OK. I won’t hide it. I’ll just come right out and say it. I love Joy Division. I love New Order. I think Electronic’s first record is one of the best records of the 1990’s. “State Of Shock” and “What Do You Want from Me” repeatedly cattle-brand my psyche. Even “Superhighways” competes hard with New Order’s better singles. So, while the pure cane sugar of Joy Division’s original blueprint has certainly been watered-down with artificial sweetener over the years, there has never been any justifiable reason to question the collective concept of New Order. This was no truer back in 1983 when Power, Corruption and Lies came out than it is now with the debut release of Barney’s new project, Bad Lieutenant. Unfortunately, music critics, being the fickle, contradictory (more on that later) and generally unhappy lot they are, have been whittling away at the New Order legacy for a while now. It started with Republic, extended through all the various side endeavors and the New Order Version 2.0 years and, not surprisingly, continues with the ridiculously trite reviews of Never Cry Another Tear.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and waste anyone’s time purporting that Never Cry Another Tear is a 5-star affair worthy of Technique-like adoration, but I am going to use all my Vincent Bugliosian powers to set some shit straight because nothing annoys me more than flimsy, clichéd arguments that are outright unjustified. Don't worry, I’m not going to “review” Never Cry Another Tear. Reviews are inherently subjective (even though they should be objective), so any critique I could offer has already been contaminated by the beginning of this article, thus providing the likes of Petridis (which sounds suspiciously like detritus...), Roffman, Ashman and Ewing a Nagasaki-like yield of explosive retort.

My aim here is purely prosecutorial against crimes of the ivory tower variety. No more, no less.

There is one assumption in what follows: If you’re reading this, I'm assuming you’re already familiar with the story. This is no Joy Division 101, etc.

Barney writes shit lyrics.

This complaint mystifies me, and if I have to see it one more time, I’m taking hostages. How many times do we have to be reminded that Bernard Sumner isn’t William Shakespeare? Is it really necessary to kick the poor guy in the nuts every time you review one of his records by repeatedly using terms like “cringe-worthy” and “riot inducing?” We’ve known this for the 30 odd years he’s been the one penning the lyrics, and it hasn’t bothered us in the least. I still don’t know what the fuck “Blue Monday” is supposed to be about, but the lyrics sound cold, foreboding and mysterious, which is, I assume, the exact feeling Barney was going for. Moreover, until recently, I don’t recall his peculiar talent with the pen bothering most in the critical world. It was almost like, all of sudden, some asshole critic zeroed in on “Slow Jam” and the microscope of redundant criticism started flowing like that spooky and unstoppable acidic blood in Alien.

Generally, we laugh the same way Barney laughs in “Every Little Counts” at his frequent, yet endearing, simplistic lyrical structures. And you know why, cuz no one really gives a shit about its simplicity because Sumner’s work has always been about the sum of its parts, not one great talent making up for a multitude of other deficiencies. Not only is pointing this shortcoming out a completely unnecessary dig at Sumner (and, in Bad Lieutenant’s case, Jake Evans as well), it tells all of us that have appreciated everything Sumner’s been involved with that the reviewer has completely missed the whole “arrangement + execution axis” of New Order’s brilliance.

Anyone who’s listened to New Order knows the lyrics are mostly a peripheral to the overall experience. In fact, Sumner’s unorthodox voice/delivery often creates an additional dimension to the music that enhances the meticulous arrangements and execution. I’ve often said – and my guess is almost everyone reading this article would agree – New Order are a feeling. Their music is existential. So what if Barney gets things jumbled and resorts to grade school rhymes on occasion? I can still tell what he’s trying to say regardless because the arrangements and execution of the actual music tell me exactly what I should be hearing.

With all apologies to Barney, who I’m sure puts genuine effort into writing lyrics (at least it looked that way in that Prozac documentary), lyrics to a New Order song are what dialogue is to a Stanley Kubrick film - most of the time merely complimentary and 90% of the time purely a function of the music. Kubrick, like any great visual artist, was a master at communicating feeling via image. Sumner and New Order at large are masters at communicating feeling via their command of the aural; an achievement that is much more abstract, and surely 10 times more impressive, than using rhythm as a backdrop to storytelling (one of the many reasons I avoid rap, spoken word, REM, etc with pandemic-like apprehension).

What’s funny is I thought this was common knowledge to anyone that knew fuck all about the band (e.g., critics) and their many incarnations. Yet rarely, if ever, does one see the critical mass acknowledge this fact. Apparently, if you believe what the critics say, Never Cry Another Tear suffers mightily from lyrical shortcomings.

Utter bullshit. The day Barney starts making anything other than opaque sense or writing like Morrissey is the day I set my record collection on fire.

Never Cry Another Tear sounds too much like, but only “sort of” like, New Order, but not enough like New Order given their preternatural gift of artistic advancement.

