Since their arrival on the scene in 2016 with their debut album, Permanent Rainbow, Nervus have cultivated a small but dedicated fan base. Their bright indie-punk with lyrics that seemed to be far more melancholic than their musical canvas would suggest, resonated with plenty of people very deeply. Despite this, there has been some mild controversy around the band’s anarcho-leftist political stance; with some people suggesting that they were put off by the band’s statements on Twitter.
After even a cursory inspection of the lyrical narrative on Tough Crowd, it’s obvious Nervus, quite frankly, couldn’t care less what those people think. This is most obvious on They Don’t, Burn and No Nations. They Don’t is a scathing indictment of the police and the tactics used to distract from brutality often perpetrated by law enforcement. “Why is it people wanna focus on state violence when that officer proposed at Pride?” is a perfect encapsulation of the way identity politics is co-opted to distract from transgressions by the state. This isn’t the only case of frontwoman Em Foster being on an absolutely blinding streak of catchy but razor-sharp lyricism. “You weren’t far from the mark when you said Morrisey, irrelevant and again ungracefully”, appears on The Inconvenient Truth which excellently captures some of the less politically oriented lyrics. Burn is a simple song- musically and lyrically- which calls to mind the works of Woodie Guthrie, especially his song Tear The Fascists Down. It’s a moving song that combines cheerful nihilism with the core of anarchist politics, and, if the listener isn’t paying enough attention, might find itself being sung by people who don’t believe that we should “burn the fucker down.”
An element of this album that will surely go underrated is the versatility of drummer Jack Kenny. While there’s not anything on the album that stands out as hugely technically flashy, it’s the way he is perfectly able to adapt his playing to the style of the song he’s playing. When straight-up punk rager, Fake, follows on from the more sombre Engulf You, it’s like hearing him transform from a restrained, precise drummer into Animal from The Muppets, in the best possible way. The use of keyboards by Paul Etienne is also excellent. They’re never lost in the louder moments of the record. adding texture and dimensions that couldn’t be achieved with adding another guitar- I Can’t Dance is a perfect example. Unusually for a lot of rock music, bassist Lucinda Livingstone’s playing seems to be the driving force of a lot of the songs, on No Nations it holds the song together as the keyboards and guitars push and pull against each other. Each band member throws out some excellent vocal harmonies across the album, whether on the chorus of Piss or the a cappella outro to Flies. The best moment for this though has to be the “woah oh”s on They Don’t, which are sheer bliss- adding a lift to the level lyrical delivery. It’s impossible to come away from an album featuring Em’s guitar playing without praising her instantly identifiable lead style, which snakes its way across the fret board adding flare to already excellent songs without ever stealing the spotlight in a traditional “guitar hero” way. All these performances add up to a varied, but still uniquely Nervus, listening experience.
Ultimately, there’s nothing bad about Tough Crowd. In fact, all of it is brilliant. Yeah, the politics might put some people off, but if you can listen to a Rage Against The Machine album without getting upset then Tough Crowd shouldn’t be much of a stretch. There’s not been an album that has hit me with the impact that this has, and continued to grow on future listens, since Permanent Rainbow in 2016- which is my favourite album ever. While Permanent Rainbow hasn’t been dethroned for me, Tough Crowd is clearly superior on a creative level and represents the moment Nervus graduate from the best modern rock band on the scene to one of the best bands of all time. Tough Crowd ends on a final, swirling crescendo, leaving you in the same way every Nervus album leaves you. Cleansed of all the negative emotions you had going in. That’s what makes Nervus special. Tough Crowd is the best album of 2019, and possibly this decade.
Highlights: “They Don’t”, “Burn” and “Engulf You”
Tough Crowd is out 27th September via Big Scary Monsters and can be purchased here.