The teenage years are a rite of passage that rock has endlessly mined for fertile material. But, that transition from feckless twenties to—supposedly—responsible thirties and forties, is mostly overlooked in hard rock, although it is equally fraught with peril. Music about settling down is usually the mainstay for your Blunts, Bublés or maudlin Liam Gallagher ballads, not mosh pits and intense riffage. But as the album title F*ck Art infers, The Dirty Nil are all for speaking the truth to Rock and Roll.
Written and recorded with band members on the cusp of turning 30, and with the best part of 15 years spent in the tour van behind them, the majority of their third album is about adapting to the new 30-something normal, and the relationships and the responsibilities that come with it. On the bombastic “Done With Drugs”, lead singer Luke Bentham cautiously welcomes the idea of IKEA Sundays with the realisation “At twenty-nine, I’ve had some time to see, that no-one at the afterparty seems to be happy”. This new perspective on life makes them question everything: over the weeping country tones of “Elvis ’77” they put the king himself on the psychiatrist couch, wondering if he called his mum more, things could have turned out differently? Another risk with this mental shift is if couples find themselves at different stages: on “Hang Yer Moon”, a night owl tries to justify his staggering in at 4am to his girlfriend as a failing of her judgement rather than his.
If you are looking for a good time Rock and Roll album, this might all sound rather dour, but The Nil cleverly invert rock and roll cliches so that they become the tired status quo. On “One More and the Bill”, destructive behaviour is less about excess than opting out: “Gonna smash my TV, smash my phone, leave politics alone, go outside for a while”. This sums up the attitude of the whole album: it’s been fun, but I’m done.
It’s not like The Nil don’t still love a good shred, but even their head-banging throwbacks hide moments of melancholy: it’s the innocence of the “Doom Boy” that causes his crush to wonder if there is an ulterior motive to him wanting to hold hands in the back of a Dodge caravan, while the self-styled outlaw’s reason for eloping on “Ride or Die” is more about insecurity than criminality: “You’re born alone and die alone, and that’s the truth, and that’s what I believed until I met you”.
F*ck Art is unlikely to wow Polaris Music Prize judges with its lavish musical experimentation but neither will genre purists be satisfied. The Nil gleefully see different sub-genres—metal, punk, classic rock, alt-rock—as totally unnecessary, tweaking the formula subtly so that songs smoothly blend styles without fuss or ostentation. Their mission statement, as their previous album/compilations titles suggest—Higher Power, Minimum R&B, Master Volume— is maximum impact, rather than slavishly sticking to needless rules. So the lean bass and drums of pop-punk rub up against springy MC5 riffs, and guitar solos ride roughshod over everything like a Crazy Horse live album. It’s an approach that freshens up these old influences rather than regurgitates them.
The Nil are great at spinning a yarn: “Blunt Force Concussion” is a bittersweet cut about men trying not to express their feelings, the wince-inducing “Damage Control” is a solemn reminder that not everything should be said out loud in a relationship, and the rollicking “To the Guy Who Stole My Bike” settles scores, both old and new, with gallows humour worthy of Johnny Cash at his funniest.
F*ck Art is a two-finger salute to playlist algorithms, rock snobbery and people who take life too seriously. Its front cover is a Labrador closing his eyes and sticking out a tongue. It could be a metaphor about the simple joys in life? It could also be symptomatic of a band spending way too much time on TikTok? Either way, it’s joyful and irrelevant, qualities F*ck Art has in abundance.
Check out more of The Dirty Nil’s music here.