NIGHTMEN – Can’t Avoid Success

In 2016, Scandinavian garage rockers Nightmen dropped one of the greatest musical surprises of the year. Exploring various elements of garage rock and proto-punk, ‘Fifteen Minutes of Pain‘ delivered a short and sharp aural assault of a record that was not only loving of the past, but also keen to bring such sounds kicking and screaming into the present. It was also the kind of debut that sounded like the work of a band who might burn themselves out too quickly. For this second release, the band could’ve decided to churn out more of the same and that would’ve been great, but being smart cookies, they’ve avoided that inevitable burnout and adapted their previous sounds to allow for growth. Amongst various garage rock and proto-punk staples, this time around, they also show more of a talent for classic power pop.

The album crashes in with classic style as a few crushing power chords announce Nightmen’s welcome return, before the rest of the frighteningly brief ‘Over You’ smashes and thrashes forward like the New York Dolls’ take on The Dead Boys. The riffs come fast, but it’s a disturbing echoed vocal approach that lends the track its most distinctive edge. With an equal amount of reverb, ‘Why? (Tonight) keeps one eye on ’77 punk and the other on a post-punk spikiness, as the quirky lead vocal smashes repeatedly into a sharp riff, with a quirky power pop backing vocal thrown into the mix for good measure. This is perhaps the closest to the debut the band gets this time out…and while it could feel like an obvious throwback, there’s enough energy to ensure it’s both a vibrant and fun listen. Taking those energies and focusing them into something a touch more melodic, the self-explanatory ‘Ahahaha (Oh No)’ presents a world of chiming guitars and skinny ties in the ultimate homage to The Only Ones, while taking time out in the second half to shoehorn in an uncharacteristic slow section. In terms of chorus, this near wordless affair is pretty silly but also incredibly catchy…and they know it. ‘Summer Moon’, meanwhile, is the perfect power pop anthem – like the marriage of The Real Kids and Tommy Tutone – flaunting a fantastic chorus, tough riff and old style organ, topped off with a gloriously snotty vocal. In terms of a more mature sound, this is classic, classic Nightmen.

‘Suiting Lies’ works a mean and spiky riff and equally poised vocal while ‘Summer Shakes’ takes another trip into power pop world. Musically, the latter has all the hallmarks of the music emerging from the Beserkley label in ’78 – enough crunch to please a rock crowd, just enough kitsch to recall the likes of the Rubinoos – while the chosen vocal style is a dead ringer for the overlooked Lene Lovich. It doesn’t quite have the immediacy of ‘Beach Party’ from the debut LP, but it’s a definite highlight. Taking a sidestep to even older sounds, the hugely melodic ‘Be My World’ recalls a time of early sixties twanging guitars. With a simple riff where each note hits with a clarity, the tune starts well and slowly improves with a superb flat drum sound and measured rhythms. As things take off, it’s not necessarily made of old-fashioned heartbreak…more of a CBGB’s band from ’77 harking back to the Spector girl groups. It comes across as a weaker relation to ‘Summer Shades’, but make no mistake, it’s still a great song; any perceived weakness is down to its position next to ‘Summer Shades’ in the running order (once again…it’s been said before, but sequencing can be make or break.)

Elsewhere on this wonderful (but very short) long player, ‘I Will Be Fine’ sounds like ‘Hootenanny’ era Replacements merged with The Hives played at the end of a tunnel. The rough ‘n’ ready style is accentuated by a suitably raw production, though never raw enough to sound merely tossed off. From somewhere within the noise, there are pop hooks aplenty as before, even though the vocal howls like a bastard in an effort to derail. ‘Velvet Curtains’ presents another power pop-fest, with Nightmen coming across like a Swedish back alley Knack with some great sharp guitar leads and choppy riffs breaking up the verses – certainly fun – and ‘Too Late, Wild Heart’ cheekily borrows a Phil Spector drum sound and mixes an early sixties sensibility with a soft pop/rocker that, on one hand loses the album some momentum, but on the other proves Nightmen are not a one trick pony. The performance might be a little raw, but the vocal is heartfelt and the arrangement shows a great love of a bygone era. Bringing things up to a full eleven tracks in just a little longer than it takes Yes to bloat and bore their way through side one of ‘Tales of Topographic Oceans’, ‘City of Fun’ lives up to its promise with some post-punk brilliance and a whole barrage of “na na na”s creating something which, in an alternate universe, would’ve been a Blondie b-side.

A couple of slower numbers means that this second record doesn’t always come with the near relentless drive of the debut; it occasionally shows a little more maturity too, but in some ways is a more interesting record for that (mood allowing). It’s easy enough to pick three or four standout cuts, but looking at everything together, ‘Can’t Avoid Success’ is the near-perfect trash fest – a great homage to the seventies approached from various angles, far more than the sum of its influences…and a listening experience that comes up with musical gold almost every time.

May 2017