Confused? I am too.

I suppose you can have your cake and eat it too when you critique music for a living. See, on one hand, its perfectly acceptable to trash a band like U2 for deviating from their original recipe by recording Zooropa or taking that road to its logical conclusion by recording an album like Pop, thereby forcing them to abandon all creative experimentation and, as a result, back to recording stone-aged U2-by-numbers records like All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Yeah, U2 move a lot of product, sell a shitload of concert tickets and have legitimately established themselves as the elder statesmen, but for a band I don’t care for all that much, I was crushed when Bono and crew deep-sixed the experimentation of the 90’s in favor of safer waters. I was actually beginning to like them.

With New Order, and by extension here, Bad Lieutenant, it seems the opposite is true…but only at times. Since Technique, the critical word has revolved around New Order failing to maintain their "edge" and producing predictable album after predicatable album. During the Get Ready era, they were even accused of, ahem, poaching off of their past to fill in gaps that existed from a lack of ideas. This latter accusation (there’s no other word for it) has been routinely used when looking at Bad Lieutenant’s effort. In fact, Neil Ashman of Drowned In Sound actually writes a disclaimer at the beginning of his review telling us he’s not clever enough to objectively review Never Cry Another Tear, opting instead to measure it against New Order’s back catalogue . Five words came to my mind after reading said disclaimer: what a load of shit.

Most of the reviews (even the ones without disclaimers) predictably follow the same structure, basically: Never Cry Another Tear isn’t a bad record because it sounds like New Order, but it only sounds like New Order-without-the-bass and we really wish Barney would just “invent” another “sound” because he’s been part of a band that dependably did that a whopping two times in 30+ years of making music. And these are the same people that say Sumner’s lyrics are simple.

This is the deal – and, again, you already know this. New Order have always sounded like New Order because no other band in the history of recorded music has ever sounded like New Order. Yes, they evolved, and, yes, there are clear nuances between, say, Power, Corruption and Lies and Republic. That doesn’t change the fact that every New Order record still has the New Order “sound.” It doesn’t change the fact that every New Order record has an electronic component and an acoustic component and when the band is firing on all cylinders, they manage the unique feat of combining those two halves seamlessly and creating, undeniably, a sound all their own. Even in advanced age, that sound is still unique and driving. And feeling. And, yes, when you take one or two elements away, there is a certain hollowness, but that shouldn’t, and doesn’t, torpedo the rest of the effort.

The critics here are convinced that Never Cry Another Tear is, simultaneously, sort of okay because it sort of sounds like New Order but claim it would have sounded better if Hooky actually played bass but would have been even better, without Hooky, had Bad Lieutenant pulled an acid-house-style revolutionary rabbit out of their hat. And contradiction abounds.

As a great admirer of their unique art, whether it be as a collective or separate, I can still be objective and say some of this record does sound like a 10th generation New Order photocopy. But, it’s also been 26 years since Power, Corruption and Lies (the first New Order album where an identifiable course was charted...) and, by my count, Never Cry Another Tear is in actuality a 16th generation photocopy . So, should it surprise anyone that, absent Peter Hook, portions of this album sound vaguely (but not too vaguely!) like New Order? No. After 26 years, is anyone surprised that there’s a vaguely watered-down quality to the New Order-like elements? No. Does it surprise anyone that now, having cruised to the latter side of 50, Barney might actually prefer to merely refine the sound he helped propagate along with just a handful of other people? No. Is there a reason why no one is pointing any of this shit out? Yes. To put it simply, it's way to easier to peg something you can’t quite comprehend or accept on a band being lazy or boring or both – which is pretty much what every reviewer has done in Bad Lieutenant's case.

It should surprise no one that the reviews make little reference to the fact that Bad Lieutenant isn’t New Order. If more was made of this relatively simple (there’s that word again) concept, perhaps the album would have been evaluated objectively. Speaking of comparisons, non-comparisons and general vibes that would have been warranted

This is home.

In all those aforementioned references to New Order, Mr. Detritus et al somehow forget to mention the most New Order-influenced track on the entire record, “This Is Home.” More than any other track, the song structure here is classic New Order. From the opening bass chords that should instantly remind you of 1978 to the near-perfect confluence of the electronic-acoustic mix New Order own the patent on, “This Is Home” is no fuzzy photocopy. It’s a pure original, Hook or no Hook. Add in the sweeping, building final third that includes a mandatory bass solo, combined with the abrupt, hollow ending, and you’ve got what I wouldn’t be surprised to learn is one of those mysterious leftovers from the Waiting for the Sirens’ Call sessions we keep hearing about.

So why the fuck is this song not mentioned in all those ill-founded comparison arguments? I can’t be completely sure, but my guess is it has something to do with Jake Evans’ vocals…

Jake.

