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Bad Lieutenant
Never Cry Another Tear Iain Moffat , November 19th, 2009 13:03

It might be a very seventies sort of a notion, but there's been something of a renaissance in the supergroup market of late. The Dead Weather, for instance, have been, if not universally embraced, nonetheless generally welcomed as more than a mere vanity project; Them Crooked Vultures were something of a highlight for everyone that caught them at Reading and Leeds; and perhaps most notably, the Last Shadow Puppets have clearly outstripped anything either of their parent bands have put together in the last two years.

With all this in mind, you could hardly blame Alex James for wanting to jump on this particular bandwagon, although his track record thus far is shoddy to say the least. For all the estimable qualities he brings to Blur — an instinctive loucheness and cheeringly uncomplex joie de vivre; the curious continuity in the face of a highly mutable agenda — Me Me Me proved to be an in-joke too far even at the height of Britpop's self-congratulatory excess. Worse, with Wigwam he even managed the seemingly impossible feat of making Betty Boo appear rubbish. Clearly, he needs to collaborate with people who have form when it comes to extra-curricular activity, and resilience written into their DNA.

Which is where New Order come in; there's probably not a band alive who fit those criteria better. Not that there's actually a New Order at the moment, since another of their celebrated fall-outs has recently kicked in, but at least Sumner, Morris and near-newbie Phil Cunningham are on board for this freshly-handled enterprise. And it's a relief to report that, while Bad Lieutenant may be Hookless, they're anything but hookless. Opening offering 'Sink Or Swim', for instance, may sail rather audaciously close to the insistent smart-pop rush of Monaco's 'What Do You Want From Me' — no accident, presumably — but distinguishes itself by doing so atop a light-footed Byrdsian jangle. 'Running Out Of Luck' is a textbook demonstration of its makers' minor-chord mastery and a blurry, dreamlike gambit (it also showcases what a casually compelling drummer Stephen Morris can be). 'These Changes', helmed by occasional co-vocalist and Jimi Goodwin soundalike Jake Evans, threatens in its early stages to turn into 'Your Silent Face' before settling into a soaring, semi-anthemic reverie that'll work in a mid-afternoon airing at next year's festivals: a not unlikely prospect.

Mind you, it's hard to forget that we're dealing with performers that are rather better than mid-table; moreover, they're not making it easy to treat this as a brand new band. An air of stateliness and contentment runs through Never Cry Another Tear that would be horribly unbecoming on bona fide newcomers. However, in this context — and especially on 'This Is Home' and the fantastically bittersweet 'Runaway' — it echoes, atmospherically if not sonically, the Bunnymen's late-90s comeback. Bernard's lyrics also take on a metacritical aspect: "Everyone that I meet complains that I don't act the same any more, that I was better before," he teases in 'Twist Of Fate', while 'Summer Days' goes one further, basking in the brilliance of the summer of 1983, which of course gave us both 'Blue Monday' and Power, Corruption And Lies. Still, at least he does this within a track that's oddly indebted to both Stone Roses albums, drawing on the loose irresistiblility of classic Reni and the bluesier preoccupations of latter-day Squire.

'Summer Days' also gives Mr James the chance to lead the way with one of the judicious basslines that pepper proceedings. These points are where Never Cry Another Tear excels: on 'Dynamo' James provides a frantic, ace accompaniment to the Marr-guitar-isms of the verses and the Who-ish keyboards dotted throughout; the funk-fuelled 'Shine Like The Sun' is aided by slightly confrontational shuffling and careworn keyboards that threaten to dissolve into Japan's 'Quiet Life' at one point. OK, this is neither the essential swipe at the mainstream nor the most satisfying record the parties involved have been involved in; but it's a far from unworthy addition to any of its creators' canons. As a potential presence in the pantheon of power pairings, Bad Lieutenant have at least gone some way towards earning their stripes.