Heir to the existential angst of such late-’70s luminaries as John Lydon and Tom Verlaine, England’s Ian Lowery (whose first recorded musical strivings were with a late-’70s punk band, the Wall) talk-sings in that wonderfully curdled sneer we’ve heard a million times before. But few do it as well.
Lowery has had his current moves down pat since the days he fronted the Folk Devils. Goodnight Irony reeks with attitude; the band rocks hard and sullen as Lowery grunts, gasps and snarls. Tracks like “Evil Eye,” “English Disease” and “Beautiful Monster” would all seem dumb without his theatrical flair.
Going out on his own under the King Blank moniker, Lowery continued his wicked ways on the three-track Mouth Off, featuring the input of Screaming Blue Messiahs honcho Bill Carter, who produced and played on one song and co-wrote two. With the Messiahs backing him on the title track, Lowery seems newly dangerous, even throwing in a good imitation of a shivering fit.
Lowery then assembled some sympathetic sidemen and turned King Blank into a real band. Mimicking Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home on the cover of The Real Dirt, Lowery broadened his range without any reduction in arrogance. Thanks to his versatile sidemen, he’s able to touch on rockabilly, woozy ballads, vicious boogie, a chugging throwback to the Velvet Underground (“Uptight”), even bogus country music (“Bulletproof t,” as in crucifix). Nasty and delectable.
Renaming King Blank (with only a drummer change) to give himself star billing, the Ian Lowery Group made its debut with an outstanding album. King Blank To features harsh, clanging guitars, unpleasantly throbbing beats and an avalanche of knotty, clenched-fist lyrics from the uptight Mr. L. High points: the ominous “A Kind of Loathing” (“The only help that I’d give you is to hand you your pills/And close your eyes when you’re gone”), the rollicking “Never Trust Me” (“Crack that bottle Jack and we’ll kill this rage in our souls”) and other sagas of revenge and regret.