Nick Lowe: 80’s back catalogue reissued on Yep Roc – album reviews
Thanks to the good folk at Yep Roc, all of Nick Lowe’s albums are now available under one roof. Louder Than War’s Craig Chaligne reviews.
After reissuing Nick Lowe’s first two albums “Jesus Of Cool” and “Labour of Lust” a few years back and his late nineties and early two thousands LP’s, Yep Roc finally bridges the gap between them with this batch of six records covering the years 1982-1990. A period of change musically, it proved a trying time for Lowe who struggled to retain the success he had achieved at the tail end of the seventies. These albums are often much maligned (even by the great man himself) and were created under record company pressure which means that there is some filler amongst the pearls. Nevertheless, Lowe’s ear for a tune and reluctance to jump on the bandwangon of eighties production techniques means that the listening experience remains a pleasurable one.
Nick The Knife (1982)
First album recorded after the breakup of Rockpile, still featuring Billy Bremner and Terry Williams, it is still very close in content and style to their sole LP “Seconds Of Pleasure”. To add to the similarities, Lowe re-records “Heart” that was sung by Bremner on the Rockpile LP. The riff of “Stick It Where The Sun Don’t Shines” sails dangerously close to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River” but Lowe once conceded that his early Stiff single “So It Goes” was a hybrid of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feelin’ Groovy”. “Queen Of Sheba” isn’t one of Nick’s finest efforts lyrically (“and me no speako Italiano”) but its nice chorus is reminiscent of “Marie Provost”. “Let Me Kiss Ya” survives by virtue of its chord progression but things perk up with “Too Many Teardrops”, an excellent mid tempo rocker. “Ba Doom” is another throwaway track that precedes the album’s masterpiece “Raining Raining”, featuring a great guitar hook courtesy of Billy Bremner, it’s a soulful number proving Lowe’s ability to master any musical style. The album closes off with two forgettable tracks : “One’s Too Many (And a Hundred Ain’t Enough)” and “Zulu Kiss”.
The Abominable Showman (1983)
Another year, another album and the first with the backing band composed of Paul Carrack on keyboards, Bobby Irwin on drums and Martin Belmont on guitars that would become known as “Noise To Go” or “The Cowboy Outfit” over the next few years. Again another album of ups and downs but more coherent than its predecessor. The record starts with the sprightly “We Want Action” followed by the early rock’n’roll of “Ragin’ Eyes” with a great solo by Martin Belmont that proves that simplicity is the key. The reggae of “Cool Reaction” falls flat on it face but the eighties soul of “Time Wounds All Heels” co written with his then wife Carlene Carter and musician-producer Simon Climie proves more successful. “Man Of A Fool” lacks a distinctive hook while the early Beach Boys pastiche “Tanque- Rae” has a certain catchiness to it (Nick the musical chameleon strikes again). The duet with Carrack “Wish You Were Here” is probably one of Lowe’s most commercial songs with its use of very (at the time) current synths sounds. If you manage to obliterate them, you are left with a rather excellent pop song that would deserve to be reworked and included in the concerts that Carrack and Lowe have been doing together over the recent years (with Andy Fairweather Low). The funky “Chicken and Feathers” doesn’t repeat the success of “Wish You Were Here” and sounds very much of its time. Lowe includes covers on most of his albums and his version of Moon Martin’s “Paid The Price” is a commendable effort that is let down by a blobbing bass line and some questionable electronic drumbeats. “Mess Around With Love” is a nice pop number full of hooks while “Saint Beneath The Paint” with it catchy title proves to be a great little rocker. Nick goes on full crooner mode on “How Do You Talk To An Angel” that sees him tackle a style that he would make his own in his LP’s twenty years later.
Nick Lowe And His Cowboy Outfit (1984)
Columbia continues to squeeze out an album per year from Nick but on “Cowboy Outfit” he finally decides to follow his muse without pulling his thumb in the air too much to figure out the latest fad and the result is truly excellent. Same band as “The Abominable Showman” but with extra help on the production front from Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers’s bass player Paul Riley and none other than Elvis Costello on an excellent version of Joe Allison’s “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young”. Starting with the jolly “Half A Boy, Half A Man” with its infectious Farfisa licks (please check the promo video, it is rather fantastic), we are then treated to “Breakaway”, a song penned by Tom Springfield (brother of Dusty) that proves to be a real gem. Lowe ploughs the Mickey Jupp songbook for a second time (after “Switchboard Susan” a few years before), covering another song from the “Juppanese” LP, “You’ll Never Get Me Up In One Of Those”. “Love Like A Glove” is a jangly number with a country-ish vibe that’s emphasized by Martin Belmont’s solo. The record dips slightly in the middle with an overlong bluesy shuffle (“The Gee and the Rick and the Three Card Trick”) and a rocker a-la “Ragin’ Eyes” (“(Hey Big Mouth) Stand Up and Say That”) that suffers from some rather weird percussion choices. The quasi instrumental “Awesome” is a vehicle for Martin Belmont’s guitar while “God’s Gift to Women” would have deserved to be a single. “Maureen” is a not very memorable rocker while but “L.A.F.S” with its brass riffs fares better.
