Friday 4 July 2008

Lindisfarne "Sleepless Nights" (1982) (Revised Review)

You can buy 'Passing Ghosts - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Lindisfarne' in e-book form by clicking here!

Lindisfarne "Sleepless Nights" (1982)

 Nights/ Start Again/ Cruising To Disaster/ Same Way Down/ Winning The Game/ About You// Sunderland Boys/ Love Is A Pain/ Do What I Want/ Never Miss Your Water/ I Must Stop Going To Parties/ Stormy Weather 

Oo-er missus! That wasn't what I meant when I asked for an early alarm call and 'Sleepless Nights' - I meant the third Lindisfarne reunion record on my mp3 player's alarm system, not a scantily clad (erm, make that totally unclad) girl demurely peering round a door while waiting for Alan Hull, dressed as a butler, offering her a strategically-placed tray of goodies (including a rubik's cube and a copy of The Beatles Book fanclub magazine - hold on to that love it'll be worth something one day - though not sadly a copy of Alan's Album Archives, the perfect thing for insomniacs). We even see the back cover from her 'point of view' (we all know how much Alan Hull loved John Lennon but this is taking the 'Two Virgins' cover too seriously!) The band were always quite openly about why they decided to do it - publicity, short and simple, the one thing they hadn't had much of recently - and they certainly got it, with articles about the 'scandalous' shoot appearing in the British tabloids like the now defunct News Of The World, the surely soon-to-be-defunct Daily Mirror and the why-the-hell-isn't-it-defunct? The Sun (even though it was all so much more tasteful than what most of them had on page three of their papers). After all if your music can't get noticed then the world surely couldn't miss this, a band getting as saucy as they could given censorship in 1982. The photo shoot took place at the first stately home the band could find who said 'yes' - Wallington Hall in Northumberland (the same place where the video of 'Start Again' was filmed, with Alan Hull in the same waiter's outfit he wears on the cover) which was then between owners. Apparently the 'new' owners (a sect of Methodists) moved in soon after, heard about the photo shoot and looked up the band's contacts to complain, moaning to poor Rod Clements who was unlucky enough to be the first person to answer the phone! Rod pointed out in reply that he's seen lost of paintings of nude women hanging up when the band had done the shoot! Lindisfarne have always had a bit of the 'carry on up the Tyne' about them but till now their album covers have tended to be serious affairs - so is this jokey sense going to be reflected in the music?

No way. No how. No siree bob (Dylan). While the cover helped in the short-term (the album peaked at a UK high of #59, which was much higher than 'The News' if nowhere close to 'Back and Fourth') it hurt this dear little album in the long-term by being so different to it all. This is, you see, Lindisfarne's 'adult' album - but not that sort of an 'adult' album; instead of the winks and innuendo it's a mature reflection on middle age and the fact that in an increasingly colder war the world might not have much longer. There are some of Lindisfarne's greatest songs on this, easily the most consistent and tuneful of their nine reunion studio LPs and while there is comedy - with some of the most 'lol' (laugh out Lindisfarne) moments of the band's career in the form of 'Love Is A Pain' and 'I Must Stop Going To Parties' - it's wistful humour, self-deprecating smiles about wayward pasts and being doomed to make the same old mistakes. As for the rest of the record it's as serious as Lindisfarne ever get, featuring Alan Hull at the most political he's been in years, getting stroppy about the Reagan 'star wars' crisis and the needless stupidity of the Falklands War. That's besides songs about love that are more 'gloomy' than usual, wistfully remembering happier times from the past, willing to start again like the old days, the sad yearning over not quite realised what a good thing the narrator was on in the past, being doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over and Hull's most deliciously nasty song, the seething put-down 'About You'. Rod also turns in a darker, deeper 'Fog On The Tyne' with the unemployed 'Sunderland Boys' and Jacka is feeling bitter about the music business in 'Winning The Game' about the rollercoaster ride of fame. 'Sleepless Nights' proves that you can't judge a record by its cover - despite the front (and more especially the back) covers, this is a record where the sleepless nights come because of worry not fun.

