Nervus, “The Evil One”
By Charlie Zaillian · June 27, 2022 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

The Evil One, the fourth album from English alternative rock band Nervus, thrives on contrasts: angst and tenderness, optimism and despair, burly power chords, and gentle acoustic strums. Confident and energetic, yet subtly and unmistakably melancholic; it’s the sound of reckoning with middle age while doubling down on one’s appreciation of all things fast, melodic, progressive, and sincere.

Though products of Watford—a town of about 100,000 in the north-west fringes of the London metro—one could easily peg vocalist-guitarist Em Foster, keyboardist Paul Etienne, bassist Lucinda Livingstone, and drummer Jack Kenny as hailing from Sunderland, the northern port city that’s consistently punched above its weight as a punk rock stronghold. The single “Drop Out” drinks from the same well XTC and Jam acolytes The Futureheads did 20 years back, while “Rotting Mass” conjures the legendary Leatherface—the UK’s answer to Hüsker Dü—with its clarion-call riffing and wounded-but-defiant spirit, making a strong case for standout tune.

Elsewhere, opener “Iconoclast” and its all-hands-on-deck gang vocals nod in the direction of Olympia, Washington in the early-2010s heyday of pop-punk cult faves RVIVR. On “Rental Song,” Foster’s phrasing doesn’t just channel They Might Be Giants‘s John Linnell—the jangly tune even includes an accordion. A pair of old-timers— Billy Bragg (“I Wish I Was Dead”) and The Pogues’s Shane MacGowan (the album-concluding “Absolute Yuck”)—loom large over the ten-song set at its most elemental.

Foster & Co. don’t take the music they love lightly, resulting in an album that is at once varied, cohesive, and greater than the sum of its parts. In sound and sentiment, The Evil One articulates the unromantic but very real wilderness between young adulthood and middle age—accepting that one cannot live on punk rock alone, surrendering control over what can’t be changed, but refusing to give up on leaving the world a better place than you found it—as cogently and passionately as any band of its ilk has in some time.

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