Category Archives: vinyl

Wreckless Eric • Construction Time & Demolition [CD, LP, DD]

“All your records are shit, except maybe one…” So goes one of the lines in a song on the new album from WRECKLESS ERIC, Construction Time & Demolition. If you were around in the late ’70s you might remember a few of Eric’s releases on Stiff Records, home then to names like Elvis Costello, The Damned and Nick Lowe. Or maybe you’ve heard the cover of his biggie “Whole Wide World” (by Cage The Elephant). Eric was an oddball – he sang in a low register squeak that sounded like some weird guy’s speaking voice – and appears to have stayed one. But not all of his records are shit…

His new album is a beautifully ragged semi-lo-fi collection of remembrances of things like his childhood in Hull, England, and how the (whole wide) world seems to have been continually constructing and demolishing itself ever since. The opener, “Gateway to Europe,” tells of his hometown becoming that when a bridge was built that spanned the Humber Estuary and Britain became part of the European Common Market. (Look it up, I’m not a history teacher.) The arrangement of this song, as well as the rest of the eleven songs that make up Construction Time & Demolition, is one that sounds like it’s building up, getting denser and denser, while simultaneously kind of falling apart. Jagged guitars, weird organs and fuzz bass are at home among drums, percussion, and a “horn section” led by a brilliant trumpet blowing whenever some musical bit needs underlining. As Eric himself says, “I wanted the music to sound as though it was demolishing itself as it went along, and at times I wanted to actually hear it destroy itself, fuzz in and out until all that was left was the flat tone of a heart that’s stopped beating.” Well, now. That’s a grand concept and I think Wreckless Eric has achieved it. His lyrics remain wearily wistful in a jaded sort of been-there-done-that way, making canny observations about how getting older isn’t always easy (“life is all the same old lessons / until you learn ’em / And I’ve got so many lessons left to learn, I wish I could burn it all! / I’m coming unraveled here!”).

So how did Wreckless Eric fall off my radar? I mean, I loved his new wave records back then (see the clip below with his magnificent “Whole Wide World”), but he’s kind of come and gone over the last forty years. (I actually got to see him perform in NYC in the early ’90s during a New Music Seminar – met Cheetah Chrome from the Dead Boys at a bar down the street before the show and bought him a beer. Cheetah, not Eric. On my company’s dime.) Wreckless Eric’s had a few albums out in the last decade or so but I guess I just missed them. Meanwhile, he’s now stationed here in the States and has a pretty good thing going with this new record. You can catch him on tour if you live on the East Coast or in Britain. I hope he’s got a full band with him, and one that can deliver the goods and bads that make up Construction Time & Demolition. Meanwhile I’ll be looking into some of the records of his that I missed over the years. My bad.

4/5 (Southern Domestic)

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NRBQ • NRBQ [CD, LP]

Omnivore put out an epic five disc box set last year, trying to somehow encapsulate the fifty year history of NRBQ. There was no way for the label to summarize just what makes this band so amazing in a mere five CDs, so they’re forgiven for missing a mark that really no one could hit. The fact that they even tried earns them major kudos. This time around they’ve reissued the band’s first album, NRBQ. Released in 1969, this record introduced to rock fans the wide world of the New Rhythm & Blues Quintet, a band name that also tried to encapsulate just what these guys were all about. It’s a wonder that Columbia Records signed these guys and put out a few records by them in the first place. Because you can’t pigeonhole NRBQ. They’re primarily a rock band, sure, but where do they stand in that strata? Hard rock? No. Country rock? A little. Jazz? Well, how many rock bands have covered Sun Ra (besides MC5)? Rockabilly? Sometimes. A mixture of all of those sub genres and more – that’s what NRBQ does. Imagine what a tough job the marketing department had trying to figure out who to sell this record to!