Rose Of England (1985)
Another winner after the clear return to form hinted by its predecessor, “The Rose of England” is a great record. Nick wisely avoids penning so-so material to fill up an album and instead relies on a well chosen selection of covers that fit him like a glove. Starting with the driving bass line of “Darlin’ Angel Eyes”, Lowe then covers “She Don’t Love Nobody” by his touring partner John Hiatt and originally recorded by The Desert Rose Band, a song he seemed to like a lot as he was still including it in his setlists at the turn of the millennium. A rollicking version of “7 Nights to Rock” sees Carrack and Belmont solo with gusto. Belmont takes the reign on the instrumental “Long Walk Back” where his twangy Stratocaster works wonders. The title track is certainly one of the best tracks Lowe ever penned with a really inspired set of lyrics channelling its subject in a subtle manner. “Lucky Dog” is another great little rocker that hits the mark on the enjoyment factor (you’d never believe it was recorded in 1985). Lowe reprises his very own (with a little help from Chuck Berry) “(I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” that he had given to Dave Edmunds originally. The track was produced by Huey Lewis who was at the height of his powers at the time after the success of his 1983 LP “Sports”, Lowe has said subsequently that the aim was for to try and revive his career with a catchy hit single and Lewis (an old friend of Lowe since Lewis’s former outfit Clover backed Elvis Costello on his first album) was to inject some of his recent hitmaking streak in the proceedings. In spite of the commercial quality of the track, it only managed to reach number 27 on the US rock charts. In a reverse gesture of Costello covering “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout ) Peace, Love, and Understanding”, Lowe attempts “Indoor Fireworks” that had yet to be released by its author at the time. Again the good thing on the two LP’s recorded with the Cowboy Outfit is that Lowe is concentrating on what he excels at, the country rock shuffle of “(Hope To God) I’m Right” and the soul croon of “I Can Be The One You Love” (which displays a strong Memphis soul influence) are great tracks. “Everyone”, penned by American songwriter Gary Rue and Lesli Ball, again belies the year it was recorded, a fantastic pop song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an Everly Brothers record. The record closes off with a prime slice of Honkytonk with a great version of Webb Pierce’s “Bo Bo Ska Diddle”.
Pinker And Prouder Than Previous (1988)
A three year gap between the last album and this one, did Nick finally tell Columbia that he needed time to come up with good original material ? If that’s the case, the result was worth the wait with what is certainly his strongest album since 1979’s “Labour of Lust”. Again the usual suspects are present (Carrack, Belmont, Irwin), John Hiatt return the favour of Lowe playing bass on his “Bring The Family” LP by adding his guitar to some tracks, Geraint Watkins makes the first of many appearances on a Nick Lowe album and (roll of the drums for the Rockpile fanatics), Dave Edmunds is back (in the producing chair) for one track. “You’re My Wildest Dreams” starts the proceedings on an upbeat note while “Crying In My Sleep” is a quality torch song. The record is full of upbeat rockers that manage to combine efficiency and simplicity (“Big Hair”, “Black Lincoln Continental”, “Big Big Love”, the last two being covers) but the record’s masterpiece remains “Wishing Well”, a cracking little track that Lowe penned originally for The Men They Couldn’t Hang. The Lawton Williams cover “Geisha Girl” sounds like a prototype of “Has She Got a Friend” that would surface on “The Convincer”. Edmunds does a good job on “Lovers Jamboree”, the neat picking of the guitar riff being the main hook in the song, a good track but not the best on the album.
Party Of One (1990)
Nick’s only album for Reprise made entirely with the help of his former bandmate Dave Edmunds. The album was recorded in its entirety in America. This is reflected in the choice of musicians as the members of The Cowboy Outfit are replaced by veteran session drummer Jim Keltner, guitarist Bill Kirchen and keyboard player Austin De Lone (who both played in The Moonlighters who had their second LP produced by Lowe). Ry Cooder who also played on John Hiatt’s “Bring The Family” and Edmunds himself also play guitar on the record. With all the talent involved, this was bound to be Lowe’s best solo effort to date but it misses the ramshackle swing from the Cowboy Outfit LP’s and sounds a bit clinical in places. However there are some great songs and all are penned by Lowe or co-written by him which is something that is to be celebrated. The two instant classics on the record are the breezy “What’s Shakin’ on the Hill” and the tongue in cheek “All Men Are Liars” that famously originated from a sentence pronounced by a female guest on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. The record is quite heavy on rockers but even though some are excellent (“Refrigerator White” and “Who Was That Man”), others sound a bit forced (“You Got The Look I Like”, “Gai-Gin Man”). Maybe Nick was attempting to return to a sound similar to his Rockpile days but didn’t feel particularly enthused by the prospect. He sounds much more comfortable on more gentle numbers like “Rocky Road” or “I Don’t Know Why You Keep Me On”. Some songs like “Shting-Shtang” would benefit greatly when being reworked in a live setting.
All words by Craig Chaligne. More of Craig’s work for Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.