Nikki Sudden, best known as a member of the Swell Maps and the Jacobites, died last weekend after a show, apparently of a heroin overdose. As usual with such rock-star deaths, I’m torn between sympathy for the presumptive pain that would drive someone to use the number one chumps’ drug, and a sort of anger and betrayal if there was no such pain but instead only an idiot’s disregard for the value of one’s life, not only to oneself but to others. Anyway, outside of his friends and his family (who knew him as Nicholas Godfrey), Sudden will be remembered for his music, so here’s some of that.
I only have a couple of Jacobites songs, so I can’t say much about that band. But I like Swell Maps: they’re in some ways like a more user-friendly Wire, with less of that band’s sometimes imperious intellectuality (and I love Wire) and more off-the-cuff noise-as-fun. Swell Maps’ more experimental side (when it works) sounds a lot like a bunch of guys having a great time; witness the balloon-playing in the lengthy coda to “Gunboats” which, even though it’s a fairly dark song overall, also sounds as if the balloon-player was taking a bit of the piss out of that somberness.
Maybe their best-known song was “Read About Seymour,” which is one of those songs that sound good even while sounding as if it was written at the same time it was recorded. Perhaps my favorite song of theirs was another early single “Let’s Build a Car,” which is a little more polished, a great single (despite all the rebellious posturing around late-seventies British punk, it was also a movement that brought back some of the disposable joy of mid-sixties pop singles).
Nikki Sudden was (and I think you can hear it in these tracks) an acolyte of Keith Richards; unfortunately, his body evidently lacked Richards’ superhuman tolerance for abuse. That’s it – we’re done.