On NRBQ, the band – fronted by vocalist Frank Gadler, Steve Ferguson on guitar/ vocals and Terry Adams on keyboards/ vocals – demonstrates much of what made them so amazing. From covers of Eddie Cochran (“C’mon Everybody”) and Bruce Channel (“Hey! Baby”) to their hard rockin’ take of the aforementioned Sun Ra’s “Rocket Number 9,” to their own slightly countryish tunes like “Kentucky Slop Song” and the MOR-y “You Can’t Hide,” plus a neat little traditional ditty called “Liza Jane” that induces someone’s hound dog to bark along with it – phew! – the genres and influences on this record make it a hard sell on paper. So you gotta put this motherfucker on and let it do its thing! It comes down to this: you either get NRBQ, or you don’t. That’s been the problem since day one, because if you say that to the Q virgin you’re gonna sound like an asshole. But it’s the truth. And you don’t wanna be called a liar, do you?

Judging from the pre-release digital download, and comparing that to my ’80s vinyl pressing, Omnivore’s done a great job with NRBQ. They’ve expanded the cover to a gatefold, added some historical photos, and likely created new liner notes. (The original release’s back cover is nothing but liner notes, and they’re very much of the era in their language and longwindedness.) Considering the album’s never been out on CD, this reissue is important to longstanding NRBQ fans. For those who haven’t gotten into them yet, well, why not start here? You could try the box set or the one disc highlights release, or grab one of the other compilations that can be found on the internet, but don’t (yet). Just get this and give it a shot. You may just find you get it. If you don’t, then wait a few years and try again. Maybe by then Omnivore will have put out NRBQ’s second album, the one they did with Carl Fucking Perkins!

3.5/5 (Omnivore, 2018)

 

 

 

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The Jazz Butcher • In Bath of Bacon [LP]

In the last few months I’ve reviewed two different box sets of albums by THE JAZZ BUTCHER. The first one, The Wasted Years, covered Pat Fish’s first four elpees under his nom de plectrum. Album number one, In Bath of Bacon, has just been reissued on vinyl for the first time since, ever?, and now I’m the proud owner of a copy. Complete with an English OBI, this vinyl treat is a glimpse at the nascent Jazz Butcher, circa 1983, fumbling towards greatness. Recorded primarily as a solo project by the man himself, the songs range from silly ditties about love kittens and girls who keep goldfish, to zombies in love, grey flannelettes and gloop jiving. What does all this mean? Well, as noted by the music press at the time, it’s “reminiscent of… the Modern Lovers,” (NME) and “[conjoins] Todd Rundgren’s DIY home recordings [with] a guitar from Wes Montgomery’s cupboard.” Together these make up a pretty apt description of the sound of Bacon.

Finding this album on vinyl has been a difficult ordeal, with original copies in decent shape fetching $25-30 easily. It was pretty obscure in the first place, at least here in the States, though it was issued at one point on CD (and even that’s been hard to find). And, while not The Jazz Butcher’s best album (I vote for Cult of the Basement or A Scandal in Bohemia), Bath of Bacon is worth checking out as a vital piece of the Butcher puzzle, especially now that you can get it either as a singular vinyl record or as part of a totally worthwhile 4CD box set. Buy it, enjoy its lo-fi charm, and then start awaiting the massive awesomeness of A Scandal in Bohemia and its return to vinyl.

3.5/5 (Fire Records FIRELP461, 1983/2018)

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The Jazz Butcher • Cult of the Basement [CD, LP]

[Originally published in The Rocket, Seattle, September 1990]

Once again, Pat Fish proves he’s the penultimate modern pop eclectic. Continuing from where last year’s [1989] overlooked but outstanding Big Planet Scarey Planet left off, Cult of the Basement is THE JAZZ BUTCHER’s latest go-round and it’s one hell of a ride.

Cult opens with the spy-themey “The Basement,” a recurring theme at that. Then, with a curt “and you can dance” a la Madonna, Butchy delivers “She’s On Drugs,” which may or mayn’t be about America’s bullet-braed diva. Lest we believe the Jazz Butcher’s always got something wacky up his sleeve, there’s “Girl Go,” released earlier this year [1990] as a single (in the UK) and a quintessential take on JB’s patented guitar-heavy reverb ballads. “Pineapple Tuesday” is in the same mode, but hardly a copy.

