By Nic Armstrong
Recorded at the currently hip Toe Rag Studios, produced and engineered by studio boss Liam Watson (cf Elephant and The Cribs) "The Greatest White Liar" is a fully realised retro-pop album of songs - and virtually a solo album to boot.
The front cover is eerily reminiscent of "The Beatles For Sale", and the black and white studio snaps inside are lovingly wreathed in the same cigarette smoking disease that did for George Harrison. The music confirms the 60's fixation.
As a child of that era, I can't listen to it without grimacing. It veers between the Rutles and the Beatles with unsteady lurches that leave a great yearning hollowness where the original artists should be. But don't let that put you off.
Because, my problems aside, there's no doubt that Nic Armstrong is an artist in his own right. He does has a voice of his own, a knack for tunes and a real fluency with his material that means he doesn't plagiarise at all - he emulates with brilliance. But, accepting the passage of time and the ravages our musical hearing has suffered, the result is accurate and exotic. The Byrds, The Zombies and the Who are referenced as well as the Fab Four. And (not many people will notice this) so is one-hit-wonder Don Partridge, whose one-man-band single "Rosie " was top five in 1968. Armstrong's homage is "Scratch The Surface", with giveaway thumpy bass drum.
As a smart answer to the question "what can you do when everything's been done?" I suppose "The Greatest White Liar" comes pretty close. But it is the sound of a man racing full tilt up a blind alley, in true Dick Lester style, albeit avoiding the Monkees Parody Syndrome with grace and balance. It's going to be interesting to see how he gets out of there when/if this album takes off. (It's quirky and cute enough to do that very thing)
Each of the constituents of English 60's pop are lovingly restored and re-presented, with almost no trips back to the black originals (hence the title?). It's definitely George and John rather than Bo Diddley or Chuck Berry. It's Parlophone and Decca rather than Stax and Chess.
I'm afraid that nothing stands out. With such polish and ease, each track is as perfect (and perhaps as banal) as the last. There's a bit more blues, a bit more cowboy a bit more soppy love song. But as I listen through and through each fresh track erases all memory of its predecessor. Songs like "Natural Flair" start well, and keep taut and exciting until - well, it should be until the great chorus that all the 60's songs had. But that's where it goes a bit awry. The great sounds, beats and feel are there. But the monster hooks that were essential to 60's success are hard to find. That one problem makes this sound like an album of what used to be called great B sides.