As a founding member of the much lauded ’70s group, Swell Maps, Nikki Sudden, together with his brother, Epic Soundtracks, helped define a new form of musical freedom and experimentation which helped usher in the post-punk revolution. After the demise of the Swell Maps at the dawn of the ’80s, Sudden enjoyed a very fertile period in which he began releasing solo albums, as well as albums with Dave Kusworth as the Jacobites, and the monumental collaboration with Rowland S. Howard (the Birthday Party, Crime & The City Solution). Drawing on the sounds of the Rolling Stones and T. Rex, Sudden made some of the most raw and inspired albums full of double-edged melancholia and twentieth century malaise this side of Neil Young & Crazy Horse and Johnny Thunders.
The Secretly Canadian reissue campaign of Sudden’s entire recorded output from the ’80s covers ten full-length albums, which includes each of his eight proper full-lengths from that time period plus the classic THE RAGGED SCHOOL (the collection which Twin/Tone used to introduce Sudden and the Jacobites to American record buyers) and the ultra-rare Italian-pressed CROWN OF THORNS lp. Each of the ten full-lengths (some of which come packaged as a pair in a double disc set) has been fully remastered, comes with new liner notes, and has been expanded to include non-album B-sides, EPs and previously unreleased material (including the SHAME FOR THE ANGELS EP, LOST IN A SEA OF SCARVES, and WEDDING HOTEL EP, to name but a few). Also available for the first time are some of Sudden’s commercial videos as enhanced cd content, and an audio recording of a 1987 live performance in Augsburg, Germany, with Rowland S. Howard.
Many of the ten titles have been unavailable — and never before on cd — since they were initially released, and those that have seen the light of day since their initial release were so hastily put together that it may well have been better to leave them out of print (re-packaged titles were riddled with such reissue faux pas as mis-titled songs, unfortunately altered cover artwork, and missing album credits and photos). Given that none of Sudden’s work from the ’80s has been adequately available for the greater part of the past decade or more, plus the fact that the ten albums represented in this reissue campaign were initially released by almost as many record labels, it’s no wonder that Sudden has not enjoyed as much recognition as he richly deserves based on the body of work he has put forth. It is, however, a great shame. Certainly for a decade that saw some of rock’s most important voices either fall silent or grow as aesthetically barren as such icons — and Sudden influences — as the Rolling Stones (who opened the decade with the triumphant TATTOO YOU but then went nearly invisible, or some would argue creatively vacant, for most of the rest of the ’80s) and Neil Young (who spent most of the ’80s opting for style over substance, mired in his genre-exploration program), it’s fascinating to note that Sudden was plowing forth with the best material of his career unbeknownst to the hungry world of rock fans who would have rabidly embraced him had Sudden not been lurking so low beneath their radar. Yes, in retrospect, Sudden’s work from this period sounds so vital, and resounds with such fresh clarity in comparison to the din being created by the fallen idols of the generation which preceded him. Well it’s high time that Sudden is recognized for the incredible talent that he is: a true “rock ‘n roll fugitive”, or, as Andy Levein wrote, an “illusive rogue treading the periphery of the rock mainstream.”
“Why Nikki Sudden? Why now? The almost moribund fascination with ’80s musical culture is a reminder that that wasn’t all about vocoders and skinny noowave ties. The aftermath of UK punk and the arrival of the demonic Margaret Thatcher turned Britain into a gray land of unemployment and social misery. Aside from Joy Division, it was the Swell Maps, Rowland S. Howard, The Jacobites, and Sudden who made the darkness audible. The foppish attitude and ambiguous sexuality of Sudden and his cohorts never sat well with Swell Maps fans. But Nikki Sudden’s delicate, angry ‘post-punk’ pop songwriting is so perfectly flawed, it’s almost painful to hear, and yet he has crafted dozens of songs between 1982 and the present, working with his brother Epic Soundtracks and many others. The long, messy hair, paisley scarves, and Oscar Wilde-ish dandyisms from the Creation years (1986 on) is what made Sudden stand out from his peers. The lyrics to gorgeous threnodies such as “Jangle Town” from Texas, which presaged more British pop bands than you’ve had hot dinners, are alive with a loneliness that is nearly palpable. In his hands, the guitar was an instrument that could be a circular saw one moment and a prayer wheel the next. “Death Is Hanging Over Me”, which appears on both TEXAS and DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES resembles Ry Cooder or Townes Van Zandt as much as The Chameleons. Sudden’s music was precocious in that it was made for a time that was yet to come.” – Tim Haslett, Other Music