British electronic-pop pioneers New Order seem to have a problem compiling themselves. The band's first hits collection, 1987's Substance, got things right for the most part, featuring all of the band's A- and B-sides to date over two CDs, but the set was marred by subpar rerecordings of classic tunes like "Temptation" and "Confusion." Then in 1994, the band foolishly tried to cram seven more years of highlights onto but one album, (The Best Of) New Order, which was solid but somewhat lacking. Finally, with the release of Retro, a deluxe four-CD boxed set, one would think that the ultimate New Order collection had finally hit the shelves.
Well, yes and no. While Retro sports material for the casual fan and diehard collector alike, ultimately it ends up pleasing neither entirely. Each disc was compiled by a different "big-name" New Order fan, and each sports a different theme: British journalist Miranda Sawyer covers the singles (well, most of them) on disc one, fellow Brit scribe John McCready features "fan-favorite" album tracks on disc two, DJ Mike Pickering handles the club cuts and remixes on disc three, and Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie compiles a live disc for the finale.
While the concept is novel enough, it ultimately ends up working against itself. Sure, Sawyer is bright enough to include the original takes of "Temptation" and "Confusion," but no one thought to throw in the sublime "Thieves Like Us." McCready's selection leaves some favorites untouched, while including tracks many had previously considered nothing more than filler. With such a stellar back catalog to harvest, the formatting inevitably leads to someone's favorite being left off, while hardly including enough rarities to make the set a must for collectors.
Complaints aside, though, the material is top-notch. From the minimal thump of the still-mighty "Blue Monday" to the effortless hooks of "Crystal" and all stops in between, New Order has provided more pop thrills and irresistible beats than any other band in the past two decades. Sure, you can't please all the people all the time, but Retro still demands respect for sheer musical quality. It's a testament to the band's greatness that a four-CD boxed set leaves you wanting more.