The screaming antics of the now defunct Sex Pistols made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. But forget those punks — a new British trend, pub-rock, is now delivering the most exciting rock heard from the Isles in quite some time.
Pub-rock, named for the taverns in which it was first played, fuses the melodic quality of mid-60s British rock with contemporary lyrics.
The music first gained widespread popularity in 1976 when singer-songwriter Graham Parker took members from two pub bands, Brinsley Schwartz and Ducks Deluxe, and formed the Rumour. Three albums from Parker and the Rumour have pleased critics and fans with rock reminiscent of Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen.
In early 1977, import albums on a small British label, Stiff Records, found their way onto the turntables of a few FM radio stations across the U.S. Since then, Stiff's two most noteworthy artists, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, have been signed to Columbia Records and are gaining a large cult following.
Until last year, Costello operated computers by day and rocked the bars of London by night. His decision to rock full time is our gain. Backed by the Attractions, who play with frightening urgency, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist writes songs which capture the essence of romantic betrayal and sexual deprivation.
His debut album, My Aim Is True, portrays him as an angry loser used by cold, unfeeling women and an "everyman" lying at the mercy of society and government. Costello's guitar playing matches the intensity of his lyrics.
On his new album, This Year's Model, released this week, Costello does battle with a plastic culture where the artificial and mechanical replaces the honest and emotional. In his search for a meaningful heterosexual relationship, he is continually hampered by modern technology. Pin-up posters, "disco synthesizers," and machinery replace real women, rock and rock and human beings.
Throughout the album, constant reference is made to electronic communication devices telephones, televisions and radios make real feeling impossible by placing distance between communicators. In the opening lines of "No Action," Costello declares, "I'm not a telephone junkie."
When Costello is rejected by the one woman who is, "not just another mouthful of lipstick vogue," he seeks his only consolation, rock and roll. But in "Radio, Radio" there's nothing on the dial but bland "muzak." Technology wins.
Nick Lowe is best known for producing albums for Parker and Costello. In his first album, Pure Pop For Now People, he stakes his claim as the Phil Spector of the Seventies, as lush rock harmonies meet witty lyrics. This Year's Model meets the same high standards as other Lowe productions.