As a guitarist he’s great, as a singer, supreme. But first and foremost, Fish is a songwriter second to none. And if the world were a fair place, he and his band would be everywhere in 1990 except the basement.

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The Hot Rats • Turn Ons [CD, LP]

 [Originally published 2/11/2010 on Skratchdisc]

Gaz and Danny from Supergrass, THE HOT RATS’ Turn Ons is an album full of cover versions. Perhaps taking the idea from David Bowie’s 1974 Pinups album, or even more recently any number of other all-covers albums, the two-man band and producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Paul McCartney) put together a dozen or so songs for the occasion, and twelve of them appear here.

The festivities get started with a shot at Lou Reed’s “I Can’t Stand It” and The Kinks’ “Big Sky.” Things lag a bit on The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship” and then you get to the first single, “Fight for Your Right,” which sounds nothing like the Beastie Boys’ original. In fact, the Rats do a great job of completely changing it… for the better, really, since that song—so closely associated with the silly video that accompanied it—is ultimately a childish, bombastic thing. (And I’m not saying I don’t like it!) Stabs at Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, Elvis Costello, The Cure, and Bowie himself follow, and then comes “EMI,” which is great because, as you know, the Sex Pistols cut that song as a swipe at the first label that signed and then dropped them. And it makes you wonder, does Supergrass still have a contract with EMI, whose Parlophone label they have been on since 1995? (The band did this song on the Craig Ferguson late night show with Pistol Steve Jones—look it up on YouTube!) Well, anyway, the disc ends with a very nice, melancholy version of Squeeze’s “Up the Junction,” with an arrangement that really does justice to Difford & Tilbrook’s sad story-wrapped-in-a-happy-melody that was a chart topper in the UK in ’79.

All in all, a pretty great covers album. Some songs are awfully close to the originals, some aren’t, and some are in between. They all sound like The Hot Rats, though, a crunchy, sorta lo-fi vibe quite different from Gaz & Danny’s other band’s sound, so you’re not gonna confuse these versions with the others when they come up randomly on your iPod. My only qualm? They didn’t include the Rats’ version of “Drive My Car” on the album, even though there’s a video for it. Where can a Supergrass/Hot Rats fan get this, I wonder? I hope it’ll be on a single or something…
3/5 (Fat Possum [US], G&D Recordings [UK])

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Electric Light Orchestra • Out of the Blue [40th Anniversary Picture Disc]

Another anniversary, another reissue. Yet, ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA’s Out of the Blue is truly deserving of a celebration. The double album was first released in October 1977, amid all the hype about punk rock and the desecration of our beloved rock ’n’ roll. Forty years later the prophecy that punk would destroy all stands unfulfilled; rock ’n’ roll carries on as “classic” music, mostly of a bygone era, via countless repackages of the best it had to offer.

This here double picture disc of Out of the Blue is truly something to look at (I’m going by the photos I’ve seen), although it can’t be quite as awesome as the original issue. That was a 2LP album in a gatefold cover with printed inner sleeves, a mini poster of the band and – wait for it! – a cut-out space station/rocket ship just like the one on the record jacket! And YES, I did assemble mine as a 14 year old and hung the poster, too. Today’s picture disc release comes with none of those extras, just Jeff Lynne’s masterpiece carved into the grooves of records that can’t possibly show all the magic that is Blue. I mean, picture discs are naturally pressed with shallower grooves to accommodate the picture inside, thus making for a quieter and (likely) less expansive sound. The original pressing, as well as some of the many reissues over the last four decades, is really the one to have.

