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‘Lost Sirens’: Why New Order’s “Outtakes” Album Stands On Its Own
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In Depth

‘Lost Sirens’: Why New Order’s “Outtakes” Album Stands On Its Own

Dusted down after years ‘in a cupboard’, New Order’s ‘Lost Sirens’ album includes some of the group’s best music.

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Lost Sirens occupies a unique niche in New Order’s wider body of work. Featuring eight tracks clocking in at just under 40 minutes, it certainly constitutes a full-blown album, though the way its contents have been perceived, and even its title, have let it to be thought of as a collection of offcuts, rather than a standalone album in its own right.

Listen to ‘Lost Sirens’ here.

“‘Lost Sirens’? Well, it’s not really lost”

“It saddens me a little that Lost Sirens is thought of as an album of outtakes from Waiting The Sirens’ Call, because it realty isn’t,” Bernard Sumner wrote in his memoir, Chapter And Verse. “It’s actually a second, unfinished album.”

“Lost Sirens? Well, it’s not really lost,” Stephen Morris contended in a statement issued in December 2012, a month ahead of the album’s release. “I remember that Martin Hannett once had the idea of making a record and burying it in his garden, so that one day someone would dig it up, like a time capsule,” the drummer continued, referencing one of the many outlandish ideas that the late Joy Division producer had. “We just stuck our record in a cupboard. And now we’ve got it out.”

As Sumner suggested, Lost Sirens is often perceived as an album of “outtakes” dating from the sessions for New Order’s eighth studio album, Waiting For The Sirens’ Call. Though that’s broadly accurate, in that its eight tracks were captured during the 2003 to 2004 sessions which also produced Waiting For The Sirens’ Call, the band were always planning to keep these songs in reserve for their next official studio album. At least that was the plan until bassist and founder member Peter Hook left New Order, in 2007.

After Hook’s departure, the tracks were shelved, and the project was put on ice while New Order went on hiatus. When the group re-formed in 2011, unveiling a new line-up with Tom Chapman replacing Hook on bass and Gillian Gilbert returning on keyboards, the band revisited the material held over from the Waiting For The Sirens’ Call sessions, with a view to giving it an official release.

“We were going through a particularly prolific period”

“When we did the first one we had 20 ideas for songs – we were going through a particularly prolific period,” Morris further explained in late 2012. “But we couldn’t make a double concept album out of them all, so we thought we’d just do two instead.

“The intention was always to write four or five more songs and then put it out 18 months after the first one,” he added. “When we unearthed it from the cupboard recently, with the intention of re-editing some of the songs, we all agreed they didn’t actually need it, and it should just be out there, so here it is.”

New Order were right to refrain from further tinkering: Lost Sirens sounds just fine as it is. Its eight tracks derived from sessions helmed by several different producers, including Stephen Street, Tore Johannsson and Electronic/The Charlatans studio alumnus Jim Spencer, yet while Morris later quipped that “there were a lot of cooks and there was a lot of broth”, Lost Sirens lacks neither cohesion nor inspiration. Indeed, it includes a tranche of seriously excellent tracks.

“We still had the drive and passion for writing great songs”

Sonically, the record is largely an extension of the sound New Order favoured on both 2001’s Get Ready and Waiting For The Sirens’ Call. Most of the songs feature a discreet amount of electronic filigree, and Sugarcane is a slinky, dancefloor-friendly number in the same vein as Waiting For The Sirens’ Call’s Jetstream. But, for the most part, Lost Sirens provides a positive boon for fans who feel the best New Order songs find the group in their guitar-driven mode.

Featuring one of Sumner’s most assured vocals, pensive opener I’ll Stay With You sets the tone, with the band also throwing commendably angular shapes on Californian Grass, and Hook making decisive bass lunges on I’ve Got A Feeling and the shape-shifting, Mac Quayle-produced Shake It Up. Elsewhere, the superb Recoil started life with the working title “Scott Walker”, yet in practice its multi-layered melodies exude the richness of John Barry. Also a stand-out, the closing I Told You So skilfully blends Morris’ hypnotic drum tattoo with some strategic samples and a palpable, Velvet Underground-esque air of menace in order to create something significantly greater than the sum of its parts.

Lost Sirens’ initial release, on 11 January 2013, found it snagging some welcome plaudits (The Independent’s review suggested it “actually bests its parent album”), and it landed in the UK Top 40, peaking at No.23. Far from a stop-gap release, the collection remains an eminently satisfying listen on its own terms.

“The things I like about Lost Sirens are that’s it’s very lush-sounding, big and well-produced,” Peter Hook reflected in a 2013 Mojo interview. “Despite everything that’s happened since then, hearing these songs again reminded me that even as late as when we were making Waiting For The Sirens’ Call, we still had the drive and passion for writing great songs in New Order.”

