Music

Nick Lowe: Reissues, 1982-1990

Photo: Keith Morris (Yep Roc)

Six vital releases from one of the most underappreciated titans of power pop are finally back in print.


Nick Lowe

Reissues, 1982-1990 (Nick the Knife, The Abominable Showman, Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, The Rose of England, Pinker and Prouder Than Previous, Party of One)

Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2017-07-14
Amazon
iTunes

Nick Lowe has had an unusual -- not to mention creatively fruitful -- career over the past several decades. Making his bones in the early ‘70s as a member of pub rockers Brinsley Schwarz, he later became a staff producer for legendary punk label Stiff Records, producing early, groundbreaking albums by the likes of the Damned, Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. His solo career was also blooming, with late ‘70s hits in both his native England (“I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass”) as well as the States (“Cruel to Be Kind”). After a pair of critically acclaimed solo albums (The Jesus of Cool, Labour of Lust), Lowe's quasi-supergroup Rockpile made one terrific album, Seconds of Pleasure, in 1980.

This list of musical accomplishments would be enough for any singer/songwriter/bass player, but Lowe soldiered on throughout the ‘80s (and beyond). The six solo albums he made from 1982 to 1990 didn’t exactly set the pop charts on fire, but they helped solidify Lowe as a songwriter, performer, and arranger of the highest caliber, drawing from his love of roots-rock, rockabilly, Beatlesque pop and the user-friendly new wave that was in vogue at the time. These albums have been out of print for years, but Yep Roc has righted these wrongs by reissuing all six albums on CD and vinyl.

Nick the Knife, the 1982 release that kicked off Lowe’s second wave of solo commercial output, may be the strongest album of the bunch. Clearly building on the creative high he reached with the previous solo albums (in addition to his work with Rockpile), Lowe digs deep into his bag of tricks with up-tempo ravers like “Burning” and “Stick It Where the Sun Don’t Shine", the lusty, tuneful pop-funk of “Let Me Kiss Ya” (sounding like Paul Simon meets Paul McCartney at a Meters concert), in addition to a couple of gorgeous tracks co-written by then-wife Carlene Carter (“My Heart Hurts", “Too Many Teardrops”), and a love for semi-novelty numbers (“Ba Doom,” “Zulu Kiss”). He revisits a Rockpile track, “Heart", retooling it from the Motown frenzy of the original recording to a more intimate, laid-back reggae arrangement.

The Abominable Showman followed in 1984, and as the title implies, the intimacy of its predecessor is replaced with a larger, more audacious production style. Lowe seems to have caught up with the ‘80s, to an extent. The songs are still great. “Ragin’ Eyes” sounds like something Buddy Holly would’ve cranked had he survived that plane crash. "(For Every Woman Who Ever Made a Fool of a Man There's a Woman Made a) Man of a Fool” continues his love for draping relationships in parenthetical silliness. Also, Lowe continues his songwriting relationship with Carter on the shimmering soul of “Time Wounds All Heels". As on Nick the Knife, Yep Roc tacks on some bonus tracks, this time in the form of live tracks from 1982 -- “Cracking Up", as well as the song Lowe wrote that became a smash for Costello: “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding".

Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit (1984) introduces his new backing band of the same name and is an earnest attempt to more heartily embrace country and roots rock (which, to be fair, was already a healthy aspect of his previous albums). The swirling funhouse organ of “Half a Boy and Half a Man” and the authentic honky tonk of “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young” certainly bear this out. The rest of the album is peppered with such sonic treats as the mysterious twang of “Awesome", the Elvis Costello-produced brass-infused country funk of “L.A.F.S.” and the percussive stomp of “(Hey Big Mouth) Stand Up and Say That". As usual, Lowe’s lyrics are still as barbed as ever, sounding like pub rock’s answer to Randy Newman. His songs are filled with unreliable narrators and lecherous males: “God’s Gift to Women” contains priceless lines like “He’s labored under the impression / That he’s God’s gift to women / He says he can make her toes curl / She says he only makes her skin crawl.”

The Rose of England continues along the same lines as the previous album, albeit with a slightly more contemporary feel. John Hiatt’s “She Don’t Love Nobody” is a sturdy pop single, while “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” -- a song Lowe wrote in the ‘70s and was popularized by fellow Rockpile member Dave Edmunds -- is given a modern kick in the pants, produced by Huey Lewis and featuring Huey’s band the News. Granted, from a production standpoint it basically sounds like a Huey Lewis and the News song, but the quality of the songwriting is miles past “The Heart of Rock and Roll". The Rose of England isn’t necessarily a record company’s bid for Lowe to top the pop charts, though. “Seven Nights to Rock” is a lively, caffeinated rockabilly cover that feels like a timeless whirl through a more carefree time, and there isn’t a synthesizer or overprocessed drum sound in sight.

Pinker and Prouder Than Previous has long been considered one of Lowe’s lesser efforts, and while the fact that it was recorded during various sessions throughout 1986 and 1987 does give it a bit of a cobbled-together feel and the songs are not as flat-out memorable as some previous efforts, it’s still a worthwhile release with plenty to like. The covers are primarily from Lowe’s friends and contemporaries, including Hiatt’s “Love Gets Strange” and Graham Parker’s “Black Lincoln Continental” (a rousing rave-up that would’ve fit nicely on the soundtrack to Baby Driver). The originals have a warmth and charm, including “(You’re My) Wildest Dream” (featuring Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds on harmonica), the bright rocker “Big Hair” and the lively shuffle “Lovers Jamboree” (co-written by Paul Carrack). Tender ballads like “Crying in My Sleep” and “Cry It Out” round out the album.

The final album in the back-in-print series is 1990’s Party of One, and with Dave Edmunds on board for production duties and Lowe pal Ry Cooder on guitar, there’s an uncomplicated rockabilly feel to the whole affair. “You Got the Look I Like” opens the album with a lazy, mid-tempo twang. The hillbilly hiccup of “Shting-Shtang” shows that Lowe hasn’t lost his penchant for goofy, catchy semi-throwaways -- it may also be a sly nod to “Tanque-Rae” from The Abominable Showman. “Gai Gin Man” is a fun tribute to Lowe’s unlikely, real-life Japanese fan base, complete with stranger-in-a-strange-land lyrics and a Westerner’s view of the Far East (“Osaka, Sapporo, that’s a two-hour hop / Just time to grab a bite in the Skysnak Shop / “You've only got to utter one 'seema-seng' / That's gonna set you back about a thousand yen”). And of course, any description of Party of One wouldn’t be complete without a mention of “All Men are Liars", another one of Lowe’s classic Newmanesque unreliable narrator tales, complete with stinging pop culture references: “Do you remember Rick Astley / He had a big fat hit, it was ghastly / He’s said I’m never gonna give you up or let you down / Well I’m here to tell you that Dick’s a clown.”

It wasn’t long after Party of One that Lowe -- thanks to a massive influx of royalty cash after a cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” was featured in the soundtrack to The Bodyguard -- began to enter a new phase of his career, swapping a younger man’s power pop for the laid-back country gentleman sounds more akin to a middle-aged songwriter. Albums like The Impossible Bird, Dig My Mood, The Convincer and At My Age show a gracefully aging man whose sound may have mellowed but whose lyrical snarl remains as sharp as ever. In the meantime, Lowe’s more youthful era is back in print; it’s plenty of proof that Nick Lowe is one of the finest songwriters of his -- or any -- generation.

9
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.