With the release of his first solo album, Nick Lowe steps forward as one of the most provocative new talents to emerge from the British rock scene in several years.
As sort of in-house producer for Stiff Records, the former member of British rock band Brinsley Schwarz supervised recordings by Elvis Costello, the Damned, Wreckless Eric and himself, in addition to his productions of Graham Parker and the Rumour.
Now, with the release of Pure Pop For Now People (Columbia 35329), Lowe makes all his prolific work as producer and songwriter over the past few years seem like an apprenticeship for his own solo career.
Even if his music was worthless — which it isn't — he would have to he admired for his plucky sense of humor. He titled his album in England Jesus of Cool — a label Columbia apparently felt was a taste too strong for American sensibilities — and promoted the release in U.K. with stickers made in the shape of a cross reading "Pray For Nick Lowe."
When David Bowie called a recent album Low, Lowe returned the compliment, calling his British EP Bowi. He once recorded a disco send up under the pseudonym Disco Brothers, and recorded a pair of tributes to the Bay City Rollers — both big hits in Japan — under the name Tartan Horde. In fact, the Horde's "Rollers Show" is included on his new album.
He also produced a satirical punk "snuff rock" record by Alberto y Los Trios Paranoias. In the British rock and roll graduating class of '78, Nick Lowe is very much the class clown.
Material on his new album ranges from the lightly eccentric "(I Love the Sound Of) Breaking Glass" to the grim and grisly "Marie Provost," the tale of a silent film star who lay dead in her apartment for several weeks as her dachshunds made a meal of her corpse.
"So It Goes" and "Heart Of the City" — both featured on the album — comprised the first single release by Stiff Records, and both tracks garnered considerable FM airplay as imports. "Rollers Show" is a Phil Spector-styled romp through hard rocking bubblegum.
Lowe is a vocal chameleon. He is able to effect all kinds of different vocal approaches. Even though he does not conic up with single, instantly identifiable sound all his own, he does create a unique personal identity, formed basically from his absurd sense of humor and razor-sharp parodies of the rock scene.
All kinds of familiar strains can be heard in Lowe's music — the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Jackson 5, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers — but he is so deft with his borrowings, he is able to meld the familiar elements into something unique and special, although still vaguely familiar.
The first side of the album tracks from beginning to end through no less than six thoroughly first-rate songs: "So It Goes," "Breaking Glass," "Tonight," "Marie Provost," "Heart of the City," and "Rollers Show." The second side is even more eccentric and, as a result, less uniformly satisfying, although "They Called It Rock" burns furiously and "Nutted By Reality" garners instant reaction with the opening lines "I heard they castrated Castro."
Lowe belonged to Brinsley Schwarz, a pioneer hand in the British pub rock movement that recorded five albums between 1970 and 1974. In 1975, Lowe produced the first album by Graham Parker and the Rumour, Howlin' Wind, with two former Brinsley Schwarz members in Parker's band. He was also involved in recordings by Dr. Feelgood and Clover, the Marin county expatriates.
Lowe joined Dave Edmunds on his U.S. tour as bassist, after having worked on Edmunds' LP, Subtle As a Flying Mallet, and collaborating on songs with Edmunds such as "Here Comes the Weekend." At Stiff Records, in addition to his own recordings, Lowe worked with artists such as Elvis Costello, Wreckless Eric, Magic Michael, Stone's Masonry, as well as touring with the Stiff artists and appearing on the recent album Live Stiffs.
Lowe and Costello went to Columbia following last year's split of the Stiff partners. Columbia released Lowe's production of Costello's first album, My Aim Is True, which slowly advanced into the Top 40 best selling LPs before peaking — a fine showing for a newcomer. The second Costello album, This Year's Model, also produced by Lowe, was released simultaneously with Pure Pop For Now People.
Lowe focuses his style on making records circa three minutes in length — the classic 45 RPM format. He easily blends highly memorable melodies with arresting and intriguing lyrics with an uncanny sense of what makes "pop" out of "rock."