Naivity is a theme of much of the record, with the band looking back on the 'golden oldies'; days with surprise that they got away with so much back when. 'Now the fun is all gone' Hull sings on 'Cruising To Disaster' about how the world is likely to get blown up any minute now by an un-thinking Reagan 'who wants to teach the Russians good'. The fact that the single most impassioned vocal of Hull's career (one that's possibly a bit too OTT in places) is contrasted with a children's choir from Weald Middle School in Brear Green (who are all in their early 40s now just to depress you - 'you don't realise you're aging util you realise you're old...') - the sort of sound that's usually only heard on 'pure' innocent records until Pink Floyd's 'Another Brick In The Wall' ruined the image forever  makes for a haunting contrast between the hard reality of life in 1982 and the peace and love of just fifteen years before. It's there too in the title and opening track which has Jacka singing about how  the 'early days' were 'so naive' (though a naive time that could 'let you believe' in what you wanted) - the fact that the title and opening track comes over like the long lost doo wop cousin of Grease enhances the effect even more. Elsewhere 'Love Is A Pain' reflects on how all love starts off just 'fine' but eventually leaves you more worldly wise (and a 'wreck'). 'Start Again' has the narrator promising to mend his ways a second time round (is this even Hull's message to the band?) Jacka's re-write of 'Taking Care Of Business' on the superior 'Winning The Game' also suggests a narrator whose seen it all before and isn't getting too carried away when things go right. However it's the goofy comedy 'I Must Stop Going To Parties' that's actually perhaps the most grown up and least naive song here, a party-goer suddenly realising that he's frittering his life away over nothing and vowing to mend his ways (with no actual acceptance for what constituted being 'old' anymore, most people quietly accept it's when your social calendar shifts so that you spend more days 'in' than 'out', although judging by that criteria I've been middle aged since birth. Which kinda makes sense). After all, this is the band that once celebrated the right to party like no other (the 'band' even get locked up for it on 'We Can Swing Together', actually a pre-Lindisfarne Alan Hull song...) Only the juvenility of 'Do What I Want' and the 'warning' message of 'Sunderland Boys' (a disenfranchised youth who' e been forced to grow up too soon) speak 'against' the message.

The thing that strikes you most about this album, though is how 'grown up' the sound is. Out is the occasionally yet delightfully shambolic Lindisfarne of old and in comes a well drilled outfit who are the equal of any other band out there at the time (most reviewers at the time compared this record to Steely Dan). The band took a bit of a departure for this record and enlisted the help of producer and engineer Steve Lipson who knew his way around the technology after working with the likes of The Pet Shop Boys and Frankie Goes To Hollywood and he'll go on to produce fellow AAA star Paul McCartney's 'Flowers In The Dirt'. However the period sound that this album reflects best is the Human League, with a similar sense of warmth and humanity coming through despite the high ratio of digital instruments being used. It ought to sound horrible, with Lindisfarne's natural 'slouch' corrected by a rigid drum beat and a sea of electronic effects, but instead Lipson somehow manages to capture the 'essence' of the band's sound within there too, with the the old elements such as the harmonies and Rod and Ray's quirky style as a rhythm section intact (just check out 'Start Again' which is unmistakenly Lindisfarne despite being given a massive disco makeover!) somehow multiplied thanks to the things added on top. Even the saxophone solo on 'Winning The Game' which was everywhere in this period - and regular readers will know how much I detest such things - isn't too bad (I only winced on one note, which is pretty good going for me!) Given how bad most 1980 AAA albums (including the near-unlistenable Lindisfarne sequel 'Dance Your Life Away') it's a shock just how 'right' this record gets things, with the production slick enough to sound like all the radio hits around at the time - but better, because Lindisfarne's material is strong enough and timeless enough to wear these snazzy clothes. It's worth pointing out here that many fans don't agree with me here and that even the band themselves weren't too sure about it all (Ray Laidlaw dismisses the record as a 'sampler' in the 'Fog On The Tye' book on the band), but of all the reunion albums it's the one that sounds most like the 'Lindisfarne' of old while at the same time suggesting that the band still have a future and a point to make after their 1972 split.

