In the 90’s it was Electronic, in the 00’s it’s Bad Lieutenant, a title borrowed from a rather repugnant film starring Harvey Keitel who plays a drug-addicted lowlife law enforcer. This time around it’s not a solo project but a new band, Bernard Sumner retaining the services of Phil Cunningham (New Order 2001-2007) and Salford-born newcomer Jake Evans on guitar/vocals, whom Sumner found in a local pub (seems he’s been taking recruitment tips from Mark E. Smith). Despite shouldering a serious musical heritage, Sumner isn’t attempting a new New Order with Bad Lieutenant, nor is he walking away completely from that heritage altogether.
The glistening pop of “Sink or Swim” is a deceptive opener. Instantly recognisable and characteristically New Order, with or without Hook’s redoubtable bass presence (the ‘lead bass’ riff in this instance transposed to the acoustic guitar), it feels a distant cousin to the hyper-charged harmonies of “Regret” and “Crystal” and it’s also the only track on the album that you could say this about. Despite the added presence of ex-bandmate Steven Morris and Alex James of Blur, and with three guitarists on hand, Never Cry Another Tear is a very guitar-driven record, something that New Order last attempted with 1986’s Brotherhood.
The new vocalist distinctively appears on the Doves-like “Summer Days” sounding uncannily, uncannily like Jimi Goodwin from the selfsame band. If you ever wondered what Doves would sound like if Bernard Sumner joined, well this is the record for you. “These Changes” and Evans’ solo acoustic ballad “Head Into Tomorrow” both capture the same harmonic depth and warm instrumental feel of Doves at their prime to the point where its impossible to ignore. Perhaps it’s a Manchester thing, a cyclic effect of influence, than anything intentional or pre-planned.
The musically weaker tracks like the meat and potatoes pop of “Dynamo“ drift your attention towards the lyrics which is never a good thing. Sumner is not one of the great English lyricists in modern music and his reliance on clichéd couplets and question asking lyrics (“what are you gonna do?” “what are you doing?” etc) get tiresome. So lyrically business and usual, but with the exception of “Sink or Swim”, Never Cry Another Tear is more a group effort than a Sumner-driven vehicle, with more invention on the guitar parts and only a minimal electronic presence, which at best is distracting and only really works on the disco funk of “Shine Like The Sun” that steals the riff (to my ears) from Blur‘s “There‘s No Other Way“.
Despite any misgivings, there are more highlights than you would expected, with even the simple trick of Sumner and Evans taking a verse or chorus each adds an extra dimension to the songs, something that New Order never properly explored. Evan’s presence in the band is a godsend, creating a nice dichotomy in sound that even with a healthy dose of skepticism, is more than enough to keep New Order fans at bay until Hooky and Sumner can kiss and make up. But even then, I wouldn’t hold your breath.