FLASHBACK FRIDAY: “Jesus Of Cool”

Jesus of Cool

If Elvis Costello had a reclusive older brother, it would be Nick Lowe.  Among music nerds, Nick Lowe is not exactly an obscure name.  However, I’d say he’s one of the most painfully overlooked songwriters of the past few decades.  Within England’s mid ‘70s-‘80s New Wave scene, I can’t think of anyone who had more fingers in so many pies.

Lowe’s relationship to Elvis Costello was vital in their early days together.  As well as playing live with Costello and as on his records, Lowe produced Costello’s first five studio albums.  I believe it was the record sleeve of Trust that jested: “*Nick Lowe not to blame for this one.” Lowe was in fact “to blame” and it’s a great fault to bear.  He also wrote :(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?: while a member of Brinsley Schwarz (1969-75).  This emotive ballad has been constantly mis-credited to Costello, and while I doubt Lowe loses sleep over it (his royalty checks know who wrote it) it’s a shame so few recognize Lowe as the savant he is.

Lowe also had a long-standing musical relationship with English New Wave vet Dave Edmunds.  Edmunds and Lowe co-wrote albums worth of songs while remaining solo acts.  The second they congealed their talents formally under the name Rockpile, they released one album, and broke up.

Additionally, and this is my favorite Lowe factoid, he was an invisible hand in lifting English punk to the level it is now.  The man produced not only The Damned’s first single “New Rose,” but their entire debut album, Damned Damned Damned. You want more?  He also married June Carter-Cash’s daughter from her first marriage and was close friends with the Carter-Cash family, chilling, playing, and recording with Johnny Cash on a regular basis.

Despite this tome of accomplishments, Nick Lowe has only had two songs in the Top 10 of the UK Singles Chart (“I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass,” and “Milk and Alcohol” which was performed by Dr. Feelgood).  “Cruel To Be Kind” was Nick Lowe’s only composition to ever make the US Top 40. Cruel indeed.

My interest in Nick Lowe extends from the fact that my dad has most of his albums on vinyl.  I grew up listening to them.  Yet whenever my dad has a selection of albums by the same person, he always seems to be missing their first release.  Therefore it’s my duty to go to record stores, find it, and then hold it above his head.  My dad has almost EVERY early Elvis Costello album, yet he doesn’t have My Aim Is True; but I do.  The same went for Nick Lowe.  He has every album, but no Jesus Of Cool, Lowe’s debut solo album released in ’78.  So I was thrilled when digging through a dusty basement in Greenpoint a few years ago and finding an original UK release of it.  For ONE DOLLAR, Dad.

The record is a pop-opus.  It’s also the catchiest F-U to the music industry ever written.  Track one, “Music For Money,” is a heavy-hitting rock anti-anthem.  The lyrics pointedly and humorously compare the sycophantic nature of the record industry to that of prostitution:

 

Music for money//Busking for bucks//Greeedin’ for greenies//Singing for sucks

Music for money//Isn’t it queer//Handsome promotion//No – here

Music for money//Bleeding for bucks//Quippin’ for rabble//Fakin’ for fucks

Muzak

 

The next two songs, “I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass” and “Little Hitler” are milestones in acerbic pop.  Nick Lowe, much like Elvis Costello, Morrissey, and Bob Dylan, is an absolute master of making you smile at an insult.  That is to say, lyrically his songs are biting and sardonic, but they’re the catchiest, smoothest, and most sweetly produced pop songs you’ve ever heard.  Naturally, Lowe produced the album.

The record’s scope is also impressive.  Each track is fully equipped with minimalist texture and perfect harmonies, but the songs range from silly pop hits, to sincere ballads, to eerie compositions.  One of my favorites is 36” High, which sounds like no other Nick Lowe song.  It’s a strange, bass-heavy, lo-fi, synth teasing homage to guilt and loss that proves Lowe’s dexterity and genius as a songwriter.  There’s also a song on the album entitled “Nutted By Reality.” I could write an article on the greatness of that alone.

Visually the record is just as brilliant as it is audibly.  The cover depicts Lowe dressed as archetypes from six distinct genres of music…everything from folk-hippie to early metal head.  The record is sub-titled “Pure Pop For Now People,” but the letters of the title are hidden in the corners of each photograph.  The record’s hind-side displays three tacky glass swans, floating on water with sprigs of foliage and carnations.  Even the record sleeve has tedious inside jokes emblazoned upon it, my favorite being a graph of “The Artiste At Work” which plots Lowe’s commercial success over his career.  The amount of thought that went into every aspect of this record is downright mind-blowing.

If you haven’t heard this album, give it a listen.  If you hadn’t heard of Nick Lowe, now you have.

Tracklist:

Side One:

01: Music For Money

02: I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass

03: Little Hitler

04: Shake And Pop

05: So It Goes

 

Side Two:

01: So It Goes

02: No Reason

03: 36” High

04: Marie Provost

05: Nutted By Reality

06: Heart Of The City

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