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The Nightingales
No Love Lost Ben Graham , April 30th, 2012 05:15

Peel show favourites, Fall comparison, National Institution blah blah blah… look, the Nightingales are not just for expanding middle-aged music trainspotters who drink real ale and have a complete set of Festive Fifty recordings on cassettes in their loft. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it tends to obscure the fact that Robert Lloyd's re-energised combo are still putting out vital records capable of competing with 2012's finest on any terms, and not just those of cosy nostalgia for the days of post-punk and steam-powered radio.

No Love Lost is the 'gales seventh studio album in thirty-odd years of existence, their first for over three years and their first for Cooking Vinyl records. It's a bristling torrent of ideas, anger, danceable rhythms and caustic melody, and it's designed to make you feel anything but comfortable. "I was as dry as a dead girl's cunt in the desert" is Robert Lloyd's shouted opening gambit, and immediately we're walking that oh-so thin line between Grinderman and the Macc Lads while the taste police look on, breathalysers at the ready. But it's the Nightingales' role to remind us that this line exists, by occasionally teetering on the wrong side of it. 'Ace of Hearts' is Lloyd throwing his cards on the table straight away in a slab of guilty hollerin' rockabilly, with the emphasis on the billy, as in billy whizz, going like billy-o… if the Cramps had been brought up on the Ace Café run, they might have ended up sounding like this.

'Born Yesterday' takes its cues from easy listening exotica, but is anything but; grimy and itchy, shot through with howling noise, existential dread and last orders stream of consciousness. 'The Done Thing' is slow and greasy, like the food in a traditional English café, while 'Real Gone Daddy' proves that the not-so secret weapon of the current 'gales is the industrial strength drumming of Fliss Kits, providing the missing link between Can and the Glitter Band (the Nightingales live show frequently climaxes with a heartfelt rendition of 'I Didn't Know I Loved You Till I Saw You Rock n' Roll', again challenging hipster presumptions and moral judgement with its utter lack of irony). Her tartrazine-sharp backing vocals also ably support Lloyd's defrocked Elvis impersonations, while the rest of the band- Alan Apperley, Matt Wood and Andreas Schmid- rail and roar somewhere between Jeff Beck's Yardbirds absolutely massacring 'Happening Ten Years' Time Ago' and Gallon Drunk at their most ferocious.

Indeed, Nightingales songs are riddled with the most unlikely musical reference points, both musical and literary. The clattering, end-of-the-pier punk ramble 'Best of British Luck' would probably be characterised as by the unimaginative as "quintessentially English," but that would be to ignore the fact that its melody is stolen from the US bubblegum smash 'Down in Tennessee' by the Ohio Express. 'Say It With Flowers' meanwhile tips a nod to Jacques Brel in its chanson-like melody and cynicism verging on misanthropy, an unsentimental tale of thwarted romance in which our hero endeavours to "cut through the mirrors and smoke / make myself out like some smouldering bloke" but eventually just "woke up feeling all out of sorts / laid over with heartache and genital warts."

There's a kind of staggering, unhinged funk on 'The Burster' and 'Mutton to Lamb', and 'The World of Nothing Really' reveals Lloyd the bitterly disappointed moralist, as backed by just a picked acoustic guitar he ruminates on the reality of a society where everything is permitted and soon forgotten, a shrugging relativity holds sway and we're all "damned to the world of nothing really." By the time 'Dick the Do-Gooder' ushers us out on waves of filthy wah-wah guitar, marching drums and oddly melancholy French horn, the Nightingales seem like some ragged, demented Salvation Army band, stripped of religion and led by a whisky priest determinedly steeping himself in sin the better to repudiate it. Nostalgia is not in their vocabulary: times were tough then and they're tough now, but the Nightingales band still barks at the squares.