He’s got regular gigs already, serenading the ladies who win K-EARTH 101’s daily ‘Office of the Day’ contest in Yuma, Arizona and laying down hot licks with Dwight Yoakam’s back up band. So that might explain why there’s been no follow up to Eugene Edwards’ amazing 2004 debut album, My Favorite Revolution. But that’s a shame because the record seemed like just the start of inventive, career-spanning releases (along the lines of an Elvis Costello or Tom Petty). I mean, listening to just this one album, man can this guy write songs!
Your Own Nightmare
The poprock influences are all over this record – the 1960s, new wave, Britpop – but somehow never risk overwhelming what is new and fresh here. From the opening bars of the opening cut, “Your Own Nightmare,” you know you are in for an uber cool experience when the beat that won’t let you stand still. “It Doesn’t Get Better Than This” opens like a Costello number but the melody is so Squeeze. “Congratulations My Darling” uses jangle to good effect, with a nice British invasion vibe. “The Next Time You Go” slows things down, acing a great Colin Blunstone phrasing. “At Your Place,” “I’d Like to Think So,” and “Permanent One” could be mistaken for an American Squeeze or Crowded House while “Shattered Flower,” “Not That Kind of Girl” and particularly “Victim at Bedtime” have that Costello facility in mixing music with lyrics. Meanwhile “Telling the Lie Again” reminds me of The BoDeans with its rustic Americana rock and roll sound.
It Doesn’t Get Better Than ThisCongratulations My DarlingVictim at Bedtime
If My Favorite Revolution is it, album-wise, from Eugene Edwards, I guess we should be grateful. It’s a stunning piece of work that does not fail on any of its 14 tracks. It sounds as fresh and exciting today as it did on release in 2004. Buy it, play it, enjoy it. And maybe drop Edwards a line of new-album encouragement while you’re at it.
Head Sounds is another super-Cali-fantastic release from Paul Ryan aka Super 8! Imagine Ray Davies joining the Beach Boys sometime in 1968 for a one-off album outing and you kinda get the picture. Ryan aces that late 1960s California poprock sound on tracks like “Dragonfly,” with its sometimes dreamy, sometimes swinging groove and timely sentiments about ‘what if you could only live for a day’? And things just get more groovy from there. Five of Head Sounds numbers already appeared on an EP of the same name but the expansion really fills out the original sunny, sand-flecked ambiance. Dig the happy township jive animating “BoNes,” or the addictive rhythmic hook undergirding “BeBopALuLa,” as well as inspired covers of both the Beatles (“Across the Universe”) and Beach Boys (“In My Room”). There a Roddy Frame/Aztec Camera quality to “Love Like Ours,” a skipping-on-a-sunny-day feel to “Millionaire,” and a laid-back let it be vibe to “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” If sunshine had a soundtrack, it might sound like Head Sounds. Drop the needle anywhere on this disc and groove your cares away.
Super 8 has delivered the tonic we need at this particular historical moment, an album to help us ‘stay calm and carry on’. Get your smile on with a copy of Head Sounds right now.
Once upon a time jangle guitar player/singer/songwriter Dave Kuchler joined an already established New Jersey band to help deliver one of the most criminally overlooked poprock masterpieces of the early 1990s, the Soul Engines’Closer Still. It’s Kuchler singing lead on that janglicious, hook-infested “It’s Just Another Day.” And then … nothing. A follow up got underway but sputtered out amid record company chaos and line up changes. Well, I’m excited to report that Dave Kuchler is back with a new solo album, It’s Pronounced …, and it’s definitely been worth the wait. Kuchler’s put together a collection of tracks that exudes a distinctive New Jersey rock and roll synthesis (think heavy doses of Hammond B3 and saxophone) with a particular accent on melody. Just check out the medley of influences on the album’s stellar opening cut “If I Saw You” with its Springteen-esque roll out that trades melody lines between electric guitar and sax, with hints of Byrdsian jangle hovering in the background. It’s an auspicious start that doesn’t let up over the album’s twelve tunes.
