Never Cry Another Tear
I must admit I wasn’t terribly excited when I first heard about the debut CD by Bad Lieutenant. It had nothing to do with the images the name conjured of Harvey Keitel doing all manner of evil things in Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film of the same name (nor Werner Herzog’s blink-and-you-missed-it pseudo-remake last year with Nic Cage for that matter).
No, the reason I wasn’t terribly excited is because I feared it likely spelled the end of New Order, the band that head Bad Lieutenant Bernard Summer had led for many years. Sure the formation of the band had been preceded by the departure of New Order bassist Peter Hook (Hooky to the British press) to form (with all apologies to my bass-playing wife) the terrible-sounding, shades of Spinal Tap, all-bass supergroup Freebass (with Andy Rourke of The Smiths and Mani from The Stone Roses). But the formation of Bad Lieutenant, Sumner’s own supergroup, made New Order’s dissolution somehow seem more permanent. And I for one thought both of the post-reunion New Order records, 2001’s Get Ready and 2005’s Waiting for the Sirens’ Call, contained some of the strongest stuff the band had ever done.
The good news is I had little to fear. Bad Lieutenant’s debut sounds pretty much like, well, New Order. Opener “Sink or Swim” has an undeniable 12-string guitar riff and Sumner’s familiar voice. Of course his lyrics are still nonsense (news flash, they’ve always been nonsense). Most of them sound like first drafts that most people would rewrite.
“Whatcha’ doin’ with that stupid little girl / Stop your foolin’ / Don’t ya know it’s gonna hurt? / When she leaves you / And you give all you could give / You’ll be hurting / For the one you should be with,” he sings.
The tune has a brilliantly ’80s-tastic bridge part and, as in many of the tunes here, the guitars sound great. In addition to Sumner, the Bad Lieutenant lineup includes two other guitarists. Phil Cunningham is a veteran of the late period New Order (he joined following the departure of Gillian Gilbert). And third guitarist Jake Evans from the band Rambo and Leroy also contributes vocals on several tracks. They were joined in the studio by New Order drummer Stephen Morris (who tours with the band, though he’s not an “official” member) and Blur bassist Alex James (who does not).
“Twist of Fate” and other tunes here have killer choruses. “Summer Days” has a bass groove that even Hooky and his all-bass supergroup would have to admire. The guitars sound like Sumner might have learned a thing or two from his former bandmate in the electronic side project, Johnny Marr. There is a touch of the late ’80s and early ’90s in the Balearic house music piano and a fantastic guitar jam on the fade out. What more do you want?
Unless it’s “Dynamo,” which has a cool “Won’t Get Fooled Again”-style breakdown with Morris in the Keith Moon role and presumably James as John Entwistle.
Not even Sumner’s disposable lyrics can ruin the effect.
“Hey there, whatcha gonna do? / Keep the faith inside of you / This whole world could fall apart/ But you’re still the brightest star,” he sings.
On the next track, “Poisonous Intent,” he offers these nuggets of wisdom: “Hey bad man, where are you gonna go / When you can’t go back to the life you know.” Someone really needs to tell Sumner not to start every song with the word “hey.” The band attempts to get funky, but the tune ultimately wears out its welcome.
Evans takes the lead vocals on the pretty acoustic guitar and piano number “These Changes,” which sounds a bit like Morning Glory-era Oasis. Evans has a pleasant voice and sounds like a lot of people (including Sumner, which can make things confusing).
Of anything here, “Runaway,” with Sumner back on lead vocals, sounds the most like late period New Order, floating effortlessly between the electronic and acoustic realms. “Shine Like the Sun,” on the other hand, with another terrific Evans vocal, sounds like Sumner ripping off “Love Vigilantes” from New Order’s classic 1985 album Low-Life.
Mellotron and cascading piano color Evans’ “Head Into Tomorrow,” which like “Dynamo” has a certain Who-like quality. Sumner offers up a come-out-of-nowhere chorus on “Falling Tree” before Evans wraps things up in fine fashion on “Split the Atom.”
Have we seen the last of New Order, the last of Sumner and Hooky together? I kinda doubt it given their more than 30-year history, first in Joy Division and then in New Order. But who knows? Bad Lieutenant proves to be worthy substitute, with plenty of familiar sounds but a few new wrinkles as well. Now if I could just get that image of Harvey Keitel out of my head.
Bad Lieutenant: badlieutenant.net