With five singles hitting the charts, Blue was ELO’s biggest bang, eventually selling some 10 million copies worldwide. You know many of them: “Turn to Stone,” “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” and the nowadays ubiquitous (thanks to its inclusion in dozens of movies) “Mr. Blue Sky.” The band’s sound had evolved to a unique hybrid of rock, classical and pop. What started out as a great idea (their classicalized cover of “Roll Over Beethoven” was among their early singles, along with the epic “10538 Overture”) hit its zenith with this sprawling double album, which even included a side-long Concerto for a Rainy Day. Judging by the DVD of one of this era’s shows, the ELO of ’77 must have been something to see and hear in person.

Heavy on harmonies, stacked in layers thanks to 24-track recording and Jeff Lynne’s amazing ability to take melodies and turn them into major statements, Out of the Blue was like The Beatles smashed into The Beach Boys and The Everly Brothers while Phil Spector got the entire shebang on tape. My guess is Lynne was as focused on dense, dynamic arrangements as Brian Wilson was before him, though I don’t expect Jeff was wearing a fireman’s helmet in the booth… But I’ll bet it was really hot in there!

As for the strings, well, the Electric Light Orchestra at this point – lavish, grand – was six or seven band members plus the extra violins, cellos and what have you that accompanied them on record and on stage. Blue is ELO at its most magnificent. From this peak there was nowhere higher for Lynne & Co. to go, and so on the next LP, Discovery (cynically also known as Disco Very), the band shed most of the genuine strings and accomplished its orchestral manoeuvres mainly via synthesizers. It doesn’t matter that ELO’s biggest hit in America was “Don’t Let Me Down” (Bruuuuuuuuce!); Out of the Blue was the album that finally captured what was in the boss’s head and displayed it like a gigantic billboard for all to see. Hey you with the pretty face, welcome to the human race!

In 2007 a deluxe anniversary CD came out in a limited edition book-bound cover with the cutout space station (albeit in much smaller form) and 24-page booklet; that version and the standard jewelcase version included bonus tracks and new mastering. Sadly, one of the songs had a noticeable dropout thanks to the age of the stereo master tape and so this reissue loses a point. A vinyl reissue on Simply Vinyl was also issued (in 1999) and it suffered from over the top digital mastering (not usually a plus for vinyl reissues), and since then it had also been issued properly via Epic/Legacy (on clear vinyl, 2015). I’m not sure whether these vinyl versions – or the picture disc set that gave me reason to write this review now – include the aforementioned dropout, which is considerable but not a deal breaker since this album is such an essential piece of the ELO (and rock ’n’ roll in general) discography. You should give them a shot if they’re easily available. Otherwise, I’d try and hunt down an original on Jet/United Artists or even the slightly later Jet/CBS version (USA), or maybe even a UK import on Jet/UA. Hell, whatever version you get, Out of the Blue is something you must own.

5/5 (Epic 8898545616S1, 2017)

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Cheap Trick • Christmas Christmas [CD, LP]

Hard to believe I’ve been writing this blog for this long and not yet touched on CHEAP TRICK! I’ve been a fan since At Budokan first filled the streets of my neighborhood with their guitar soaked rock ’n’ roll and – barring a decade or so when they seemed to lose their way – been along for the ride ever since.

This year The Trick treats us to Christmas Christmas, their first all-holiday release and a welcome gift. Packed with a dozen Yuletide tunes, it includes their takes on a bunch of classic Christmas rock. Naturally they cover Roy Wood & Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day,” giving it the customary crunch that has accompanied their previous killer covers of Wood’s material (“California Man,” “Brontosaurus”). Also tackled with aplomb are The Kinks’ “Father Christmas,” Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” and Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run.” It’s not surprising these ones made it to the album, as they’re exactly what you’d expect Cheap Trick to do. A couple that are surprising – and both damn good – are the Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” and Nilsson’s “Remember Christmas,” two songs that couldn’t be much more different from each other and yet fit very nicely on Christmas Christmas. It’s great to see Cheap Trick stretch out a bit and cover something as punk rock as the Ramones or as beautiful as the Nilsson cut. Robin Zander shows his range as a rock singer on these two, especially the latter, where he uses restraint from going overboard and still nails it. I also like some of the arrangement touches, recalling Cheap Trick’s late ’70s records, such as the sinister middle bit in the Slade cover (reminiscent of the guy who invades your brain in the middle of “Dream Police”) or the over-the-top bridge they add to “Run Rudolph Run.” That there’s a heaping helping of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” is both expected and done quite well.

