Like their fellow Bristolians, Idles, Lice have a love of noisy tunes, a penchant for righteous indignation, and a fondness for literary allusions. The first band to sign to Idles’ label, Balley Records, they’re commonly compared to Fat White Family and The Fall, as well as post-punk groups like The Birthday Party and Bauhaus. It’s easy to hear why. Their loose compositions eschew conventional songwriting structures in favour of dissonant jams, and disturbed, confrontational vocals from vocalist Alastair Shuttleworth. It All Worked Out Great is basically two previously released EPs played back to back, like GNR Lies without the racism and homophobic tirades.
The music combines hard rock drumming, Nuggets-era rock ‘n’ roll, and effects-heavy, oppressive guitars. The Birthday Party allusions aren’t too wide of the mark. Add in some Mcluskyisms, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa and you’re somewhere near to imagining Lice’s sound.
After the opening onslaught of ‘Stammering Bill’ and ‘Voyeur Picture Salesman’, which sees Lice “sick of having naked girls thrown in my face by magazines”, comes the relatively sedate tale of ‘Ted’s Dead’. Shuttleworth spins a short story of a man who is misdiagnosed with a terminal disease, and goes about acting out his fantasies. The second half of the album is, counterintuitively, the earlier of the two EPs. It is indebted to the Dead Kennedys in its sound, as well as in the confrontational subject matter and black humour of the lyrics.
Current single ‘Little John Waynes’ is about men forcing women into having abortions. With uncomfortable subject matter like that, you can see, (a) why Idles were keen to sign Lice up to their label and (b) that the band are aiming for something higher in their music than the nondescript, boilerplate tunes that many of their peers employ in a vain attempt to garner playlist adds, and spots on video game soundtracks. Shuttleworth has written lyrics inspired by Jonathan Swift and Flann O’Brien and, while he’s not in that class, he is at least an individual voice in an ever-expanding sea of cliché.
Lice are just finishing college. They are young and experimenting. It will take them some time, on this evidence, to find the maturity and surety of purpose that their mentors, Idles, exhibited on last year’s Brutalism album but It All Worked Out Great is a good start; a calling card for an exciting and energetic prospect. It’s the ideal record to put on at a social gathering if you want to weed out the music fans in the room. Most people will hate it, but you’ll immediately spot the like-minded individuals, even in a room full of strangers.
It All Worked Out Great is available here.