Perhaps the band simply remember what a hard slog it was making this record, which was originally intended to be a 'rush-release' to make up for the poorly-publicised and low-selling 'The News' from 1979 but whose sections dragged out for some two-and-a-half years (most Lindisfarne records, even in the 1980s and 1990s, being recorded in a matter of weeks). The first sessions had to be stopped when Alan Hull punctured one of his lungs during an amateur football match and could hardly breathe for the next few weeks, let alone sing. Hully was also working side by side on a solo album (released in 1983 as 'On The Other Side') and kept changing and chopping the track selection for what he thought would work best with the band. Working with a new producer in a new environment in Chipping Norton also brought its own problems. More than that, though, the band were simply getting bored of each other's company again. The Lindisfarne reunion in 1978 was never cemented as a 'permanent' reunion' and only really became one after 'Run For Home' solved most of the band's financial burdens in one go. Four years on and the band's biggest strength/weakness - the different personalities and styles in the band - were in danger of pulling them apart again. The final quintet of Lindisfarne had only ever been together a few months before their first release even though the band had tried to hit the big time for years in different bands - unlike so many other groups out there they didn't have that same 'shared history' to see them through. In a way this is the band's 'reunion' 'Dingly Dell', another under-rated 'difficult third record' released almost exactly a decade after its predecessor and recorded with almost as much aggro. However this time the band realise just how much they've gone through to get here and how precious the band is ('You never miss your water till your well runs dry...') and stay together for at least a bit longer, re-grouping, sensibly, after a lengthy gap across 1983 and 1984 (when the band toured a bit but didn't record bar the one-off single 'Friday Girl') This time, unlike 'Dingly Dell', 'Nights' is very much an ‘up’ album full of lyrical messages about starting over again, pulling together and making the most of what we’ve got before we lose it whilst being honest about frustration ('About You', whoever the 'you' in the song might be) and the difficulties of being alive in 1982 (the glorious rabble-rousing 'Stormy Weather'). For all of its painful birth, however, Sleepless Nights is in many ways the ultimate Lindisfarne album – the last album to be made by the original six founding members of the band before newcomer Marty Craggs joined in 1985 and despite – or perhaps because of – all the problems, Lindisfarne really pull together in a way that they hadn’t since their debut.

The material, too, underwent several changes between what the band set out to record and what ended up on the album, with possibly more songs recorded for this alum than any other Lindisfarne project. Some of the songs were abandoned because the band never felt they got them right - the album was even held up to try to finally nail 'Malvinas Melody', a controversial Hull song about the Falklands War that was later banned by the BBC and which the band loved and recorded several times, but they never did get it the way they wanted it. Yet another controversial Alan Hull song Evergreen was recorded and re-recorded many times with both Hull and Jackson having goes at the lead vocal (in between accidents) before this too was parked. The band still consider this song to carry a jinx, they lost that many sessions and recordings to illness/damaged tapes/ etc! (imagine how daring this album would have been with four political Hull songs together!) A later Alan Hull solo re-recording of both ';Malvinas Melody' and 'Evergreen' thankfully went without hitch and can be found on his rare 1983 LP On The Other Side (which is still awaiting CD release at present, so maybe the curse of the song holds after all!) Run Jimmy Run and Golden Apples are another two abandoned Alan Hull songs from these same sessions, which went unheard until the release of the first two collections of Lindisfarne oddities Buried Treasures in 1992 (you can find these songs on volume one and volume two respectively). An honorary mention too for the slightly earlier Soviet Russia protest single Lindisfarne released under the pseudonym The Defectors in 1980 with the memorable catalogue number KGB 1 (A-side Red Square Dance can be found on the 1992 compilation Buried Treasures Volume One, but B-side Dance Of the Dissidents has yet to appear on CD). Unusually for this period of Lindisfarne’s history there are two non-album B-sides to collect as well (but not yet on CD): See How They Run (which you can find on the back of Parties) and Dog Ruff (on the back of Nights). Finally, a live version of Winning The Game with a bit of doodling from the Peter Gunn’s Gunn theme tune thrown in for free can be found on Buried Treasure Volume Two!