It’s Pronounced … brings together old and new, with six tracks representing recovered older material (some from the early 1990s, others from aborted Soul Engines sessions circa 2002), while others are newly recorded songs, supported by longtime Joe Jackson bass player Graham Maby and regular Kuchler collaborator/producer/instrumentalist Pinky Giglio. Beyond elements of what some might call a ‘Jersey shore’ heartland rock, the record covers a broad range of styles, from the neo-Mersey vibe of “Better Things to Do” to the Elvis-style rockabilly vocals on “Pull My String” to the Jackson 5-influenced “Go!” Who would have thought the world needed another cover of “When You Walk in the Room” but Kuchler aces it, adding muscle to the tune amid killer organ flourishes and spot on sibilant guitar work. But the highlights of this record for me are the double-barreled should-be hit singles, “Really Lasts” and “Slave to Katy.” The former cooks with an unrelenting Motown meets Stax-Volt pop soul dance groove, ornamented with an ear-wormy bells/keyboard effect that Bruno Mars used to good effect on “Marry You.” Originally recorded with the Soul Engines for the follow up to Closer Still, the cut sounds just as fresh and contemporary as ever. Meanwhile “Slave to Katy” illustrates how Giglio’s Hammond B3 organ work is the not-so-hidden star of this album (as well the sonic glue linking old and new material).
Kuchler’s It’s Pronounced … has the sound of a timeless classic, a paean to poprock songcraft and performance. It deserves a wide hearing. Find out more about on Kuchler’s Facebook page and get over to bandcamp to get your copy.
A toy piano kicks off “Good Call,” the opening track of I Know Why You Cry. The song also features a pretty wicked violin solo. It’s all part of the unpredictable whimsy we’ve come to expect from Guelph, Ontario’s favourite son, Gregory Pepper. But the song also touches on aging, life struggles, and questions of identity, themes that appear throughout the record. I Know Why You Cry is actually a curated selection from Pepper’s mammoth “Song of the Week” exercise from 2017-18, a “long, cheeky, confessional mixtape” says Pepper that produced 52 tracks of sometimes undisciplined, often manic melody. Amid the chaos of delivering a new song each week Pepper also grappled with classic transitional life events like losing a parent, having a baby, and rebuilding a kitchen. Now, almost two years later, Pepper offers up a precisely crafted distillation of the experience. And the results are good. Very good indeed.
The album’s ‘dark’ side opens rather sprightly with “Good Call,” despite a melody and march-like feel that belies its serious themes. “Bottle of Ink” is basic biography. Pepper is also an accomplished graphic artist that uses his bottle of ink to capture things that are ‘funny and sad when life is a drag.’ Then its full on into darkness, with songs exploring worry (“Worrier Spirit”), loss (“Maybe I’ll See You”), identity (“Unsolved Mystery”) and coping (“Bogus Journey”). But darkness Pepper-style is not really a downer at all. The tuba and Monty Norman Bond coda on “Worrier Spirit” cuts the dread down the size pretty effectively. Things do occasionally get somber, as on “Bogus Journey” when Pepper channels Yann Tierson in his Amélie and Goodbye, Lenin! phase. But never for too long. Case in point: the lovely situational sketch drawn out in “Sublime Sun Tattoo” where a shop song query segues into surreal speculation about Enya’s lonely castle and stalkers so obsessed they stab themselves. It takes a certain kind of wonderfully twisted creativity to deliver this stuff.
Flipped over, the album approaches ‘daybreak’ covering themes like pretension, self-examination, parenting, and mortality. Sound like pretty heavy stuff? Yes, but that’s not the Pepper way. He calls out bullshit on “Art Collector” amid squiggle horns, birdsong, car horn shots, and a cloud of uplifting background vocals. Concerns about parenting and the world our kids will inherit are given voice in a trio of songs, a mini-musical of sorts, that vibe Macca’s macabre Maxwell side, with perhaps a bit of 10cc on “Diaper Hill.” On “Bigger Than Jesus” Pepper cuts through his sardonic armor to offer a song that is just lovely in style and sentiment. But it’s back on “Father’s Day” where ‘he doesn’t want much’ … ‘just to hear the voice of God or whatever’s on the iPod.’ “Coda” reviews the album’s songs in a wonderful sort of ‘end-ature’ medley.
I Know Why You Cry is Gregory Pepper’s most fully realized and mature work, beautifully crafted, alternatively hilarious and touching, evidence of an artist in full control of his muse. And that is saying something given his impressive back catalogue. This record is heading straight for the ‘best of’ lists. My advice? Get on over to bandcamp and help make this guy a star.
