Okay, so I finally listened to all of Nick Lowe's album Jesus of Cool, aka Pure Pop For Now People, and it's amazing! It's everything I hoped it would be. Nick is also picking up tons of good reviews, as well he should be, because this is a great album. There's a nice little piece on CNN's "Marquee Blog," here's the link to it:
Interestingly enough, Todd Leopold at CNN also references the fact that the Jesus of Cool reissue came out the same week as the 25th anniversary version of Thriller, something that Holly Hughes at "The Song In My Head Today" also mentioned. (Here's the link to Holly's blog, she's a huge Nick Lowe fan and a very astute commentator on lots of cool artists like The Kinks, Alan Price, Robyn Hitchcock, and numerous other underrated British people that I also really like.)
Now, Jesus of Cool is a very important record, even though I believe it may have sold slightly fewer copies than Thriller. (I'll have to check the exact figures.) Lowe was out to prove something to the world on his first solo album, and he does, mixing up a variety of styles to create a cocktail of powerful pop at it's finest.
From the opening song, "Music for Money," a recurring theme of the album is the music business itself. In "Shake and Pop," Nick traces the rise and fall of a band, as "the record hit the chart, and someone in the newspaper said it was art," labels court the band, but then "they cut another record, it never was a hit, and someone it the newspaper said it was shit." It's the story of many singers and bands, condensed into a three-minute single. (Harry Nilsson has a great song dealing with the same subject, "Mr. Richland's Favorite Song," from his album Aerial Ballet.) One of the bonus tracks, "Rollers Show" deals with a peculiar mid-70's phenomenon, the Scottish pop band The Bay City Rollers. It's one of the "tributes" to the Rollers that Nick recorded in a deliberate attempt to get dumped by his label just before he started cutting the songs found on Jesus of Cool. If you don't get that it's ironic, you'll wonder why Nick, of all people, would be singing the praises of a teen pop band. It's pretty funny in it's banality.
Nick also does a lovely ballad, "Tonight," which is much, much better than David Bowie's song of the same name. Oh, wait, I shouldn't say that, because Iggy Pop did a good version on his Lust for Life album, I'm thinking of Bowie's cover from his 1984 album Tonight. (It's actually a song about the guy's girlfriend dying of a heroin overdose, but Bowie cut out the spoken intro and turned it into a banal ditty.) Anyway, speaking of Bowie, his influence is also felt on Nick's biggest UK single, the Top Ten hit, "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass." Bowie had a song on his 1977 album Low called "Breaking Glass," and I can't help but think that Nick was at least a little influenced, especially because Nick's song is so different from anything else on the album, and it sounds more than a little Bowie-esque. And we know that Nick was paying attention to Bowie's Low album because he released an EP later in 1977 called Bowi. Clever lad, that Nick. (Look for the cover in the fold-out of the CD; the lettering on Nick's EP is in the same font as on David's LP.)
Jesus of Cool is full of great little moments, like Nick's cover of Jim Ford's "36 Inches High." I have no idea what the song means, but I love the feel of it, the organ riff and Nick's close-miked vocal. And the black humor of "Marie Provost," the tale of a fallen movie star who "was a winner, but became the doggie's dinner." The song is actually based on the true story of an actress named Marie Prevost. (Nick changed the spelling.) And then there's his high-octane songs "So It Goes" and "Heart of the City," recorded with Nick on guitars and bass and Steve Goulding on drums. It's all great, all 21 tracks on the Yep Roc reissue, plus 2 more bonus cuts available on their website after you buy the album. Plus, the packaging is fantastic, you get all kinds of bonus pictures from the cover photo session, which cleverly showed Nick in many different guises, and with many different guitars.
So that's my plug for Nick Lowe and his brilliance. Go out and buy Jesus of Cool. You won't be disappointed.