It’s a crying shame that Lindisfarne split up after just three albums (or is that two and a half?) because without that unmovable gap of six years in the middle of their discography they’d surely be among the best remembered groups on this list, not the worst. Re-union albums can be a funny beast – many bands do genuinely come back together out of a love for music and everything the members once stood for – and some simply, blatantly, come back together purely because they can’t make a living solo (who mentioned the Spice Girls?!) Yet Lindisfarne genuinely seem to have gotten together again in 1978 out of genuine harmony and feelings that they still had more to say, with the past now water under the bridge. It’s been long forgotten in the mists of time now, but when Lindisfarne finally got back together again properly in 1978 after a series of one-off Christmas gigs during the previous years, in many ways they came back stronger and hungrier and certainly more united than ever. Back And Fourth (1978) was the successful commercial return that all too briefly restored Lindisfarne back to somewhere approaching their previous commercial heights and The News (1979) proved the band’s more successful artistic work with the critics, but its this third re-union album Sleepless Nights that makes for the perfect balance between the adventurous and the catchy, the inventive and the trademark Lindisfarne and the contemporary-but-not-too-1980s feel. Sleepless Nights is a fine attempt worthy of the band at their original peak, with an updated but not too modern sound and lots of clever arrangements that make their always good material sound great. Best of all, Lindisfarne sound like a band again, covering for each other’s weaknesses and helping to develop each other’s strengths, at just the same point (three re-union albums in) that the band had imploded into two factions of bitterness and anger the first time round.

The mix of genres is much the same as usual for a Lindisfarne album, classy material ranging from singalong pop to angry protest to reflective philosophy to pretty ballads to, well, everything really. But there’s more change of styles than normal – some Lindisfarne albums are so short they seem to be over just as they’re beginning and are either completely written by Alan Hull or don’t feature enough of him. Sleepless Nights is not only one of the band’s longest original albums, it also gets the balance just right: one song by the under-rated Ray Jackson, one by Rod Clements (sadly none by Simon Cowe but, hey, you can’t have everything) and 10 by Hully. As the album cover makes clear, the band aren’t sleeping because they’re out partying, not because they’re out worrying (although many of the songs on this album do tackle the idea of what happens when you stop partying and work out where your life is going from there. More on that later). It’s also no coincidence that this album’s working title was Party Policy in honour of this album’s most famous track I Must Stop Going To Parties, the novelty number that could have reversed the band’s declining fortunes if the band hadn’t been hit by all the above problems—Lindisfarne were as good a party band as any when they got going, but thankfully there’s plenty of room for deep-thinking thoughtful hangovers on this record as well.

For the most part this is consummate, heartfelt pop but there’s a surprisingly high quota of Alan Hull’s angry protest songs too, decrying the social unrest caused by the amateurishness of most of the decade’s politicians in both Britain and America (or so it seemed—unbelievably our current crop of world leaders seem to be worse). This is Alan Hull at his most angry, backed by Ray Jackson at his most emotional, Rod Clement and Ray Laidlaw at their most reliable and Simon Cowe at his most inventive, with some excellent guitarwork quite different to his usual style dotted across the album. There’s something for every Lindisfan, then, with a particularly high quota of comedy songs to counteract some of the band’s more usual fare of heart-warmingly poignancy and covering everything from growing old to missed opportunities. Lots of Lindisfarne records are well worth digging out of the rare second-hand shops (sadly all you’ll get in the mainstream shops these days are one or two shoddy compilations recycling songs from just the first two LPs), but Sleepless Nights is something special, full of consistent quality and fresh ideas. It's a record that shares the best of many worlds. A record that sounds contemporary but doesn't ignore the fact the band are older and wiser than younger bands making contemporary sounding records. A record that's thoughtful, yet playful. A record that's catchy, but deep. A  record that's winning the game but not afraid to address the horrors of losing. A record that's still able to party but knows when to stop. A record that will have you up all night doing so much dancing, partying, thinking and sobbing, you don't even need the cover...

Erm excuse me, the phone's ringing....

No Terry I'm not flaming coming out to a party, I don't care how many girls there are in your stately home - these reviews don't write themselves you know! Go home and listen to some Lindisfarne if you want to be merry! Now where was I?...