Looking for a new fave 1960s-influenced band? Your search ends here. Today’s post is all about the beauty of Austin, Texas retro poprock should-be hit-makers The Ugly Beats. Often referred to as ‘garage rock,’ the band definitely has one foot in the car port but a dip into any one of their five LPs shows they have are so much more to offer.
Take the band’s most recent 2019 release, Stars Align. Sure, track three, “Count to Ten” is arguably garage-y, but it’s the tidiest one on the block. Meanwhile tracks one (“All In”) and four (“Heidi”) are vibing R.E.M. big time. The rest of album ranges across various sixties influences, from the Monkees-ish “In Her Orbit” to the early Kinks guitar squawk kicking off “She Come Alive.” What I love about this band is that the influences are obvious but never overbearing. “What Was One” combines an indie-fied British dollybird vocal with alternating jangle and power chord guitar – brilliant! And seldom have I heard a band use an organ to such good effect – check out the pulsating Farfisa in “Boy You’re in Love.” Meanwhile, few solely garage outfits can produce the nuanced Rubber Soul acoustic/electric guitar blend backing on “One Down.”
More good news: if you like the latest record, you’re going to love the band’s back catalogue. The 2005 debut Bring On the Beats established the group’s strong garage rock cred with some pretty sweet 1960s touches, particularly on tracks like “I’ll Walk Away” and “I’ll Make You Happy.” Think of what The Molochs have been doing recently and you’ve got the groove. 2007’s Take a Stand broadened the sound, upping the melody quotient (“Million Dollar Man”) and even throwing in a ballad (“Get in Line”). Of course, there’s more great 1960s garage numbers and few really unique departures, like vocal harmony-laden “Last Stop” with its great Rickenbacker guitar accents and organ shots.
2010’s Motor! put the organ even more front and centre on tracks like the Plimsouls-ish “Things I Need to Know” and “Through You.” While featuring the fabulous garage juggernaut instrumental “Motor,” most of the album sees the band flexing their musical chops across a number of styles. A bit of the Bakersfield sound on “Harm’s Way,” Blue Rodeo country tinges on “You’ll Forget Me,” some Merseybeat on “Please Don’t Go,” and classic mid-1960s American poprock with “Funny Girl.” 2014’s Brand New Day is more of the good same, from the manic garage intensity of “Up on the Sun” to the groovy jangle on “All of the Things.”
You just know from these records that The Ugly Beats would be an amazing live experience. Help fund that tour trip to your town by stocking up on their party-approved LPs from Get Hip Records (a label with a pretty impressive roster of other 1960s and punk-inspired bands!).
Marshall Crenshaw has long been my fave solo artist. Why MC? Maybe it was the glasses – he looked kinda smart and rock and roll. But what first caught my attention was the 1000 watt hook lighting up Field Day’s first single, “Whenever You’re on My Mind.” Has anyone recorded a more perfect seven seconds of poprock intro? I don’t think so. But then I’ve always been a sucker for a stunning lead guitar line – stuff like the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” and “Day Tripper” or the Church’s “Unguarded Moment” and Big Country’s “In a Big Country.” But it’s more than just hooks that makes Crenshaw a poprock legend, there’s something about his songs that can always toggle the joy and an involuntary smile from me. And it’s all there with his combination of 1950s Buddy Holly and Everly’s roots, Beatlesque melodies and a 1980s new wave/indie delivery.
With ten albums, six EPs, and a host of one-off singles, compilation contributions and covers there’s plenty of Crenshaw to choose from. What follows is just my whirlwind and idiosyncratic take on a pretty fabulous and inventive career. Now to begin, let’s be clear that MC’s first two albums, the self-titled Marshall Crenshaw and Field Day, are pretty much poprock perfection. I shouldn’t single anything out – these records are nonstop ear candy. I’ll say this much, you can dance to “She Can’t Dance” while “One Day With You” is a masterclass in melodic songcraft. Funny, though I first heard MC via Field Day’s initial single, I didn’t pick up the album until years later. Problem was, as an older release (by one year when I first heard it!) the damn record never went on sale at my local retailer.
