Another year, another New Order break-up. Although this time it looks like it might actually stick. There have been tiffs and riffs before, as well as a burgeoning sub-genre of New Order side projects. And the emergence of Bad Lieutenant could be seen as just another in this legacy, except for the fact that it pretty much includes everyone except bassist Peter Hook. So is this the "new" New Order? Or is it another necessary therapy session to help the various members work out their differences long enough to reunite once again?
Bad Lieutenant features Bernard Sumner carrying over his New Order responsibilities of vocalist/songwriter/guitarist. In tow are NO drummer Stephen Morris, and more recent NO touring partner Phil Cunningham on guitar. Joining the fold are Jake Evans on guitar and co-lead vocals, and Blur bassist Alex James. With the triple-guitar lineup, their sound combines New Order songwriting sensibilities with a more pronounced guitar rock aesthetic. Although Bernard's songs are the base for the group, it grabs its own distinctive edge from having dual lead vocalists in Sumner and Evans.
Opening tracks "Sink Or Swim" and "Twist Of Fate" are both radio-friendly singles and immediately establish the record as a strong one. It's difficult not to think of it as another New Order outing, as the songwriting is very reminiscent of that group's past two albums, Waiting For The Siren's Call, and Get Ready. Granted, the bass lines aren't the distinctive Hooky riffs we've grown accustomed to, but you can quickly acclimate yourself to that singular change. Although Morris is now a full member of the band, he was only able to record a portion of the record during its production. Because of this, the drumming comes off a bit more staid than usual, but again unless you're trying to recreate New Order nit for nit, this works in the general sense.
"Summer Days" is the first noticeable change, as Evans vocals come to the fore during the chorus, offering a very distinct counter to Sumner's. "This Is Home" continues the transition, with the two tossing lead vocal responsibilities back and forth throughout the track. Evans voice has been compared to Doves frontman Jimi Goodwin, and it's a fitting comparison. He has more of a deadpan British baritone, and it's a nice complement to Sumner's boyish tenor. Vocal leads are still two-to-one in Bernard's favor, but the diversity does help give Bad Lieutenant more of its own identity.
Repeated listens reveal the true depth and quality of the record, as well as some misses. Songs such as "Running Out Of Luck", "Shine Like The Sun" and the closing "Split The Atom" are rich, deep album cuts, and show that the band is more than New Order leftovers or just a couple of good singles. Unfortunately, there are a small handful of those as well, where the songwriting seems to be running on automatic instead of something more inspired (see "Dynamo" and "Walking On Silver Water"). The weight of the album, however, rests easily on the side of quality, with just a few weak offerings over the course of fourteen tracks.
The album overall is confident and solid, and a winning combination for the old NO'ers and newcomers. Not every song is a gem on its own, but the whole is extremely cohesive, and in some respects holds together better than the past couple of New Order albums. Is this another stopgap on the road to reunion? It's not looking good for that, so we might as well settle in and enjoy Bad Lieutenant as birthed from one legacy, but embarking out on its own. It wouldn't be the first time that a less than joyful division yielded a new order of things.