Nights is a mature, low-key start to the album, with a grow-on-you chorus and some of the band’s best harmony singing. Bold but catchy, its an impressively confident start, aping Steely Dan in its professional, lyrical craft without – dare I say it – sounding quite as dull or glossy. Ray Jackson’s lead vocal is nicely restrained, the contrast between his gentlemanly tones and Hully’s excited vibrato on the second verse is classic Lindisfarne, the production is well spaced and inventive and even if we’ve heard the lyrical theme of this song – what a great memory that was and what a shame about the present we’re living in – a few times on this list already, then at least its done with some style here. Fittingly given the reminiscing theme, this song simultaneously manages to ape Motown, soul, blues and pop without losing its (then) contemporary shine. The highlights of the track are the golden harmonies - which are impressively tight and nothing like as wonky as Lindisfarne can be at times – and the rolling, exploratory Rod Clements bass riff which doesn’t sit still for a minute. Band friend and fellow Geordie Kenny Craddock (who’d been a member of the mark two Lindisfarne and played with just about all of the individual members during the split) also lifts the song into a higher sphere with the classy organ riffing on the fade-out, letting loose some of the passions that have been cleverly maintained behind a gruff exterior for much of the song. A classic start, then, even if Ray Jackson’s strong Geordie accent means he never quite manages to pronounce the word ‘naïve’ the same way twice. Terrific as the masterful production is (see - this is how you record 80s technology!) the band performed an even better arrangement live in concert around this time, a fully a capella version featuring all six members of the band (yes even Rod and Ray!)

Start Again is slightly more upbeat, slightly less serious and twice as catchy, with Ray Jackson doing some of his best singing on the verses. Rod Clements is off again on the burbling bass riff, but his time he’s joined by an interesting keyboard effect, caught somewhere between a guitar and percussion (in fact it sounds like a guitar player hitting his strings with a drumstick!) Again, this song probably isn’t the most original ever written and the lyrics can’t quite get beyond the idea that the narrator wants to start a relationship from the beginning again, avoiding the pitfalls of the present the second time around. However, the restrained energy of the backing fits the sentiments perfectly and more classy production gloss makes the whole song sound far more fresh and interesting than might have been the case on another Lindisfarne album. It’s also nice to hear more of the band’s fine interplay and they really do turn in a fine performance here. It’s always good to hear Jacka and Hully singing along together and their competitiveness/ complementaryness is a large part of Lindisfarne’s appeal, despite the fact that they never actually sang together all that often. Simon Cowe also turns in a very Mark Knopfler-ish solo which adds an extra texture to the song (which is no surprise, given how close Lindisfarne and Dire Straits were – the band were in fact formed in Cowe’s kitchen, in a house he was sharing with original Dire Straits drummer Pick Withers, according to many a Lindisfarne book!)

So far so professional. Lindisfarne have been recording songs to make them sound like their peers and doing them well, but the next segment of the album ushers in songs that owe rather more to the traditional Lindisfarne sound. Cruising To Disaster is a typically over-the-top but still moving song from Alan Hull, aiming pot-shots at how the cold war suddenly seemed to be hotting up again in the 1980s. Many Lindisfarne songs seem to be having a go at Russian leaders (the 1980 Red Square Dance for one), but Hull makes it clear his attacks are double-edged, angrily dismissing Ronal Reagan as a wannabe president who wanted power for real because he never got offered such a part in his Hollywood career. The mood is clear – the politicians of the era are locked in a battle that might well see them saying ‘goodbye to the human race’ and yet the members of the public on both sides of the iron curtain were never consulted about any of their policies and are rather confused over why they are at war at all (unlike say WWI and WWII, nobody ‘volunteered’ for the Cold War or were given proper ‘propaganda’ against their rivals because the ’war’ or should I say ‘rivalry’ never officially existed and a proper acknowledgement from either side might well have kicked the whole thing off globally). Like many a political Hull song, this is unquestionably naïve but its still pretty powerful stuff and contains some of the writer’s cleverest couplets and wordplay (OK, OK, maybe not the rhyming of ‘disaster’ and ‘faster’ but the rest is good!) The use of a children’s choir (featuring pupils from Weald Middle School, Beare Green) is also a nice touch, their perfectly enunciated posh English voices contrasting greatly with Hull’s 100% Tyneside tonsils that frequently wander off the note. Hull builds to one of his typical wraths of indignation about modern life on this song, giving the album a depth and a heart it might otherwise lack and its easy to believe that this could be an early take of the song, never intended to be more than a warm-up vocal that somehow ended up getting the emotion of the song so spot-on that the band never bothered having another try.

