Rob Da Bank’s Bestival festival is back again this year (with a cheeky nautical theme!), which contributes to my general impression that New Order’s 2012 headline set did not in fact sink the Isle of Wight with the force of its brilliance, that a live recording is not the single most sought after artefact of the twenty-first century.
So what’s the deal with Live at Bestival, then? Nominally it exists as a charitable effort, with proceeds raised going to the Isle of Wight Youth Trust. In that respect the band was presumably approached by Mr Da Bank, and would have been monstrous bastards to have said ‘no’ to releasing the record. It also sees New Order continuing a tradition started by old rivals The Cure, who topped the bill in 2011, and also released a Bestival live album for charidee (though they got to put out a double set – oof).
Presumably, though, one reason New Order were happy to sanction Live at Bestival was as a sort of oblique riposte to erstwhile bassist Peter Hook, a man who has spent the seven years since he left the band prostituting his legacy in the most shameless way possible while vocally accusing his former bandmates of being sell-outs.
I doubt that Barney, Steve, Gillian and the new guy sat around a table and decided they’d put out a record simply to annoy poor Hooky. But putting out an album that demonstrates the current line up’s undeniable competence at sounding like New Order is not a terrible idea, given Hooky’s repeated suggestions that it’s basically impossible – LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE - for anyone else to cover his bass parts.
So really, job done – Live at Bestival is a brightly recorded set that’s only vaguely hampered by Barney’s voice, but even that’s basically fine – he sound much as he does on record.
It’s enjoyable, and persuasive of what an impressively well-drilled wall of sound New Order can still throw up (the teaser intro to ‘True Faith’ is sublime) and how little the band’s songs have aged (they basically haven’t aged). But as a rule the lackadaisical New Order and the greatest hits-centric set they tour with aren’t the stuff of live album legend, and matters aren’t really helped by the fact large chunks of the set have been lopped out in order to make it into a single CD, with the likes of ‘Ceremony’ and ‘Crystal’ receiving the heave.
The peppering of New Order-performed Joy Division songs is the big novelty, though I’m not sure anybody in their right mind would buy this album just to hear them: ‘Isolation’ is too New Order-fied, its chilly bones overly fleshed out with a laidback Barney making no effort to sound even slightly like Ian Curtis; ‘Transmission’ is better, with the singer adopting something closer to his early mumble as guitars buzz and seethe; and ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is unexpectedly moving, the euphoric roar of the crowd as it starts up the sound of what this remarkable song has become.
If it’s the last thing New Order ever release, I suppose that rapturous version of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is a good place to end things, an aural representation of that song’s 33-year-long journey though the cultural imagination. The alternative, I suppose, is that New Order put out another new studio album, which will invariably be shit. But frankly I’d probably rather this most erratic of bands ended things with a dose of bathos – Live At Bestival would make for a perfunctory final bow.
6Andrzej Lukowski's Score