Birmingham cousins of the Fall, 80’s post-punk, Death-to-Trad-Rock bruisers and barstool philosophers the Nightingales release a stupendous new album in April another for the best of the year stakes.
This one is dedicated to the late Mint Burston, promoter at the Fighting Cocks in the early 80’s and the Joiners 1985- 2000. Mutual friend of the Gales and myself.
The fact is; Robert Lloyd, (as singer with the Prefects, Nightingales and New Four Seasons) held the record for being offered and recording more John Peel sessions than any other artist, the Fall included. Seventeen I think it was. He continues the tradition with sessions for Mark Riley on BBC 6-Music with the 21st century reformed Nightingales.
Nightingales (the definitive article was dropped for a while, as in Buzzcocks, no ‘the’ but seems to have returned) or The Nightingales are often compared to the Fall. Since their reformation in 2004, ‘Gales have been the consistently better band, musically more inventive and powerful and lyrically funnier and more astute. (Snorts of derision from Fall-fans in the comments box below please).
Also, as a songwriter, Robert Lloyd is as much of a genius as Morrissey or Nick Cave. He has a similar idiosyncratic, very English outlook and outdoes Moz with his brutal lyrical dexterity and has the same kind of dark, comic intensity as Cave, only Lloyd is ten times less successful. I can only put this down to bad luck and maybe the fact that he failed to have an iconic hairstyle at a key moment in his career unlike t’other two. More appropriate comparisons though would be the comedy of Stewart Lee (a ‘Gales fan) and the plays of Mike Leigh.
The ever-shifting line up of Nightingales settled and on this album includes one-time Prefect Alan Apperley, famous in my eyes for rejecting Frank Skinner as possible vocalist for his 1977 band. There’s a new female drummer called Fliss Kitson, a German bassist Andreas Schmid who looks like he should’ve been in 70’s terrorist cell and the no-longer-teenage guitar sensation Matt Wood.
They make a brilliant racket. It’s a mixture of influences; Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, mental 50’s rockabilly, obscure 60’s ‘pop music’, 70’s underground experimentation, that sounds both ancient and modern at the same time. Only Grinderman come anywhere near in terms of middle-aged angst and self-mockery. Half-Man Half Biscuit come close in terms of wit and surreal wisdom.
The first post-reformation album Out of True was phenomenal and arguably bettered all of their 80’s output put together in terms of tuneful sonic cacophony and barbed, hilarious lyrics. The follow-up Whets Not To Love? was riotously experimental, and next Insult to Injury, majestic yet erratic. This new one is as cohesive yet varied as Out of True and possibly its equal. It rocks, it bewilders, it shambles, it kicks ass and it makes you laugh and scratch your head and wonder what the fuck all that was about. It starts in a surprising fashion.
(People of a nervous disposition, Daily Mail readers and those lovers of outrage looking to be easily offended, stop reading now!) No Love Lost opens with hard-drinking Lloyd bellowing the line…)
“I was as dry as a dead nuns cunt in the desert!”
It’s a cracker, and a shocker. It’s also the first line of verse in Robert Lloyds book of lyrics. Cribbed from Bernard Manning or somesuch I imagine. I googled it and discovered an Aussie saying, “Dry as a dead nuns nasty” but Robert Lloyd takes it to the nth degree. I had to ask him about it, where did it come from? Isn’t it deeply offensive? I expected an evasive answer, as he generally doesn’t like talking about his lyrics.
Well to be honest I didn’t think of it as offensive. I don’t think I’ve ever written or sang anything that’s meant to offend.
I thought it was poetic, as in, descriptive and funny, as in, in-your-face. And it’s the kind of thing the ‘I’ in the song might say, it’s just more colourful than most pop/rock lyrics I reckon. I hate the simpleton writers that think they’re good but just use ‘King Black Adder type descriptives; y’know the “it was as sticky as a sticky stick” level.