‘Lost Sirens’ Track-By-Track: A Guide To Every Song On The Album

I’ll Stay With You

One of several producers employed during the Waiting For The Sirens’ Call/Lost Sirens period, Stephen Street (Blur, The Smiths) oversaw the recording of Lost Sirens’ opening track, I’ll Stay With You, and his presence brought stability to the sessions. “Stephen Street used an engineer called Cenzo Townshend, who was excellent. They would turn out to be a great team,” Peter Hook recalled in Substance: Inside New Order. “Stephen had a very good manner and was very easy to work with.”

Certainly, Street and Townshend achieved a blissful unity which more than benefits I’ll Stay With You. A terse, yet muscular rock song featuring a surging Hook bassline and a commanding Bernard Sumner vocal, it fits comfortably into the lineage of New Order’s introspective, guitar-driven classics, running from their debut single, Ceremony, through to the bracing Restless, from 2015’s Music Complete.

Sugarcane

Swedish producer Tore Johannson (a-ha, The Cardigans, Suede) was the first person to man the console during the Lost Sirens sessions, though, according to Hook, “He came and went. He had actually managed to lose the bass I had spent days doing on Sugarcane.” Even devoid of Hook’s contribution, Sugarcane is a typically seamless New Order juxtaposition of electronica and rock instrumentation. With a housey piano riff adding a Balearic flavour that recalls the band’s Technique album, it’s a starry-eyed cousin of Waiting For The Sirens’ Call’s Jetstream and stands as Lost Sirens’ slinkiest and most dancefloor-friendly outing.

Recoil

Co-produced by New Order and Jim Spencer (The Charlatans), Recoil is arguably Lost Sirens’ high-water mark, but it’s also something of a departure for the band. The song’s original working title (“Scott Walker”) hints at its widescreen aspirations, but its lush instrumentation and sophisticated melodies are far more redolent of John Barry. Indeed, if you think the idea of New Order penning a James Bond theme seems unlikely, then Recoil will make you think again, for Sumner and co pull off this venture into swooning, cinematic pop with gusto.

Californian Grass

Another track overseen by Stephen Street, Californian Grass is a moody, shape-throwing rocker driven by Hook’s lunging bass and Stephen Morris’ insistent drumming. It also reminded its primary writer, Bernard Sumner, of Iggy Pop (“I distinctly remember sitting in my studio late one night and thinking, It’s a bit Iggy, that vocal, it’s exactly the kind of phrasing and pitch he’d use,” Sumner wrote in his memoir, Chapter And Verse). This discovery led to New Order inviting The Stooges’ legendary frontman to perform the song with them at the annual Tibet House benefit concert at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, in 2014. Pop accepted the invitation and, a year later, again collaborated with New Order on Music Complete’s Stray Dog.

Hellbent

Lost Sirens was first released in January 2013, but New Order fans had an advance preview of the album, courtesy of Hellbent, which was included on 2011’s career-spanning retrospective, Total: From Joy Division To New Order. The song’s quality augured well, too, for Hellbent was another typically seamless fusion of electronica and angular, guitar-driven rock, with Sumner’s world-weary lyric (“Too many girlfriends and not enough love/Too many late nights and not enough sleep”) leavened by a rousing, well-placed chorus.

Shake It Up

Shake It Up was co-produced by Emmy Award-winning US composer/arranger Mac Quayle, better known for his soundtrack world in film (The Lincoln Lawyer, Contagion) and TV (the CBS drama Cold Case) than for his track record in rock and pop. Quayle’s presence clearly encouraged New Order to think visually, too, for Shake It Up is a strident, dramatic effort driven by big beats, searing guitars and another of Peter Hook’s best basslines.

I’ve Got A Feeling

The last of the quartet of consistently fine Lost Sirens tracks co-produced by Stephen Street, I’ve Got A Feeling is also the most unashamedly poppy of the four. The song’s pensive intro wrong-foots the listener before an atypically funky verse leads into a sublime sunburst of a chorus aided and abetted by Sumner and Phil Cunningham’s expressive guitars and an absolute doozy of a bassline from Hook. With hindsight, it should probably have been issued as the lead single for Lost Sirens, as it’s got “hit” stamped all over it.

I Told You So (Crazy World Remix)

Though the relatively brief Lost Sirens concludes with a remix of a previously released song, the Crazy World reworking of Waiting For The Sirens’ Call’s I Told You So does far more than make up the numbers. Indeed, the song was radically reimagined for Lost Sirens, with the infectious electro-funk of the Jim Spencer-produced original almost completely eradicated. Instead, Crazy World (effectively New Order in tandem with Madonna/Kylie Minogue producer Stuart Price) rework I Told You So from the bottom up, with a dense new mix and Morris’ newly recorded, tom-heavy drum track inserting a hypnotic insistency reminiscent of one of the band’s earliest influences, The Velvet Underground.

Buy New Order vinyl, box sets and more at the Dig! store.

Original article: 11 January 2022

Updated: 11 January 2023

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