So, against all odds I have attended all four of my music journalism lessons at Folk School with DJ Dave Haslam, and now know all there is to know about writing reviews, features, and interviewing any passing musicians who have a sudden urge to speak to me. The course has been very enjoyable: Folk's slightly eccentric charm has definitely grown on me, and my fellow students were very pleasant indeed (at least, I liked those left at the end - there were only five of us today out of the original twelve, nothing to do with the good weather of course).
Dave has proved a knowledgeable and entertaining teacher, and is running the course again in November - contact him via www.davehaslam.com to register your interest. AND, most importantly, he was very nice about my album review - far, far nicer than I am to my own students. So here it is, the fruit of my labours, and my first (and probably last) foray into the world of music journalism....
Album review: Bad Lieutenant Never Cry Another Tear (Triple Echo Records)
The lot of a New Order fan has not been an easy one over the years, learning to accept a feast here, a seven year famine there, all mixed with the band’s notoriously insouciant attitude towards their legions of admirers. Now Sumner, Hook, Morris and Gilbert have gone their (mostly) separate ways, crumbs of comfort must be sought in the band members’ newer projects; indeed, for the bereft fan seeking familiarity rather than originality there is much to enjoy in Never Cry Another Tear, the debut album from the Bernard Sumner-led Bad Lieutenant.
Very sensibly for a man now in his mid fifties, Sumner has elected to surround himself with the comparative youth of Jake Evans of Rambo and Leroy and Phil Cunningham, last seen in New Order’s most recent incarnation. The collaboration is largely successful when taken on its own terms: the band’s intentions are instantly displayed on the breezily melodic guitar pop of opening track and first single ‘Sink or Swim’, with a chorus that manages to be both infuriatingly catchy and instantly forgettable at the same time.
The strongest songs are those that have Sumner’s mark all over them: the upbeat hedonism of ‘Summer Days’ suggests a track that could have snuck itself onto 1989 masterpiece Technique, albeit amongst the weaker numbers; and the wistful melody of ‘Running Out of Luck’ reminds the listener how good a plaintive tune can sound when coupled with Sumner’s distinctively naïve vocals. His voice undoubtedly suits the material far better than Evans’s, and tracks sung by the latter lack the mysterious yet undeniable charm of the Sumner vocal.
So what’s the verdict? Any new release that boasts fifty percent of one the most influential British bands of all time – New Order drummer Stephen Morris features on a number of tracks, as does Blur bassist Alex James – is going to awaken great hopes in the hearts of many; disappointment seems almost inevitable. Yet taken on its own merits this is a perfectly decent pop record, the sound of a musical great easing himself into a relaxed retirement, and it seems churlish not to share at least some of his obvious enjoyment of this new phase of his career.