As Christmas albums go, this one’s absolutely critical for the Cheap Trick fan. Sure, you’ve heard some of these songs hundreds of times over the years, but never the way they’re done here. And though Bun E. Carlos is missed, Daxx Nielsen finally fits in comfortably on the drum throne. Christmas Christmas is filled with Cheap Trick cheer and whether you grab the Record Store Day vinyl or the CD, this one will be a platter you regularly revisit every December.

4/5 (Big Machine BMRCT0275A, 2017)

 

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Brinsley Schwarz • It’s All Over Now [CD, LP]

BRINSLEY SCHWARZ may be one of the most peculiarly named bands in rock history. They weren’t named after a dance craze, or as an homage to one of their favorite bands, or for any other reason except that one of the guys in the band was actually named Brinsley Schwarz. Perhaps the names Nick Lowe, Ian Gomm, Bob Andrews and Billy Rankin weren’t memorable enough…

Well, for whatever reason, a band called Kippington Lodge morphed into Brinsley Schwarz (oh, the humanity!) and became one of Britain’s most recognizable late ’60s “pub rock” bands. A genre marked by similar instrumentation to rock ’n’ roll and country, and lying somewhere in between (but not really “country rock”), pub rock would eventually morph into punk rock and new wave when guys like Joe Strummer went from The 101’ers to The Clash, and Brinsley Schwarz’s Nick Lowe went solo. It’s All Over Now is that band’s final studio album, recorded in 1974 and briefly released and then withdrawn. It’s unclear as to why the album came and went, except that all of the group’s members seemed to have lost interest in Brinsley Schwarz (the band) and perhaps weren’t all that keen on the album’s release; the label may have yanked it once they realized there was apparently no longer a band to back up the record. In 1988 it was reissued as mixed by band guitarist Gomm, and it appears that that mix was used for this release on Mega Dodo. The same eleven tracks make up both issues, including the original version of Gomm and Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind,” which became the latter’s biggest hit when re-recorded in 1979. (The Brinsleys version is more subdued and mellow.) Other tracks include the bouncy “Give Me Back My Love,” which takes The Equals’ “Baby Come Back” riff and turns it sideways, another that sounds like Lowe’s later “When I Write the Book” (which he recorded with Rockpile in 1980) and the title track, a reggaefied cover of The Rolling Stones’ cover of The Valentinos’ minor early ’60s R&B hit. Overall, It’s All Over Now is kind of a low-key affair, and not as rockin’ as the band’s official swan song, 1974’s The New Favourites of Brinsley Schwarz, which included Lowe’s original recording of “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” If you’re a fan of said pub rock and/or Lowe – or the other members of the band, who went on to form The Rumour (of Graham Parker fame), among others – this humble release is worth tracking down.

2.5/5 (Mega Dodo BSCD2, 2017; available direct from the label)

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R.E.M. • Automatic for the People [LP]

It’s already been 25 years since R.E.M. put out their last great album, Automatic for the People. This anniversary sees the release of a few different configurations to choose from (as is the custom these days), including a 3CD/BD deluxe set, a 2CD version and what I’m primarily concerned with here, an all-analog remaster on vinyl. This 180 gram audiophile pressing comes in your basic LP cover (faithful to the original release), with a printed inner sleeve and digital download voucher card. Mastered by industry vet Stephen Marcussen* at Precision Mastering, this vinyl is pretty quiet (as in, in between songs and in quiet moments) and has a very rich sound.

