The Nightingales
Out of True
Iron Man
2006
B-



pop music trivia helped immortalize the Nightingales. The question: What band headlined the August 1983 opening of Alan McGee’s famed Living Room Club? The answer: You haven’t been paying attention, now have you?

It’s rather fitting the Nightingales were inaugural and frequent performers at McGee’s club, located on Conway St. in Camden, right underneath the Post Office Tower. The Birmingham band’s menacing, lurching racket neatly embodied the club’s McGee-crafted image of recalcitrance—febrile performances from guitar bands no other promoters would dare book, an infamous police raid (caught on tape) to break up crowds so thick with humanity that punters were forced to hold lit cigarettes above their heads.

The Nightingales’ principle personality has always been Robert Lloyd, a choleric bard deft at accounting dreary, brick-bound life in England. His wry lyrics—set against fidgety guitars early in the band’s career, then later, a country-tinged backdrop—read like absurd, postmodern poetry and featured some of his era’s most brilliant lines. “I’m a cynical fowl clucking around the farmyard,” Lloyd sneered on 1982’s “My Brilliant Career,” dryly confirming what listeners long already knew.

After two decades of creative stasis, Lloyd and the Nightingales have finally released new material, the 14-track album Out of True. There’s a new ensemble surrounding Lloyd, including self-dubbed “Wunderkind Guitarist” Matt Wood, but the Nightingales still possess that knack for churning out melody-based guitar ditties with a sinister, punk edge.

Two prime examples: the menacing, Bauhaus-like “Taking Away the Stigma of Free School Dinners”; and “Company Man,” a rollicking number dedicated to a corporate cog, indicative of Lloyd’s ability to inject levity into his lyrics even when being starkly honest: “Happy days are here again / Clocking on with gusto / Got Kit Kats in the canteen.”

Lloyd also revisits the country-influenced material he covered on 1986’s In the Good Old Country Way, sharing a ballad with the Raincoats’ Gina Lurch on “Black Country,” and galloping his way through the twangy “Fifty Fifty,” which feels like a lost track from the Mekons’ Fear And Whiskey.

But Out of True isn’t solely about a wistful Lloyd blowing dust off chestnuts left over from The Living Room days. Songwriting maturation is exhibited on tracks such as “UK Randy Mom Epidemic,” a slapdash, Fire Engines-like mess of guitars and drums. The bouncing “Carry On Up the Ante” channels the Fall, circa the Brix Smith era—an infectious pop song that tries hard not to be an infectious pop song. And “The Chorus Is the Title” has guitar parts hinting at the Strokes, only bopper god Julian Casablancas would never pen the lines, “You know it’s easy / Just lower your standards / And get as much sex as you desire.”

“Rhythmic coos as nature’s central poetic sound,” John Clare once wrote in describing a nightingale’s singing voice. Lloyd’s always had the poetic part down; he even managed to coo at times—in his own baleful way, of course—but not here on Out of True. There’s a disagreeable variance to how he presently batters his way through songs (frequently spitting out lyrics with an understated spoken-word style), and more husk to his voice. He also alternates between overdoing his role as Brummie boogeyman (such as the venomous cover of Kevin Coyne’s “Good Boy,” where you can picture Lloyd sneering as he wraps his forked tongue around the words), to sounding a touch too apathetic on other tracks.

This lack of decided subtlety in Lloyd’s vocals—and at times, in the music itself (the uncharacteristic fuzzy guitars on “Workshy Wunderkind,” for example)—robs Out of True of the one quality inherent in all early Nightingales’ work: its ability to slowly and pleasantly needle its way under your skin.



Reviewed by: Ryan Foley
Reviewed on: 2006-12-07
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