Any road up, no I don’t really want you to explain where it came from I kinda hoard bits’n’bobs for future usage when appropriate, though my memory gets worse all the time. So there we have it. I obviously write for myself primarily but of course I hope to entertain others with my words and I like to think the lyrics on the album will amuse some of the listeners at least.
I like also that bit being the album’s opening gambit and the album’s last word being ‘Amen’. Hopefully the stuff in between makes up a decent picture, but all the roads that lead me there are winding, blinding.
The song in question, Ace of Hearts, has some other magnificent lyrics though;
I’m the owner-occupier of a fetid disquiet
Milking disapprobation until the cows come home..
As does the next song Born Yesterday;
Showbiz socialists discuss
The mighty and the frivolous
Fucked up or drop dead gorgeous
Long live the bleedin’ obvious
Real Gone Daddy is a song about the irresponsible joys and resultant guilt of Absent Fatherhood. Another of Lloyds character studies where he sings from the characters perspective, not necessarily his own.
I looked into that bundle of joy
and said God Bless and Good Health.
I bit my tongue
And poisoned myself.
It ends with a jaunty
You won’t find me in a Batman suit, a-dangling from St Pauls
Music wise. the Nightingales sound lurches and rattles like the Velvet Underground and Beefheart playing in a Midlands pub lock-in. At times they sound like Happy Mondays trying to play in a Sonic Youth style. Matt Wood comes into his own on this album though; probably the most wildly inventive guitarist in the country.
The Nightingales have always been a ‘difficult’ band; wilfully awkward, avoiding choruses and obvious time signatures, but occasionally just to prove they can they pull off a magnificent pop-song like forthcoming single Someone For Everyone. They soon revert to type though with chicken-squawk-guitar and complicated rhythms…
If the music doesn’t get you then the words will. Lloyds lyrics are full of verbiage and the everyday cliche, archaic speak, jargon, slang, mixed metaphors, crossword clues, newspeak, advertising slogans, juxtaposed ideas ‘a steaming stream of consciousness’, like warm piss splashing against enamel and heading down the drain. They can be conundrums to solve. They are playfully pretentious, poetically taking the piss and probably poppycock. The man himself insists that there are ”plenty of shitty lines and piss-poor bits” in his lyrics, as well as lines stolen from William Blake and others.
There’s a great thesis waiting to be writ about how he uses the minutiae and poverty of everyday life, the dark neurosis of the middle-aged male to construct a critique of his own obsessions and of class, sex and existence in the 21st Century UK. The conclusion would quite possibly be that “There are some really funny lines but you can never work out WTF he is on about”.
Panties in a bunch..
History is bunk
Wisdom for dunces
I could go on (and on, and on) as I love the Nightingales but can’t quite put finger on why. Its something to do with the fact that they are outsiders and under-dogs, surly and sarky, yet intelligent and charming; unique and unrivalled and It takes a while to ‘dig’ them. You have to work at it; they are not an immediate band musically (t’me any road). But if you put the time and effort in you reap the rewards in spades (where does that expression come from?).
What makes this album and the current line-up extra special is a unique combination of ages. Lloyds and Apperley are into their 50’s and Fliss and Matt in their early twenties. The bass-player somewhere in the middle I guess. Youth and the wisdom of age combined. Lyrical bile and incendiary music. World-weary but ready to storm the barricades of mediocrity and boredom.
Of the thirteen sentences to say before you die
He couldn’t get his tongue around I’m H.A.P.P.Y
2012 is seeing some great albums being released from artists who have been around for a while. Its almost as if there an unconscious collective feeling of urgency. Of Now or Never, or of lets show the young fuckers how to do it. Whether it’s to do with ageing (Remember Nightingales wrote a song called How To Age back in the 80’s) or the state of the nation or both I don’t know, but it us, the listeners who benefit.
Its loud, its rude, it kicks like a mule and its astounding that the Nightingales have made one of the best albums of the year in 2012. Well done underdogs!