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The Nightingales - Out of True

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Artist: The Nightingales

Album: Out of True

Label: Iron Man

Review date: Nov. 5, 2006


Acute's 2004 release of The Prefects are Amateur Wankers finally brought Robert Lloyd's hapless (but great) first band to light, bringing a wider audience to the Prefects' Buzzcocks-rapid punk songs and drone-y, post-punk-foreshadowing improvisations. The backstory was amusing here was a band that managed to open for the Clash on its fifth gig, play twice for John Peel, tour with Bo Diddley, the Jam and the Slits, yet seemed to piss off nearly everyone they came in contact with and died more or less in obscurity.

The whole history of the Prefects was one of missed opportunities. In fact, the only reason there ever was a Nightingales was that Rough Trade called Lloyd to offer a recording contract to the Prefects a few months after the band had fizzled out. With a little sleight of hand, essentially trading some Prefects Peel sessions for Nightingales studio time, the offer turned into the Nightingale's first record. The band has continued ever since, not especially prolific but consistently excellent, releasing Pigs on Purpose in 1982, Hysterics in 1983, Just the Job in 1984 and In a Good Old Country Way in 1986. During a long gap in the discography Lloyd discovered and produced the girl band We've Got a Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It among others. But now, some 10 years after their last proper album, the Nightingales are back, as ferociously sardonic as ever.

With its galloping drums, nervy, jabbering guitars, its basso sarcasms murmured over claustrophobically confined grooves, "Born Again in Birmingham," the lead-off track from Out of True sets the black-humor tone. It's like the Fall but darker, madder and more literate, blistering, clattering beats shackled to noirish stream-of-conscious. "The Chorus Is In the Title" carries the same sort of jerry-rigged menace, all boxy beat and whipsaw guitars over mordant rants like "You know it's easy / Just lower your standards / And get as much sex as you desire." The headlong rush, the dead stop, the hurtle into semi-melodic chorus it's like a carnival ride, this song, threatening to throw you but always whipping around the corner just in time.

These two songs set the pattern hard chaotic drums, staccato guitars and chant-sung lyrics. Later cuts embellish the formula, "Carry On Up the Ante" with girl-group harmonies, "Hard Up (Buffering 87% Completed)" with smoky dub rhythms and a bassoon honking its way sax-style through Kingstown hazes.

The words here are absurdly specific but not quite knit together, a flow of sharply limned images that never coalesce into any sort of linear narrative. "Taking Away the Stigma of Free School Dinners" may or may not be a riff on the Iron Chef's battle to make British school lunches healthy, but it goes after every dietary taboo of the last 10 years with venom and style. "Company Man" takes a similarly sharp axe to corporate behavior, its call and response of "Got your name on your stapler Company man / Like a trendy vicar Company man" dripping with sarcasm. This sort of bile and percussion dominates most of Out of True but there is one exception to the rule. "Black Country", a duet with the Raincoats' Gina Burch, is a stark and quavering black country ballad, still angry but slowed and quieted to a smolder.

That uncharacteristic cut leads right into the clamorous rancor of "Good Boy," all droning guitars and continuous clattering drum fills. "Good Boy well done / Good boy excellent," intones Lloyd over the chaos, pausing to gather his scorn for the swipe, "You're just a lick spittle." There's a rattlesnake bite's worth of poison in that phrase alone. Nice to see the Nightingales still mad, still funny, still wrecking the furniture after all these years.

By Jennifer Kelly

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