Same Way Down is a lot more melancholy, but it’s still very commercial compared to Lindisfarne’s usual rough and rustic charm. The song’s serious lyrics again contrast surprisingly well with the tongue-in-cheek arrangement, complete with booming comedy basses from a double-tracked Jackson. The star of this track, however, is drummer Ray Laidlaw, the band’s self-named ‘Mr Dependable’ who gets a rare chance to go hell for leather and whack just about every spare bit of his drumkit, hitting on the frustration that the detached narrator doesn’t believe he can show to the outside world. Along with most of the other tracks here, this could have been a very average song put into someone else’s hands, but here its obvious that the band have spent a lot of work on getting it to sound the best they can – hence the crystal clear production and cleverly separated mix (just compare this to the muddied mix of the Lindisfarne album Fog On The Tyne which is by comparison a bit, err, foggy).

A morse-code synthesiser riff then pushes the song straight into another similar track, Jackson’s Winning The Game. One of his best, it’s similar to Warm Feeling and the neglected classic King’s Cross Blues in the way the singer breathlessly rushes through the song, despite the backing playing along at a clip only slightly faster than walking pace. Unusually for Jackson’s rather more straightforward writing fare, this is yet another Lindisfarne song about the emptiness of fame (third album Dingly Dell is full of songs on this theme) but instead of recording a moody ballad about his problems, Jacka has decided to match his lyrics about struggling to find an audience to one of the band’s most commercial riffs, as if to ram home the point about how hard the narrator is trying to become successful again after a dry patch. There’s even a saxophone solo in the middle for goodness sake (a must for most 1980s pop songs, but hardly a regular Lindisfarne instrument) along with more of this album’s chirpy but surprisingly retro sounding synthesisers. A minor classic, it’s a shame to think that this is the last song Jacka would ever get onto a Lindisfarne album (and even then he only ever managed three in his career, a great waste of talent!)

Side one ends with About You, the second Hull song in four years directed at an un-named villain that finds the singer at his most scathing, sarcastic and taunting, with his narrator blackmailing another character and hinting at something dark in his past although we never find out what that secret is (the other one of these songs is Get Wise from 1978’s Back and Fourth if you want to compare notes; that track even ends with the revealing line ‘this song is for you but its also for me’). Hully never did reveal who he was getting so irate about on these songs (indeed, he didn’t do that many interviews during Lindisfarne’s reunion days considering how much publicity most other groups on this list did—and how much he loved to talk) but given that Hully was a self-confessed Lennon fanatic and the fact that this song contains a similar feel to the ex-Beatle’s How Do You Sleep? and especially Hey Bulldog, is the writer talking about himself here a la Lennon, despite the third person narrative? ( The middle eight of ‘He used to be a sad man’ sounds very autobiographical given the melancholy, sighing way Hull sings it here). Or is this is another of those I-hate-being-in-this-group songs a la Dingly Dell? (If so, its ironic that this track contains yet another of this album’s fine band performances). In truth there’s little here to place the song at anybody’s door as lyrically it’s rather vague, but the menace in Hull’s vocal, Clements’ slurping bass riff and even the opening slashed percussion effects still make the whole thing sound very creepy and sinister. Serious as Hull obviously feels the song to be given his passionate lead, the arrangement of this song is positively hilarious and you can hear the audible grins on Jacka’s and Cowe’s faces as their backing vocals join in with the song’s nonsense calypso riff. Clements’ swooping gulping bass riff is also 180 degrees away from what he normally plays, wildly out of control as if it’s the life and soul of the party, giving this track something of an experimental flavour. After a while this track just about manages to turn sentimental by adding in some poignant nostalgia about the character’s previous seemingly-perfect past, but Hull’s angry vocal on the last verse turns the song into a full-frontal assault once again, giving it an added kick in its final minute. An interesting experiment, this recording sounds like Paul Weller as the re-incarnation of John Lennon, with a bit of a Bo Diddley beat thrown in for free.