Some of that richness might be attributed to the fact that Automatic was a fairly orchestrated affair, with a handful of tunes bathed in strings arranged by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame. Another factor is that, by this time in R.E.M.’s career, they were trying out a lot of different styles and arrangements beyond their standard guitar/bass/drums/Stipe archetype. Peter Buck’s often arpeggiated 12-string guitar is typically replaced by more inventive guitar parts, organ and other keyboard pads that make the record a much more moody thing than previous releases. “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” used bits ’n’ bobs of the old pop classic (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) to interesting effect – not sampling, more like paraphrasing – though the “deeee dee deee deee” gets a little trying. Meanwhile, “Star Me Kitten” uses the F-word in place of the star in its title and, despite being a cool track with a lush vocal bed, is slightly overshadowed by the version R.E.M. did with writer William S. Burroughs narrating the lyrics. (It appeared on a soundtrack album for The X-Files.) Also present is “Everybody Hurts,” which feels a little syrupy but really works when the drums kick in and the orchestra just goes for it. I think “Man on the Moon” is still one of their greatest songs, and was so well regarded that it was used for the title and soundtrack of the film about comedian Andy Kaufman. In all, R.E.M. achieved something pretty daunting with Automatic for the People; it sold over 18 million copies worldwide, so clearly this was something much bigger than anything Murmur hinted at.

Those going for the 2CD version of Automatic will get a live concert recorded in 1992 at Athens, GA’s 40-Watt Club, the place where R.E.M. cut their teeth. This is substantial, as the band didn’t tour behind the album and this show was their only one of the year. And if you’re plunking down the extra bucks for the deluxe release you’ll also get a CD of demos and a Blu-ray disc with a new Dolby Atmos mix of the album. (Atmos is sorta like surround sound, but with sound coming at you from the ceiling if your system’s wired and hardwared that way; otherwise it will play as a 5.1 surround mix via standard AV surround receivers.)

Though it wasn’t necessarily the album for many of us who discovered the band when they first showed up with 1982’s Chronic Town EP, Automatic for the People was a watershed for R.E.M. It demonstrated that there was much more to this foursome than mumbly vocals and jangly guitars.

* Marcussen mastered the original vinyl, and appears to have done this version, too (though that credit could be a holdover from the artwork for the original album sleeve).

4/5 (Craft Recordings CR00046, 1992/2017)

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Nick Lowe • Nick the Knife, The Abominable Showman, Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, The Rose of England, Pinker and Prouder Than Previous, Party of One [CD, LP]

YepRoc has been working the NICK LOWE discography for some time now. Starting out with Labour of Lust, Pure Pop for Now People (Jesus of Cool) and the Rockpile-attributed Seconds of Pleasure, plus a best-of (Quiet Please) and a handful of new releases, the label finishes things off with the final six albums Lowe put out before he went independent in the mid ’90s.

Nick the Knife, The Abominable Showman and Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit (Columbia US, 1982-1984).

Granted, the half dozen releases here are among Lowe’s least successful, but that concept is only relative when you consider what Nick has knocked out in his career. His first couple of releases after his band Brinsley Schwarz called it a day – Pure Pop and Labour – have stood the test of time as power pop classics. But Lowe was never interested in being the torchbearer for that genre. So on his further releases he slowly but surely expanded his reach by tackling a wider range of pop flavors, including rockabilly, straight country, country-politan and more.

1982’s Nick the Knife cut closest to the Pure Pop/Labour one-two punch, with “Stick It Where the Sun Don’t Shine,” “Burning” and the reggae-tinged remake of his tune “Heart,” flanked by most of Rockpile (who made the original “Heart”). A year later Lowe had put together the band that would support him on the next few records, releasing The Abominable Showman (excellent title!) and scoring artistically with “Raging Eyes” – in his typical time-tested vein – but moving along into greener pastures with “Time Wounds All Heels” and the sublime sounding/lengthily titled “(For Every Woman Who Ever Made a Fool of a Man There’s a Woman Made A) Man of a Fool.”

