In the most affecting song on Nikki Sudden’s final album, he reminisces about his youth, a time spent riding bikes, reading, and most importantly, “listening to T.Rex each and every day / Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, Gary Glitter and Slade.” Though Sudden died unexpectedly in March at the age of 49, The Truth Doesn’t Matter feels like he somehow knew it was his last hurrah. The song “Green Shield Stamps” is the longest on the album, and feels like an extended thank you letter from Sudden to his friends, fans, and idols. In addition to specific shout-outs to childhood friends, Sudden remembers his influential early 1980s post-punk band Swell Maps (founded with his brother Epic): “Dave, Epic and I got together a band or two / Recorded in our bedrooms / What else were we gonna do?”
Though best known as the lead singer of Swell Maps, a band whose influence can be heard in the sounds of Sonic Youth and Pavement, Sudden had a long and ecclectic solo career beginning in the early 1980s. His most recent album was 2004’s Treasure Island, which he was still supporting on tour the day he died. At the time of his death, Sudden was working on The Truth Doesn’t Matter, as well as penning his autobiography. It’s not hard to hear the influence of this on the album, which is full of uncovered memories. Using the same rough-around-the-edges, Faces-inspired sound he always had, Sudden sings these bluesy numbers with wit and fondness. The openers “Seven Miles” and “Don’t Break My Soul” are a little over-the-top with their soul-style backing vocals and druggy lyrics, but Sudden, always the poet, is winking at his audience: “We rode out together on a Saturday night / I got lost with a girl with one eye.”
The Truth Doesn’t Matter is at all times raucous and gritty, pogo-ing between 1970s rave-ups (the infectious “Draggin’ Me Down”) and jagged slow-dance songs (“The Ballad of John and Marianne”). Though Sudden’s influences are obvious and even praised in his lyrics, he himself holds that special mystery spirit of rock ’n roll that many young bands today crave. His lyrics and music seem to come effortlessly, whether they are silly, sentimental, or serious. Sudden’s songs convey the wisdom of a middle-aged man and the enthusiasm of a teenager who just picked up his first guitar. “Black Tar” is a dark rocker about the evils of addiction, while the bravado of “Empire Blues”, and the lovelorn alt-country tone of “Nothing Left”, bring out a simpler, youthful passion. The important thing is, Sudden never hesitates to rock out.
As a final album, The Truth Doesn’t Matter is the summary of a great career. It paints Sudden not as a has-been, but a relevant musician who had hit his stride, reaching a point of confidence and comfort with his work. The album is a heartfelt joyride, through one man’s lifelong relationship with rock music. Sudden’s music stands up against that of his influences, and continues to have the effect on bands today that David Bowie and T.Rex had on him. Even in the nostalgic “Green Shield Stamps”, Sudden remains modest. He sings, “I’ll just raise a glass to all the friends of my youth / You may not remember me but I’m here thinking of you.” Nikki Sudden will surely be remembered, and The Truth Doesn’t Matter is the sound of a man claiming his rightful place in the canon of rock ’n roll.