The Dude Abides: Jesus Of Cool Redux

As some of you have noticed I’ve used my blogging time of late to release my pent-up angst and aggression over my computer problems and my newfound hatred for iTunes, MP3’s and the music business in general. As a matter of fact, just yesterday my MP3 FM converter jack, still connected to my iPod and still connected to my lighter outlet, which was still in my breast pocket when I exited my car, was violently yanked out of the case. Wires everywhere, destroyed.

But it’s all good. Really, it is. I’m getting back to albums, and the first one I chose to listen to in it’s entirety was Nick Lowe’s Jesus Of Cool. I wrote a really badly written piece on it back in 2008 and thought I’d revise it and repost it. Consider this a remaster. And, by the way, thank you for everyone who commented on my previous post, This Revolution Will Not Be Televised (see below) and/or who linked to it from his or her blog. I seemed to have hit a nerve with some of you folks and I couldn’t be happier. This kind of discussion is why I continue to do this thing that I do.  So…thanks.

A couple of years ago I knew three things about Nick Lowe. One, that he wrote ’What’s So Funny ’Bout Peace Love and Understanding?’ made famous by Elvis Costello. Two, that he had a massive hit with the impossibly catchy “Cruel To Be Kind’ in 1979. Three, that I vaguely remember that his debut solo single ‘So It Goes’ was on the vinyl edition of the soundtrack for Rock & Roll High School.

That’s It. I knew nothing about his time in Brinsley Schwarz (or much about the pub-rock movement he was part of for that matter, aside from Joe Strummer’s involvement with the 101’ers). I, like many I suppose, thought about Nick Lowe as a one-hit wonder who probably gave up after ‘Cruel…’ failed to skyrocket him into the musical stratosphere, and who was now most likely a janitor of a high school somewhere near Suffolk, England.

Then about two years ago fellow music snob and whacked out cartoonist Philbert burned me a copy of Jesus Of Cool, Nick’s solo debut album from 1978. Somehow sensing that I was a newbie to the guy Phil kindly composed a nifty “Jesus-by-the-book” biography to assist in my assessment. It helped pique my interest greatly and I feel compelled to share some snippets of it with you. Phil, if you’re reading this, even though everyone knows you’re a litigious sort of fellow, I ask that you spare me another writ of summons just this one time, ok?

“Nick Lowe’s solo LP was spawned at the height of the late 70’s ‘New Wave’ mania. Lowe was a veteran of the British music scene known as the bassist and chief vocalist/ songwriter for the well known (by some) ’Pub Rock’ group Brinsley Schwarz (later to become the Rumour and back-up for Graham Parker–by the way, Parker is worth checking out as well!). In 1978 Lowe was primarily known as a producer having worked on Elvis Costello’s first album as well as seminal releases from the Damned, Dave Edmunds, Graham Parker and the Pretenders (Stop Your Sobbing).

Lowe made no bones about producing radio-friendly rock and roll and was unashamed to churn out quirky, funny singles in an era when the trappings of anything ‘pop’ were deemed very uncool. This sense of humor and the in-your-face irony is evident on ‘Jesus Of Cool’. Lowe never took himself too seriously, which was refreshing in 1978. For example, when David Bowie released his album ‘Low’, Nick countered by releasing an EP called ‘Bowi’…I mean, that’s just funny!

Lowe’s solo work was heavy on bass and heavy on wit. ‘36 Inches High’ is just flat out brilliant while Marie Provost was lifted straight from the pages of Hollywood Babylon (really!), the story of a forgotten silent film actress who died in her apartment and whose corpse was eventually eaten by her pet dachshunds (‘She was a winner/ who became the doggies’ dinner/ she never meant that much to me/ poor Marie.)

And ‘Nutted By Reality’ may just be the best purely twisted pop song in history. Last, but not least, is the closing track ‘Rollers Show’. A Sarcastic tweak of the then chart-topping Bay City Rollers, or is it a tip of an admirer’s hat to some fellow popsters? Does it matter?

I think you’ll like this record!”

Phil couldn’t have been more on the money. I have been obsessed with Lowe’s catalogue ever since. I mean, the man is, quite frankly, a Jesus Of Pop! No foolin’, even after 30 years of solo recordings the guy still retains the ability to write a damn fine song. After I purchased ‘At My Age‘, Nick’s 2007 release, I’ve gone backwards and sideways through his catalogue and I think I have now acquired everything the Dude (as in “The Dude abides”) has done. At My Age is a sublime grower, I assure you, although it’s slipped in stature for me behind The Impossible Bird and Labour Of Lust recently. He still sounds supremely confident, and his pop chops are as sharp as ever. Even his stuff with the Brinsley’s, especially the last one, are worth hunting down.

More people should know about this underrated artist, as there’s something very comforting in listening to a Nick Lowe record. Once he gets under your skin he spreads through the rest of your body like a virus, a virus you’re happy to be afflicted with.

On a related side-note, if you want to see and hear what a re-release/re-master should be, look no further than Yep Roc’s 30th anniversary edition of Jesus Of Cool. It’s magnificent, and has been treated with the love and respect an album of this magnitude and historical importance should be treated. My only complaint is that they haven’t done the same to Labour Of Lust yet. I love ya, Yep Roc, but get off yer asses, will ya?