of hits, and a few when New Order was previously known as Joy Division.

New Order hasn’t released an album of new material since 2015’s Music Complete but last year unveiled the excellent single “Be a Rebel” showing the band remains in fine (time) form. Bernard Sumner leads on vocals and guitar as he has since the band’s inception in 1980, along with original drummer Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert who started with the band on keyboards . Phil Cunningham joined in 2011 on guitar and Tom Chapman replaced Peter Hook on bass in 2011.


New Order Education, Entertainment, Recreation Album Review

Live albums require a bit of finesse to get the right sound. Ideally, you get an authentic representation of the live experience giving you an idea of what’s it’s like in person. The energy, crowd noise and overall excitement of being there obviously lost but for the most part what you hear is probably what you get on Education, Entertainment, Recreation (Live at Alexandra Palace) with New Order playing exceptionally well, they keep the songs clean – in that they don’t migrate far from the studio version – and their sound and/or recording engineer hit all the checkmarks.

Sumner, however, in his early 60s for this recording arguably doesn’t have the range he had in his 30s, something quite evident on many of the songs. Arguably, however, you hear how Sumner sounds live. Because previous New Order live albums, even from 10 years ago, detail little difference in Sumner’s vocals then and now. So perhaps, without the benefit of the studio and the ability to dial in his vocals with the music, Sumner might just not have the overall vocal chops to translate into a live performance. (My memory of their show at the Hollywood Bowl in 1993 was New Order seemed tired and ready to end the tour and nothing regarding the vocals.)

Of course, all of the above might apply.

But here’s the thing, a raw take for a live album simply accentuates that, which you have no idea of, when enjoying the show, which only comes out after the fact. All that to say, for those unfamiliar with New Order’s past live releases,  get used to a different set of vocals when listening to Education, Entertainment, Recreation.

The opening walk-on music “Das Rheingold: Vorslpiel” helps put you there and after a minute or so the crowd erupts in cheers indicating the band members have taken the stage. New Order begins the evening with “Singularity” one of three off Music Complete. Great guitar work on this for a keyboard-centric band. “Regret” follows and the vocals just don’t fall in line with the original version.

More or less, Education, Entertainment, Recreation traverses back and forth between those songs where Sumner manages the vocals and those sounding off key. In fact, songs like “Academic,” “Ultraviolence,” “Disorder,” and “Love Vigilantes” work well because of the lower octave Sumner sings on these tracks. Unfortunately,  classics like “Crystal,” “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “Vanishing Point” and “True Faith” did not fare as well.

Overall, New Order and Hook may have parted ways but Chapman delivers some powerful lines especially pronounced on the Joy Division cut “Disorder” from the very first album, “Blue Monday” and “Crystal.”  The very cool, almost tribal-like drum beat made “Ultraviolence” one to experience live and “Academic” off their latest was a great addition to the set as was “Waiting for the Siren’s Call” off the 2005 album of the same name.  The piano mix for “True Faith” gave this one new life, despite the vocals, and the opening for “Bizarre Love Triangle” helped pull you right in to the show.

The live album not only gives a taste of the live experience for fans unable to make it or a souvenir for those who did, but also to perhaps introduce new and old fans to songs generally overlooked like “Singularity,” “Atmosphere” from the Joy Division days and the sleepy “Your Silent Face” off 1983’s Power, Corruption & Lies.  “Academic” brings to mind older New Order with newer sounds blended on this deeper Music Complete  track.

New Order ended the show kind of with a whimper. No indication of when the encore occurred, but the penultimate “Decades” just way to slow and boring while show closer “Love Will Tear Us Apart” should have opened the encore and New Order ending with an upbeat banger.

Grade: B-

New Order Education, Entertainment, Recreation Songs:

  1. Das Rheingold: Vorslpiel
  2. Singularity
  3. Regret
  4. Love Vigilantes
  5. Ultraviolence
  6. Disorder
  7. Crystal
  8. Academic
  9. You Silent Face
  10. Sub-culture
  11. Bizarre Love Triangle
  12. Vanishing Point
  13. Waiting for the Siren’s Call
  14. Plastic
  15. The Perfect Kiss
  16. True Faith
  17. Blue Monday
  18. Temptation
  19. Atmosphere
  20. Decades
  21. Love Will tear Us Apart