If there’s nothing original left to say, is there really a point to saying it?
The New Division obviously owes a debt to New Order and its predecessor, Joy Division, but on Shadows, the band sounds more like The New Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Here’s another group for whom the 1990s never happened, with a synthy, boppy bed and glitchy electronic drums to dance upon and echoey tenor vocals laid across the top. In short, director John Hughes (Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles, etc.) may be dead, but music inspired by soundtracks to his films is definitely not.
In fact, “post-new-wave” music is a relatively recent development. From the dance party craziness of Chromeo and Black Kids to the mournful faux-goth electro leanings of Washed Out and Besnard Lakes, inspirations have been drawn from the electronic approach of synth provocateurs such as Depeche Mode, Erasure and even ’80s pretty boys Duran Duran.
The New Division clearly has never met a music trope from the 1980s that it didn’t like, so, on “shallow play” one can hear the electropop sound of Tears For Fears in the milieu of the space-rock ambiance of A Flock of Seagulls. “Violent” begins with such a Yaz moment that one half-expects to bump into Alison Moyet Upstairs at Eric’s, but it clearly reduces its aspirations to The Fixx doing soundtrack music. Where is Michael Pare to save the day when this post-apocalyptic soundstage needs a hero?
The opening cut sounds like it could have been a New Order b-side or a Camouflage cut lost in the annals of time.
“Hearts For Sale” even introduces some screamadelica-licious back-beat-addicted rhythms a la Primal Scream or their Madchester homies The Stone Roses, along with crafting an atmosphere reminiscent of the latter’s “I Wanna Be Adored.”
“True Lies” provides a basis for connecting 80s ethereal guitar/synthpop auteurs Cocteau Twins to today’s Besnard Lakes, with the electronic rhythmic intricacy of the former and the soaring, falsetto Beach Boys-like vocals of the latter. Regrettably, the song only appears to relate thematically to the James Cameron-Arnold Schwarzenegger spend-athon.
“Munich” might as well be set in “China” for all of its similarity to the Red Rockers’ song of that name, although a certain sonic similarity to Norwegian songsmiths of the ’80s A-Ha can’t be denied either (this is also noticeable toward the end of the song “Sense”).
One can actually picture The Breakfast Club dancing across high school desks to “Sense,” or a dream sequence between Molly Ringwald and Jake Ryan. Or maybe she just wants to run downtown to meet Ducky at the record store. The compellingly jangly guitar line that kicks in with some 90 seconds to go comes close to redeeming it, but it quickly comes back to its “senses” and introduces a synthesizer bed, programmed drums and whooping falsetto vox.
Curiously enough, the title track is little more than an instrumental transition, but perhaps members of The New Division selected this name as their title to indicate the ambient through-line they are trying to project. Despite the lyrics of “Soft,” it’s clear that what they have “all figured out” is OMD’s “Enola Gay.”
At the end of these 14 synthpop confections, The New Division bring to mind a line from Detective Frank Drebin (as played by Leslie Nielsen) in The Naked Gun: “It’s like eating a spoonful of Drano. Sure, it’ll clean you out, but it’ll leave you hollow inside.” Shadows is merely a collection of shadows from the past, a clearinghouse of the synthesized past that only can result in a future of hollowness.
The New Division – Shadows tracklist:
- “Shallow Play”
- “True Lies”
- “LA Noire”
- “Hearts for Sale”
- “Shadows II”
- “Saturday Night”