Tag Archives: Nick Lowe

Nick Lowe (& Los Straitjackets) • Tokyo Bay [2×7″, CD, DD]

Hey kids, hop in the car! It’s time for another quality collaboration between NICK LOWE and LOS STRAITJACKETS, and this time we’re off on a whirlwind trip to Tokyo Bay. In the front seat are A-sides “Tokyo Bay” and “Cryin’ Inside,” while our companions “Travelin’ Light” and “Heartbreaker” occupy the backseat.

Lowe & Los started their group discography with a great live Christmas record, The Quality Holiday Revue Live, a 2015 release with a few non-holiday tunes thrown in for good measure. The man and band toured that release (got to see them at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, CA), both that year and the next, and then the masked men did an album of Lowe’s songs, What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets, on which Lowe made a guest appearance (2017). Now we’re treated to a 2×7″ EP with two Lowe originals and two covers, making me hope they’ll be doing a full length collab one of these days.

Tokyo Bay is a return of sorts to Lowe’s early ’80s solo career, in which he played a hybrid of new wave, rockabilly and power pop that really suited both his songwriting and his voice. Typically backed by a crack team of musicians (including Paul Carrack, Martin Belmont and Dave Edmunds), Nick turned out some compelling records. As has always been his wont, he wrote some great originals and placed them among some swell cover tunes (“7 Nights to Rock” and “Born a Woman” come immediately to mind). Here we get originals “Tokyo Bay” and “Cryin’ Inside”, both kinda popabilly country tunes, and covers “Travelin’ Light” (recorded by the likes of Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday and Van Morrison) and “Heartbreaker,” written by the Bee Gees. Don’t worry, you’d never know it was a Brothers Gibb creation if you didn’t see the credits – Lowe makes it his own, like he always does with the songs he loves. This release again shows that Lowe also knows how to pick a band that can do justice to the material; Los Straitjackets have always been perfect sidemen (I’ve seen them back both Lowe and El Vez [at separate events!], and last summer they played with Marshall Crenshaw).

The 2×7″ comes in a nice gatefold cover, and though my records have mismatched labels on ’em, the four songs are all there and accounted for. Tokyo Bay’s available as a limited vinyl release as well as on CD and download and is out now.

3.5/5 (YepRoc YEP-2589, 2018)

 

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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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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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The Damned • Damned Damned Damned [CD, LP]

Some anniversaries make you feel old. Some of ’em make you feel young. And some – like the 40th anniversary of this, punk rock’s quintessential and inaugural album – make you feel both old and young at the same time. THE DAMNED‘s first album, Damned Damned Damned, was released in late February 1977 on UK upstart Stiff Records and in the last year it’s been reissued on both vinyl (Drastic Plastic USA) and now CD via BMG UK. It’s one of those records that never loses its cheeky appeal.

Yours truly didn’t discover The Damned until 1981-1982 (via an IRS Records sampler featuring 1980’s “Wait for the Blackout”), and by then they’d undergone a bit of maturing. But on their debut disc, The Damned were a rowdy, youthful quartet just happy to be making noise and having someone record it. Producer Nick Lowe was that someone, and you don’t have to consult reissue liner notes or Wikipedia to tell that his job was primarily to keep the youngsters focused long enough to get a dozen songs on tape. Just listen to Damned Damned Damned and you can hear all the joy and energy these guys exuded. Whether it’s their debut single, “New Rose” (“is she really going out with him?”), followup single “Neat Neat Neat,” or any of the other punk classics here (I’ll cite “Fan Club,” “Born to Kill” and “Feel the Pain” as my favorites), this barely 30-minute “long player” charges out of the gate like a horse not just going for the win but running for its life. By the time closer “I Feel Alright” (aka The Stooges’ “1970”) finishes, there’s no doubt that this album deserves its inclusion in the top of the punk pops.

Damned Damned Damned still has a lotta life in it. Whether you pick up the late 2016 vinyl reissue on Drastic Plastic (available on 150 gram yellow or 180 gram black vinyl; excellently mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio), or the brand new 2017 BMG CD (no weight or mastering credit), you can’t go wrong. I like the vinyl for Gray’s beefy mastering job (the CD’s a tad bit thinner-sounding), but the CD comes in a book-style package with some great liner notes and photos. Neither has any extra tracks, though, so for those you’d have to grab one of the compilations like 2005’s 3CD box set, Play It at Your Sister, et al.

There have been way too many changes in personnel, temperament and outlook over the last four decades to detail here, but in ’76-’77 The Damned were vocalist Dave Vanian, guitarist/songwriter Brian James, bassist Captain Sensible and drummer Rat Scabies; a buncha guys with colorful names making raucous rock ’n’ roll. Today only Vanian and Sensible remain (the latter having switched to guitar a long, long time ago), but the band – who have made a number of great records since 1976 – still tours regularly and this year they’re touring that killer record they made forty years ago. It’d be a shame to miss the chance to hear this punk classic performed nice ’n’ loud right in front of yer face by the only band that still matters, The Damned.

5/5 (Drastic Plastic DPRLP76, vinyl; BMG BMGAA01CD, CD)

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Elvis Costello & The Attractions • Trust [Mobile Fidelity LP]

elviscostello-trust-frontMobile Fidelity entered the world of audiophile vinyl back in the late ’70s with their “half speed mastered” pressings of popular rock, jazz and classical albums. These days they don’t mention the half speed bit, but they do note their “Gain 2 Ultra Analog System,” which is their current technology for bringing to us “the most accurate sonic reproductions possible.” Their recent issue of Elvis Costello & The Attractions‘ 1981 LP, Trust, is on the platter today.

Strangely, this album was issued out of sequence. MoFi started releasing EC’s albums in their current Original Master Recording™ format a few years ago in their original chronological order, starting with ’77’s My Aim Is True and running all the way up through ’84’s Goodbye Cruel World, but skipping Trust until now. I actually wrote the company about this when they went straight from Almost Blue to Imperial Bedroom – WTF? – and their answer was your typical non-committal reply. Regardless, it’s here now and I’m really enjoying it. By 1981 Costello had mastered his then strong suit of writing clever, biting lyrics and the Attractions had honed their ability to communicate his songs with power and sometimes restraint to a fine point. Trust, produced by Nick Lowe with Roger Bechirian, contains great songs that cover all of Costello’s categories: hard power pop like “From a Whisper to a Scream,” film noir like leadoff track “Clubland,” and solo piano courtesy of Steve Nieve on “Shot with His Own Gun.” As always up until that point, the rhythm elviscostello-trust-rearsection of non-brothers Pete Thomas (drums) and Bruce Thomas (bass) serves the songs so well it’s pretty amazing that the songs don’t get credited to the whole band. Oh, don’t get Elvis started on that! (I’m curious if he addresses any of this in his new autobiography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.) I think, despite favoring Armed Forces for years as my favorite EC&A album, that Trust actually covers more ground.

This reissue, as noted above, is a Mobile Fidelity release and as you might expect should sound better than the original. Once again, I don’t have a first-issue US or UK vinyl version to compare it to, but it’s a sure bet that this MoFi release is miles better than the original 1981 Columbia (US) pressing. It’s definitely better than the early 2000s Rhino CD, with a wide soundscape that allows all the different elements to sparkle and stand out – occasionally a little too much, like with the cymbals and high-hats of “New Lace Sleeves” or “Lovers Walk,” though those toned down after repeated listening. Thomas’ drums explode on the songs where they should, as does Thomas’ bass, which represents some of his best playing ever. I hope you’ll, ummmm, trust me when I say this is a classic album and should be in your collection.
4/5 (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)

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