If there’s one thing I hate more than unjustified arguments and critiques, it’s the lazy-reviewer tactic of simple (again!) comparisons. I’m not talking about saying things like “Bad Lieutenant sound like New Order” – as I’ve already said, in a roundabout way, that’s an understandable and rather complex comparison. I’m talking more about saying things like “Jake Evans sounds like INSERT NAME OF DEEP/DRONING/HE OF THE HEART-FELT DELIVERY BRITISH CROONER OF CHOICE.” This has been a most popular way of avoiding any actual substantive evaluation of Jake Evans and his contribution to the record.

Jake does sound like Jimi Goodwin. He also sounds like Noel Gallagher. So the fuck what? It’s not his fault God blessed him with a voice whose frequency is in approximate range to another British singer that, unfortunately for Jake, has sold over 100 million records in the last 15 years. Of course, the one thing that’s lost is Jake sounds more like Jake than anyone else I could compare him to. In fact, if I was Jake I’d take those comparisons as compliments…until I realized that I sound better than either of them.

Holding these comparisons over Bad Lieutenant’s head like they’re a minus instead of a plus is ridiculous. This guy can belt. I can see why Barney referred to him as a “gifted” singer in the publicity leading up to the album’s release. Why his voice is being held against him is a mystery to me. And if you’re going to evaluate him, let’s hear why he’s allegedly not a good fit or voice instead of how singing an admittedly Gallagher-esque tune like “Head Into Tomorrow” disqualifies him from being a decent vocalist. His inclusion adds yet another dimension to the music that further separates Bad Lieutenant from New Order. It’s a shame the reviews resort to nickel and dime comparisons that tarnish his contribution.

Steve’s drumming is pedestrian.

This won’t take long because the same reviewer that made this assertion also made it a point, nay; a cornerstone of his review, to say that Bad Lieutenant is clearly a “guitar rock” band. If so, logic would dictate that on Never Cry Another Tear, the human drum-machine otherwise known as Stephen Morris would be relieved of his former duties that often required him to maintain 100 bpms over and over. In this new incarnation, of course the percussion is going to sound thin – if you drop the caveat that he used to be forced to keep up with, among other things, electronic sheep, the drumming sounds perfect. Sometimes, it’s that obvious people.

Absolutely ridiculous.

Postscript.

I hope Bad Lieutenant’s future output is reviewed with greater objectivity and, more importantly, originality. If Sumner and New Order are indeed as widely respected as described in every one of these reviews I’ve taken issue with, an unbiased ear is what they deserve the most.

Maybe Hooky will fare better upon the release of his Freebass material. If it ever comes out.

TSC
2009

(4) Comments

  1. Aamir On October 22, 2009 at 1:44 AM

    Found a link to your blog post on Bad Lieutenant's FB fan page. I gotta agree, I don't understand the dismal reviews either. And don't get me started on the comparisons with New Order - I'm just glad that Bernard is still doing his thing... his music still sounds terrific, no matter what name it's under.

    BTW for the record, I love "This is Home" but IMO it sounds as if it really belongs on "Twisted Tenderness" than on any New Order album, although it does remind me of "Hey Now What You Doing" and "Turn" from WFTSC. "Running Out Of Luck" could've come straight off of "Technique" IMO.

     
    Anonymous On October 22, 2009 at 9:13 AM

    Thank you for a more " Grown up" review of the album.
    I was lucky enough to see them last night and they sounded fantastic!.
    Its not only the reviewers who hold those views of the album thou, some ole souls didn't move a muscle last night until they heard the first blast of Crystal when the whole place erupted.
    My point is, if you feel JD and NO were important, listen to the BL album objectively and understand that everyone has to grow up and that Barney cannot indulge your teenage angst forver!.

     
    Andrew Wells On October 24, 2009 at 12:26 PM

    Appreciate the time and effort that went into your attempts at rationalization, but the simple fact is that JD/NO's music was unconventional in every aspect... and most all of the solo work, particularly the new project, is the essence of the conventional... these points of view are inherently in conflict and difficult if not impossible to reconcile... and the problem (or benefit if you are trying to attract an audience for this new band) is that New Order attracted a large number of conventional listeners in their latter period... most of whom cannot (or prefer not to) identify the lack of substance in the work as many of the surface elements remain in place... and when a discerning listener or reviewer points that out, it becomes a personal attack on the fans' experience...

    There is nothing wrong with being a conventional pop listener, but there is also nothing wrong with demanding more of your experience and the artists who are part of it... its like some people part their hair on the left and some on the right... its not bad or good; it just is... and Bad Lieutenant, no matter how you slice them, are just completely and utterly (and for some, insufferably) conventional...

    Ajw

     
    Anonymous On January 10, 2011 at 11:41 AM

    why not...