The beginning of side two is the favourite spot for a Rod Clements song on a Lindisfarne album and Sunderland Boys is one of his more off-the-wall contributions to the band’s canon. Part rap, part blissed out-Beach Boys-like harmony heaven, it features some clever wordplay and a an ear-catching acoustic guitar opening over a tricky tempo that sounds like an absolute horror for a very low-mixed Jackson to get his teeth round, never mind the grumbling harmonies in the background. Most of Clements’ songs centre around one clever accessible idea, matched with some wordy but worthy lyrics and a sinaglong chorus (think Meet Me On The Corner – that’s one of his too). Sunderland Boys, however, is oblique, vaguely telling a tale of some local lads getting into trouble (a Sunderland gang fighting one from Newcastle perhaps?) and being blamed for something that isn’t actually their fault (the song makes it clear that with no ‘future’ to look forward to in a world of unemployment and low-pay jobs their angst is not necessarily their fault), but the whole recording of the song and the odd electronic effects makes the band sound uncharacteristically dispassionate about their fate. Even Simon Cowe’s very 50s-sounding guitar solo sounds strangely dispassionate, as if the lack of prospects in the future have drained the singers playing these characters of all feeling. Odd, but intriguing and another example of Lindisfarne trying to vary their style on this album.

Love Is A Pain is much clearer, a lovely pop song with more than a nod to 10CC’s I’m Not In Love with its head-shrugging lyrics about the narrator coming up with every reason under the sun not to fall in love, despite the obvious romantic undercurrent that has him screaming out to be loved. The chorus line is obviously going for laughs (‘you start out fine like a bottle of wine but you end up just like a wreck’) but again the second verse comes to the rescue just as the song is getting a bit too jokey with some very genuine poignancy (‘I know its hard and I understand…’), where the narrator makes it clear that he doesn’t want to be tied down because he’s afraid of commitment, not angry with his partner. Amazingly, this is the fourth song on the album to feature Hull and Jacka singing together throughout most of the track – this only happens again in Lindisfarne’s career about another four times total. Jacka’s mouthorgan used to dominate Lindisfarne albums, but by the time of Sleepless Nights it hadn’t been heard for a while - so full marks for giving the instrument a welcome, triumphant return to the band’s sound on this song.

Do What I Want is another peculiar track and one of the weakest ones here, being more of a riff than a fully developed song. Just take a look at some of these enticing ingredients though: there’s some barrelhouse piano, crowd-pleasing references to ‘the fog on the tyne’, some very odd ‘sniffing’ effects, the sound of Simon Cowe opening and closing the shutter on his new motorised camera in time to the music and an ending howl of laughter for no apparent reason (it sounds very similar to the one Nils Lofgren and Grin used at the finale of 'End Unkind' on their '1+1' album in 1972 - is it from an American toy I don't know about?) Again, it's another apparently filler track lifted a category higher thanks to the sumptuous production values, but unlike most of the album there doesn’t seem to be a point to it except that Lindisfarne are ‘doing what they want’ with their music because ‘it's my life’ – even if what they want to do is decidedly odd. You can hear a very drowned-out bit of chat, which sounds like Si saying 'but as you can see', at around the 2:20 mark just before the 'it's you that I wanna do!' line.

Never Miss The Water is the complete opposite – a well-constructed, wistful piece about a widower who took their partner for granted when they were alive, but misses them deeply now they’re gone. A gorgeous chorus reflecting on all the things that the narrator was going to do one day is the sort of poignant, observational idea that Hull excels at and the wistfulness is underlined by some extra-special band harmonies, with Jacka and Cowe both on sterling form alongside the song’s author. Elsewhere, the tone is more irrelevant, with verses including more of this album’s wit (the narrator’s partner’s picture has a ‘moustache drawn in green’ from when he got a bit drunk and resentful about her disappearance one night), but it soon becomes clear that the humour is just more self-defence to cover the narrator’s obvious rage at the situation he cannot change. In retrospect, its odd that this catchy and inventive song wasn’t plucked from the album as a single (there were four flop singles chosen from this album after all) because it’s the perfect epitome of what Lindisfarne represent: hilarious yet devastating, commercial yet deep, highly polished yet (thanks to another wandering Hull vocal) not so perfect the performance sounds hollow. If only there were more tracks around like this one but, ah well, you never miss a band till the well’s run dry. Excuse me, I think there’s something in my eye…

