Shadow Party review: New Order and Devo members form so-so supergroup
Ever since Eric Clapton convened Cream in 1966, the dreaded word “supergroup” prompts a potent mixture of curiosity, dread, fear, and outright hostility. For every Abba or The Three Tenors, a short-lived flash in the pan arouses anger and derision, such as David Bowie’s much-maligned hard rock side-project Tin Machine, who played a secret gig in the Baggot Inn in 1991.
Shadow Party boast members of New Order, Devo, Marion and Bad Lieutenant in their ranks. Nick McCabe of The Verve, Denise Johnson of Primal Scream, LA-based DJ Whitney Fierce, and arranger Joe Duddell, all also contribute to their self-titled debut album.
The classic Joy Division song Shadowplay from Unknown Pleasures, memorably featuring Ian Curtis intoning “to the centre of the city in the night, waiting for you”, immediately springs to mind. While there is nothing here to match the peerless calibre and sheer class of that tune or band, Shadow Party have still delivered a decent if patchy debut.
The mix of personnel is certainly intriguing. Bassist Tom Chapman had one of the most challenging jobs in modern rock: filling the shoes of bass legend and larger-than-life Mancunian Peter Hook when he finally walked away from New Order in 2011. It somehow all went to plan, as a new line-up delivered a fantastic 2015 album, Music Complete, which was arguably the best New Order album since Technique back in the hazy Ibizan mists of 1989. New Order used to be an unpredictable live entity, and a Glastonbury appearance I saw was awful, but they’ve brilliantly raised their game in recent years.
Chapman brings his experience and extensive contacts to Shadow Party and is joined by fellow New Order member Phil Cunningham on guitars and keyboards, plus Devo members Josh Hager on lead vocals and drummer Jeff Friedl.
It kicks off with the euphoric Celebrate, which did the viral rounds with a very pleasant football-themed video at the height of England’s World Cup fever, and lest we forget, New Order are pretty good at that sort of thing.
The other lead single, Present Tense, is a much weaker link, despite the best efforts and talents of Denise Johnson. In addition to working with A Certain Ratio, Johnson was in Primal Scream from 1990 to 1995, which in itself is a staggering achievement considering the Scream Team were a drug-addled circus for most of the 1990s, although she notably sung lead vocals on the terrific Don’t Fight It, Feel It on the era-defining Screamadelica.
Johnson cowrites and duets on Present Tense, which is a reasonable tune and a bit of a bitter-sweet grower, but it is simply not strong enough to elevate Shadow Party to the same league as their past and present projects.
The best on show here is Marigold, which sparkles because it sounds like the album’s most unforced and organic track. When you read on a press release that a band have recorded their debut in Boston, LA, Manchester and Macclesfield, it raises the suspicion that perhaps they’re trying a little too hard. Marigold is a good example of how good they can be when they kick back and discover the magic.
Shadow Party are reportedly a very exciting live prospect, which is hardly surprising given their collective experience and finesse. An early summer live debut took place in an old 1930s cinema in Northwich at a festival curated by The Charlatans, and they’re billed as one of the star attractions at Festival No 6 in Wales in mid-September.
While ShadowParty have plenty of promise and a bit of swagger, they’ve still got some way to go to emulate the sonic achievements and brilliance of their respective bands and back catalogues.