Album Insight: New Order – Waiting For The Sirens’ Call
By Steve O'Brien | September 13, 2023
New Order’s eighth LP, Waiting For The Sirens’ Call, would be the band’s first record without Gillian Gilbert and while critics were left mostly unmoved, it hit the spot with fans…
It was during the Get Ready tour that former Marion axeman (and Electronic touring member) Phil Cunningham first played with New Order, but it wasn’t until 2005’s Waiting For The Sirens’ Call that he became a bona fide member of the band.
But as Cunningham was coming in, Gillian Gilbert was bowing out. Though she’d sat out the Get Ready tour, Sirens’ Call would be the first album not to feature her distinctive keyboard work.
“The ideas that became the basis for Waiting For The Sirens’ Call were the first we’d written with Phil, and the process was very productive,” Stephen Morris recalled in his memoir Fast Forward.
“Although Phil had ended up taking Gillian’s place on the keyboards at gigs, I honestly think synthesising was something he was never particularly relaxed about. The guitar was Phil’s main instrument, and he had no shortage of ideas for songs. We became unusually prolific and amassed a large quantity of mainly guitar-based ideas.”
With the only woman (and only member responsible for any electronica) gone, only seems to have only hardened New Order’s reinvention as a rock band as Waiting For The Sirens’ Call, with a few notable exceptions, doubles down on the live-in-the-studio Oasis-isms of Get Ready.
Recording took place at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studio in Box and in nearby St Catherine’s Court near Bath, a Grade 1-listed manor house rumoured, to the band’s apparent delight, to be haunted.
“My room was reputed to be the most haunted, where an illegitimate offspring had reputedly been roasted on the ancient fireplace,” Morris wrote in Fast Forward. “But, despite the 15th century baby’s crib that occasionally rocked by itself, the spirits didn’t trouble me much. The scratching coming from behind the oak-panelled walls was probably just rats, I speculated hopefully.”
Arriving a mere four years after Get Ready, New Order’s eighth studio long-player feels very much like its companion piece, as evidenced by its opening track. Who’s Joe plays rather like Get Ready’s Crystal, only without that song’s driving sense of purpose.
Hey Now What You Doing, meanwhile, kicks off with what sounds like a patented Peter Buck guitar intro, before settling down to a mid-paced rumble, fettered with lyrics that even Sumner might wince at now (“Is it love or is it hate/ Banging on an open gate”).
- Read more: New Order – the later years
Title track Waiting For The Sirens’ Call made for an unremarkable third single (Hooky claimed in his autobiography that it was Bernard’s favourite New Order song), though lead-off 7” Krafty was a pleasing liquification of the electronic sounds of old and the band’s rockier present.
Named for Kraftwerk, its swirling keyboards and Hooky’s soupy bass make it one of the album’s standouts, even though Sumner’s lyrics are – once again – found a little wanting (“I think the world is a beautiful place, with mountains, lakes and the human race”).
If Krafty is a high point, I Told You So is the album’s nadir, a lumpen reggae tryout that should have been relegated to a B-side, if not dumped altogether. Much better is Morning Night And Day which, although sounding like Monaco if Hooky had Barney on the mic, is a solid rocker.
Dracula’s Castle is a pleasantly synthy contrast, while Jetstream features Scissor Sisters’ Ana Matronic and is New Order at their most unblushingly pop. The house-y Guilt Is A Useless Emotion is a full-on stormer, while Turn melds the alt-rock of Lemonheads with the airy jangle-pop of The Smiths.
Album closer Working Overtime, meanwhile, has Sumner sounding uncannily like Bobby Gillespie, while the song’s Stooges-like riffs takes it even nearer to Give Out But Don’t Give Up-era Primal Scream.
Unlike previous records, which had either been produced by the band or the group in conjunction with a single producer, Sirens’ Call was the result of many different behind-the-scenes names, with Stephen Street, Jim Spencer, John Leckie, Tore Johansson, Mac Quayle, Stuart Price and Steve Osborne all contributing to the record.
“There were a lot of cooks and a lot of broth, so things got spilt at times,” Morris recalled.
Like Get Ready, critics were split on Waiting For The Sirens’ Call. Writing for The Guardian, Alexis Petridis said: “Too much of the album passes by in a pleasantly inconsequential blur. Bernard Sumner’s lyrics sound dashed-off even by his famously sketchy standards” while the NME wrote that “it lives up to every predictable stylistic retread that entails, to the point of self-parody.”
The album would peak at No.5, one place better than Get Ready, whilst its singles – Krafty, Jetstream and Waiting For The Sirens’ Call would hit Nos 8, 20 and 21 respectively. Of course, the record would be the last regular LP to feature Peter Hook.
Though Waiting For The Sirens’ Call could hardly call itself a classic New Order album, it did at least feature those irresistible – and absolutely distinctive – Hooky basslines. Whatever New Order did after this, it would be without this crucial sonic component.
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Steve O'BrienSteve O’Brien is a writer who specialises in music, film and TV. He has written for magazines and websites such as SFX, The Guardian, Radio Times, Esquire, The New Statesman, Digital Spy, Empire, Yours Retro, The New Statesman and MusicRadar. He’s written books about Doctor Who and Buffy The Vampire Slayer and has even featured on a BBC4 documentary about Bergerac. Apart from his work on Classic Pop, he also edits CP’s sister magazine, Vintage Rock Presents.