I Must Stop Going To Parties is the album’s big comedy song, a sort of non-hit hit single (it never reached the charts but the video and radioplay did a big part in making Lindisfarne relatively ‘hip’ again. Well, briefly. Until their disastrous rock and roll covers album C’mon Everybody!!! and their Paul Gascoigne-football remake of Fog On The Tyne killed their hard work off again anyway.) Even for an on-form Lindisfarne this song is hilarious, with its increasingly desperate narrator saying over and over how he won’t go to any more parties – only for fictional character 'Terry' to ring him up and invite him out with an offer he can’t refuse. The song’s party atmosphere, complete with squeakers, accordion, chanting and laughter, has a lot to do with the song’s success but Hull’s witty wordplay and the band’s interjections (Jacka’s drunken tired slur in the last verse is hilarious and could have brought him a new career as a voice artist) make a fine base for the party-goers to build on. OK OK so our previous Lindisfarne review said that Hull often struggled to write comedy songs, with even Fog On The Tyne trying too hard to be outrageously wacky and OTT. Here, though, Hully has finally learned the art of crafting his comedy songs with as much craft as his serious songs, adding subtlety and depth instead of simply trying to make us laugh (how annoying that Hully never really gets to write another comedy song again before his untimely death in 1995). There’s more than a hint of genuine regret going on in the song too, as the narrator gets ill from lack of sleep and wonders why he’s been conned into going to yet another function full of people he doesn’t know or care for when he could be fast asleep in bed. Like many a Lindisfarne commentator has pointed out, there’s something about this song which doesn’t quite click together and another take or three for the backing track might have made all the difference for its hit potential. However, what we do have is still impressive, with Lindisfarne at their comic best. 

After listening to the strain of comedy that runs through the album, you’d be forgiven for thinking the record would end on a happy note. But no, Stormy Weather is another angry political song with Hull at his most quietly seething, although this too has a catchy, singalong chorus. After the Khrushchev and Reagan bashing earlier on, it’s Margaret Thatcher’s turn to feel the heat and its not the last album on this list to do so by a long chalk (nostalgic conservatives look away now…and hang your heads in shame. Not that labour’s any better, I know). This isn’t the Stormy Weather we all know and love, by the way, but in its own way this song too could have become a standard – it has the same pulling-together vibe and catchy charm, even if the mood is far angrier and despondent. Like many a Hull song of the 1980s, this song finds the narrator pleading to world leaders not to a) blow up the world b) antagonise others into blowing up the world c) taking so much time in not blowing up the world that they neglect everything else. This may seem odd to people nowadays when those in the modern era plotting to kill us all do tend to be individuals/ small groups of freedom fighters/terrorists/some neutral term that has yet to be coined, rather than some bored president with a mania for pushing red buttons, but back in the 80s this was a cold war between world leaders pure and simple, not between world leaders wondering where the next unknowable threat will strike. Passionate to the last, this song is Alan Hull in a nutshell: melodic, moody, magnificent and majestic, making the song sound like an old forgotten spiritual and a highly contemporary call to arms.

So, then, Sleepless Nights is a sweet but quite often scary record, made up of polished rock and pop songs with some of Hull’s most moving songwriting sandwiched in-between bursts of commercial fluffiness and sinaglong comedy jests. Any album that can make you laugh and cry (often at the same time) is something very special indeed and Sleepless Nights deserves to be one of Lindisfarne’s better known releases, not one of its most forgotten like it is now. Also consistency is an under-rated and rare commodity in rock albums - let’s face it, quite a few of them only manage to be consistently dreadful. But Lindisfarne managed to make a solid no-holes album with ease on Sleepless Nights – even if there are no career defining moments here like there were on Nicely Out Of Tune (see review no 37), its all good. And even if you don’t like the sounds inside the record, chances are most people only bought this album to look at the cover anyway… 
Other Lindisfarne-related articles from this website you might be interested in reading:

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