Without a hit or hint at the Top 40 since “Cruel to Be Kind,” Nick’s label was leaning on him to come up with something chart-worthy. He gave them 1984’s Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, a cleverly-titled (though too clever for its own good) album with a surefire single, “Half a Boy and Half a Man,” which went nowhere fast. Despite a likely successful cover of The Springfields’ “Breakaway” and Mickey Jupp’s kick-ass “You’ll Never Get Me Up (In One of Those),” a worthy successor to “Switchboard Susan” (from Labour of Lust), Cowboy Outfit mostly stayed confined to the closet. Too bad, too, because Lowe penned some great album cuts (“Awesome,” “The Gee and the Rick and the Three-Card Trick”) that really showcased some of his untrumpeted strengths.

1985’s The Rose of England seemed to have the panacea to Lowe’s lack of chart time despite its boring cover art. (The US version featured a high school artist drawing/collage that was actually worse than the all-type treatment used in the UK.)  The remake of Nick’s own “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ’N’ Roll)” was produced by then-chart topping Huey Lewis and played by him and The News. A catchy tune that was already great before Lewis helmed its second coming, it still didn’t have that certain-something to bother the charts. Neither did the excellent reading of John Hiatt’s “She Don’t Love Nobody,” the rockabilly killer “7 Nights to Rock” or even Nick’s “The Rose of England.” Still… nothing.

A few years later, after taking a breather presumably to have a rethink, 1998 saw the release of Pinker and Prouder Than Previous. A peculiarly-titled little troublemaker, it had some likely candidates for stardom, such as Lowe’s “Lovers Jamboree” and the fun take on Wynn Stewart’s “Big Big Love,” but nothing that actually made a stab at bringing Nick something other than a consolation prize.

The Rose of England, Pinker and Prouder Than Previous and Party of One (Columbia US 1986, 1988 and Reprise 1990).

His US label, Columbia, decided they’d had enough and Mr. Lowe moved on to Reprise for 1990’s Party of One, arguably his best album since Nick the Knife. But even with quintessential all-time Lowes like “(I’m Gonna Build A) Jumbo Ark” and “All Men Are Liars” (which contains the clever couplet “Do you remember Rick Astley?/He had a big fat hit, it was ghastly”), as well as the more mature but just as good “What’s Shakin’ 0n the Hill” and “I Don’t Know Why You Keep Me On,” this party was a bust.

What was it going to take to bring Nick the kudos that seemed to be his for the taking? Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard movie, whose 1992 soundtrack featured a cover of Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” though the song’s author’s name was probably completely unknown to those who saw the movie and bought the soundtrack album. Perhaps it was the success – and royalty checks – from this project that helped Lowe to figure out what he wanted to do next.

Not content to age disgracefully, Nick embraced a personal path without the pressure to write what the label thinks will be a hit (I mean, were they ever right in the past?). Lowe’s albums since 1990 have been much more relaxed affairs, with the kinds of songs (originals and covers) that better reflect his life and role as one of new wave’s elder statesmen. You still get the humor, just not the sophomoric kind. It’s definitely a double-edged sword, though, for those of us who came aboard because of his association with the punk/wave scene and thanks to songs like “Cruel to Be Kind” or “Crackin’ Up” have found the ensuing releases to lack the spunk of the early albums. And even though we may have the self awareness to realize that those who don’t mature are doomed to come off as perennial punchlines, we can’t help but listen to the early records and wish our hero’s future releases had continued in the same vein.

YepRoc should be commended for taking the torch and keeping it lit. Though the packages themselves are devoid of any frills (no lyrics, inserts or anything like that, at least in the CD configuration), they have added bonus track rarities such as demos and live versions from B-sides and elsewhere, when applicable. The CDs feature these items on the single disc; vinyl buyers get them on an included bonus 7″. Applause! And – if you bought all six albums during the pre-order period – you get a Nick Lowe lunchbox. Sure, there’s no thermos included, but you’re probably not taking this thing to school anyway. Unless you’re one of those who refused to grow up and still wish there was a “Switchboard Susan” on every Lowe LP.

3.5/5 (entire series) (YepRoc, 2017)

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