Call the police! Ring Scotland Yard! Nic Armstrong & The Thieves have stolen the music of the 1960s. How they made off with the entire catalogue of the the decade, I’m not sure, but I’m guessing they just absorbed it. How else could you explain an album from a young native of Newcastle (Northern England) that sounds like it just stepped out of a time machine. There are shades of the Rolling Stones blues rock, the innocent Brit-pop of the young Beatles and The Hollies and finally, there’s some psychedelic experiments going on to.
The Greatest White Liar (New West Records) may be Armstrong’s debut album but it is surprisingly mature – lyrically and musically. “In Your Arms On My Mind” is the type of song that not many musicians would dare to write, let alone record. The lyrics are sweet and sentimental. Armstrong hums along happily about love. “Like a flower – open slowly” he sings and instead of eye-rolling, the lush arrangement immediately calls up visions of perfect sunny days. The kind that some might insist only truly existed during the 60s “summer of love” craze.
Armstrong isn’t all soft and sentimental though. He goes for a harder edge on the simmering track “Down Home Girl”. Imagine Mick Jagger’s vocals and The Beatles as his with their tight pop sound as his backing band. When the singer/songwriter gushes about his appreciation for the girl next door, you know he has something more in mind than an evening sitting in the family parlor. “Back In That Room” is also a hard rocker with a great driving beat.
The psychedelic movement comes into play on the opening chords of “Natural Flair”. It’s a shame these guys were born decades too late (and they probably think so too) because they would have fit perfectly on a bill with Jefferson Airplane and Deep Purple. This isn’t the 60s genre that the band is best at, but they tackle it head on. After all, it did take almost an entire decade for musicians to grow into this trippy vibe, so Armstrong and his thieves will probably have it nailed perfectly on their next album.
There’s a fine line that can be drawn between songs that are saccharine and ones that are just honestly rich in emotion and beauty. Listen to the tracks “She Changes Like The Wind” and I’ll Come To You” and you will never be confused again. Everything is done right here.
The lyrics, arrangements and overall production make these two shine with the intensity of a perfect summer day – blue skies and white clouds. “She’s such a lovely sunny day” sings Armstrong on “She Changes Like The Wind” as he encourages his “friends to come out and play”. It’s the type of tune that makes you want to play hooky from work, school or just the doldrums of life in general.
Nic Armstrong & The Thieves may have called their album The Greatest White Liar but there’s obviously nothing false about their talent or dedication to making music. It will be interesting to see if their blast from the past sound can find a home in today’s music market. But then again, these are probably not the kind of guys who are interested in getting down and dirty and battling it out for a place on Billboard’s Top 100. Sure, it would be nice, but they’ll get there in their own fashion. It’ll probably be a VW bus instead of an SUV – but at least it will be groovy!