Wednesday, January 23, 2008

NICK LOWE: A Considerable Talent

Last year I knew two things about Nick Lowe. One, that he wrote ’What’s So Funny ’Bout Peace Love and Understanding?’ made famous by Elvis Costello. Two, that he had a massive hit with the impossibly catchy “Cruel To Be Kind’ in 1979.

That’s It. That’s all I knew.

Then about a year or so ago fellow music connoisseur and wacked out cartoonist Philbert burned me Jesus Of Cool, Nick’s debut album of 1978. Somehow sensing that I was a newbie to the guy, Phil kindly composed a nifty Biography to assist in my assessment. It helped pique my interest greatly and I feel compelled to share some snippets of it with you. Phil, even though everyone knows you’re a litigious sort of fellow, I ask that you spare me another writ of summons to appear in court just this one time, yes?

“Nick Lowe’s solo LP was spawned at the height of the late 70’s ‘New Wave’ mania. Lowe was a veteran of the British music scene known as the bassist and chief vocalist/ songwriter for the well known (by some) ’Pub Rock’ group Brinsley Schwarz (later to become the Rumour and back-up for Graham Parker).
In 1978 Lowe was primarily known as a producer having worked on Elvis Costello’s first album as well as seminal releases from the Damned, Dave Edmunds, Graham Parker and the Pretenders (Stop Your Sobbing).

Lowe made no bones about producing radio-friendly rock and roll and was unashamed to churn out quirky, funny singles in an era when the trappings of anything ‘pop’ was deemed very uncool. This sense of humor and the in-your-face irony is evident on ‘Jesus Of Cool’. Lowe never took himself too seriously, which was refreshing in 1978. For example, when David Bowie released his album ‘Low’, Nick countered by releasing an EP called ‘Bowi’…I mean, that’s just funny!

Lowe’s solo work was heavy on bass and heavy on wit. ‘36 Inches High’ is just flat out brilliant while Marie Provost was lifted straight from the pages of Hollywood Babylon (really!), the story of a forgotten silent film actress who died in her apartment and whose corpse was eventually eaten by her pet dachshunds (‘She was a winner/ who became the doggies’ dinner/ she never meant that much to me/ poor Marie.)

And ‘Nutted By Reality’ may just be the best purely twisted pop song in history. Last, but not least, is the closing track ‘Rollers Show’. A Sarcastic tweak of the then chart-topping Bay City Rollers, or is it a tip of an admirers hat to some fellow popsters? Does it matter?

I Think you’ll like this record!”

Phil couldn’t have been more on the money, and I have been semi-obsessed with him ever since. I mean, the man is, quite frankly, a pop genius! No foolin’, even after 30 years of solo recordings the guy still retains the ability to write a damn fine song. I recently purchased ‘At My Age‘, Nick’s 2007 release. It’s a sublime grower, I assure you. He sounds extremely confident, and his pop chops are as sharp as ever. The day after I got it I walked into Phil’s cell...I mean office... and said, “I think I need to revise my ‘Best Of 2007’ list, Phil." A couple of days later, he agreed.

More people should know about this underrated artist, and there’s something very comforting in listening to a Nick Lowe record. Once he gets under your skin he spreads through the rest of your body like a virus, a virus you’re happy to be stuck with the rest of your life.

It’s the 30th anniversary of the release of ‘Jesus Of Cool’ this year. I suggest you celebrate by getting your hands on a copy.


Holly A Hughes said...

I couldn't agree more! I also discovered Nick Lowe late, and had about 2 years of gradually buying everything he's done -- an expensive year (since several of his fabulous 80s albums are out of print, or were never released on CD at all) but well worth it. Part of me regrets not having been a Nick Lowe fan all along, but on the other hand it was sure fun having the rush of all that new-to-me music in such a short time, instead of having to take it in smaller doses over 30 years. Don't miss his early 70s stuff with Brinsley Shwarz, either -- supremely catchy folk-rock with that trademark Lowe humor already glinting through.

uNCLE e said...

I'm having some trouble locating Labour Of Lust and The Rose Of England, two of his best, I believe. Ditto for the Brinsley Shwarz stuff. Won't give up 'till I own 'em all, though!