Sporting a name straight from a classic Kingsley Amis novel, Brighton-based Lucky Jim are already making waves far beyond the seaside city. Their debut single You Stole My Heart Away was warmly received by muso-insiders on its release last month while the album looks like making just as big a splash.
In Our Troubles End Tonight, Edinburgh-born Gordon Grahame and native Brightonian Ben Townsend have produced an effortlessly elegant collection of unaffected songs filled with heart-stopping chord structures and achingly wry melodies – vintage guitar songwriting to its core.
They wear their hearts on their sleeves and so too their musical influences. From beginning to end, elements reminiscent of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, Lee Hazlewood and even The Tindersticks crackle through, but never overpower. Also evident are echoes of Grahame’s former group The Lost Soul Band.
Opening track You Stole My Heart Away is assuredly upbeat, reverberating with bass, skiffling drums, piano and heartfelt melodies while Doors-esque swirling Hammonds complete the picture. You’re Lovely to Me bristles with simile and metaphor, such as, “You’re the elusive chord on my old guitar,” or “you glitter like sand that runs through my hand”, which in a different songwriter’s hand could sound awkward or even contrived, but here fit the song like a glove.
With songs chronicling love, life, loss and longing it would be easy to lump Lucky Jim with the current crop of alt-country or self-defeating Brit drabness, but that would be missing the point. For each melancholic moment there are those of strength, celebration and a hazy, if warped, optimism. This can be seen in Honeymooners, with Heather Banks, a colossal clash of guitar, Hispanic-sounding medleys and chords, and haunting vocals that are less sung than softly spoken.
At times, such as in Lesbia, Grahame’s rich, grainy voice can sound a little too knowing, too smug, and the pair sometimes struggle to maintain momentum over the course of the whole album, but these are minor quibbles over an otherwise beautifully crafted album.
Little wonder then, that Skint Records, home of Big Beat veterans Fatboy Slim and the Midfield General, pulled out all the stops – and the plug – to sign them from Red Records, which had been formed by a design company purely to release the album independently last year. Says Skint’s Damian Harris: “We heard the album, fell in love with it, couldn’t stop playing it, then started to get evangelical about it.”
It seems certain plenty of people out there will think the same – in an ego-driven music world of overproduction and tricky effects for the sake of it, pared-down Lucky Jim are a breath of fresh seaside air. A modern classic like their literary namesake? No, but an enduring album nonetheless.