[8 April 2008]
The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) (MCT)
For Nick Lowe fans, the last year has been a bonanza.
In June 2007, the venerable Brit pop-rocker and New Wave godfather known for both biting, ironic wit and to-the-bone emotion released “At My Age,” a six-years-in-the-making “country soul” CD that ranks among his best.
Then in January, his debut solo album, buttressed by 10 bonus tracks, was finally issued in America just as it was in Britain in 1978, and with the original title, “Jesus of Cool.”
(In the U.S., “Jesus” was called “Pure Pop for Now People,” and despite - or perhaps because of - re-ordered tracks and the switch of a couple of tunes, it may be an even better record.)
“I am absolutely astonished at how (`Jesus’) has been re-received,” says Lowe during an interview from his London home. “I hadn’t heard it for 30 years. It’s a strange senation, like seeing a home movie of yourself.”
The flow of Lowe material will continue later this year with “Clever Clogs,” a new best-of compilation.
“Record companies seem intent on releasing a deluge of my back catalog,” says Lowe with puckish delight.
The new best-of, he says, is being compiled by on old friend, Gregg Geller. “He’s the A&R man who signed me and Elvis (Costello) to Columbia back then (in the late 1970s). We’ve remained friends, and I’m rather proud he has seen fit to do (my) best-of.”
Geller has compiled and produced dozens of such collections, including the Grammy Award-winning six-disc box set, “Johnny Cash - The Legend,” and “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’ - Bluegrass: 80 Years of American Music.”
Why the title “Clever Clogs”? “A clog is an old-fashioned word for smartass,” says Lowe with a telling chuckle.
Lowe fans are in for another high: He’s on tour with a set list that samples from his entire career.
Lowe expects to play several “At My Age” songs, including the somewhat controversial “I Trained Her to Love Me.” The seductive, R&B-rhythmed song is sung by a depraved manipulator, intent on “paying back womankind for all the grief I got.” The rogue’s unapologetic “So what?” is positively Cheney-esque, and his overall attitude suggests the anti-hero of Mike Leigh’s film “Naked.”
“Three years ago, when I first stuck it in the set, I never had such a crowd reaction to a new song,” Lowe recalls.
“There were two fundamentalist wings: One, mainly women, was absolutely furious. On the other hand there were guys punching the air, hollering `Yeah, Nick! Way to go!,’ like I was boasting. ...
“Luckily, the sensible middle got the joke. But most every night, there are two factions with daggers drawn.”
The “At My Age” tracks “Long Limbed Girl” and “People Change” also are likely candidates for Lowe’s live show.
The former, genial and bouncy, was inspired by a photo of a long-ago love that Lowe chanced across. “I was very keen on her,” he says, “so she became a muse for a pop song.”
The latter, philosophical but upbeat, was arranged by the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde. “I’ve known her for donkey’s years, since I was in (the pub-rock band) Brinsley Schwarz in the 1970s.”
As for “Jesus of Cool,” his pioneering neo-power-pop recording, “Some things will find their way in. But I’m not making a particularly big deal about it.”
Lowe likely will perform “Heart of the City” and “So It Goes,” but not “Little Hitler,” “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” or “Marie Provost” because, he says, they do not work in acoustic versions.
Lowe’s mention of “Marie Provost” - his infamous tale of a silent-film star who, after dying alone in her home, “became her doggie’s dinner” - prompts a question: Would he ever own a dachshund?
“I don’t know,” laughs Lowe, momentarily caught off-guard. “I saw someone with one the other day in the park. I didn’t think about the irony of that.”
Though Lowe has a certain amount of latitude in choosing what to perform, one song he feels obligated to do is “(What’s So Funny `Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” It first appeared on the 1974 album “The New Favourites of Brinsley Schwarz” and later became a major hit for Costello. It also was included on “The Bodyguard” soundtrack.
“People really respond so positively to it,” he says. “I think of it as the first original idea I ever had. I began writing songs three or four years prior to writing that one. You write your heroes’ catalog when you first start, and slowly you put those influences together and come up with an amalgamation. When I first wrote (`Peace, Love and Understanding’), I thought, `That’s a good idea.’
“I owe Elvis a lot,” adds Lowe. “He put it on the map with his passionate version (on 1979’s `Armed Forces’/).”
Besides the warm reception accorded “Jesus of Cool,” another development that has “astounded” Lowe was becoming a first-time father in 2005. “His name is Roy, Royston on posh occasions,” says Lowe, who turned 59 on March 24. “The name was chosen by myself and his mom, Peta. We like it because it sounds like a sax player’s name.
“Prior to the lad coming along, I lived a life of total selfishness, which was absolutely fantastic. I could come and go as I pleased. Now that’s not the case. But when you ask, `Would you go back?’ to my astonishment, the answer is `no.’”
Given the demands of fatherhood, touring is now “like going on holiday,” adds Lowe. “I used to dread it. Now I go to the airport on winged feet.”