The first Crenshaw album I really got into in real time (i.e. when it was released) was Downtown and it remains my favourite, mostly for sentimental reasons. I bought it and played it non-stop in my first one-room apartment in Vancouver’s West End. It was both a declaration of adult independence and – thematically, with its retro 1960s Warner Brothers vibe – a strong link to my parents’ record collection. The album rocks on tracks like “Right Now,” “Little Wild One,” “Terrifying Love,” and “(We’re Gonna) Shake Up Their Minds” while Everly-ing the hell out of “Vague Memory” and “Lesson Number One.”
From then on I’ve pretty much picked up every EC release as soon as they hit the shelves and never been disappointed. If you’re just starting out, here would be my picks from each to get you into the groove. From 1987’s Mary Jean & 9 Others I’d drop the needle on “Mary Jean” and “Calling Out for Love at Crying Time.” You really get a sense of Crenshaw’s mastery of the hooky lead line here. 1989’s Good Evening is hard to make choices over given its exquisite, dynamic mix of originals and covers. Personally I love “Someplace Love Can’t Find Me,” “She Hates to Go Home,” and “On the Run” but really I feel like I’m choosing which limb to hack off because every song here is pretty special. In 1991 MC left Warners for MCA with Life’s Too Short. In interviews for the record Crenshaw talked about the work he put into extending his guitar technique and it showed on should-be hit singles like “Delilah,” “Fantastic Planet of Love,” and “Don’t Disappear Now.”
On the RunDelilah
And then Crenshaw left the major label scene altogether for the relative freedom of more independent releases, first with Razor and Tie and then with his own 429 Records. Since then he’s moved in some new directions musically but always offered up some melodic poprock gems, like “What Do You Dream Of?” and “Starless Summer Sky” from 1996’s Miracle of Science, or “Television Light” and “Right There in Front of Me” from 1999’s #447. In the new millennium there’s been “A Few Thousand Days Ago” from 2003’s What’s in the Bag? and “Long Hard Road” from 2009’s Jaggedland. #395 is MC’s EP collection from 2015, a kind of quasi-album at 14 tracks, and it sees Crenshaw back in excellent form with “Moving Now,” “Front Page News,” and a killer Bobby Fuller cover “Never to be Forgotten.”
What Do You Dream Of?Right There in Front of MeFront Page News
While the flow of Marshall Crenshaw new material may have slowed in recent years there’s no lack of quality re-issues coming on stream. Intervention Records put out a fabulous redesigned Field Day a few years back, complete with a rare 12” US remix EP, while Crenshaw himself is just in the process of re-releasing his post major label work, tweaking the production on certain cuts and adding out-takes and b-sides, starting with the fabulous Miracle of Science. Hustle on over to marshallcrenshaw.comto keep up with the latest news.
Just to prove my MC cred, here’s snap from my past featuring my unique bachelor apartment decor! Ok, this is actually my second apartment (circa 1987) but if you look up in the far right corner, you’ll see the Billboard magazine ad/poster for MC’s debut LP that appears above on the wall! Photo credit: James Koester.
Today’s duo of bands are like opposite ends of the Beatles influence circa 1966, with Rochester NY’s The Demos handling the sweet vocal harmonies and melody-driven tune-age while Sacramento California’s The Decibels grind out a bit more of the rockin’ jangle side of the equation. Both bands benefit from strong songwriting and some pretty inspired and unpredictable performances.
The Demos debuted with a low key EP, 2008’s Your Girl Has Fun Without You. The band’s essential elements are all there in the opening track, “I Gotta Know” with its spare guitar work and layered vocals. Overall, the EP reminds me of more recent fab work from The Rallies. 2011’s full album Lovely fleshed out the band sound a bit, sounding slightly reminiscent of Farrah on tracks like “Nervous.” And check out the full on ELO vocal palate cushioning “Don’t Wake Me Up Again” – breathtaking! 2016’s Paramount Clouds EP takes things in more Rooney-ish direction, particularly with the keyboard focus on “I Don’t Mind.” Personally, I think the 2018 If You Only Knew EP may just be The Demos strongest outing, representing another slight departure style-wise changing up the keyboard and vocal delivery. Should-be hit singles “Make It Better” and “If You Only Knew” vibe a host great bands like Guster or Sunday Sun without losing any of their own originality. The spooky background vocals on “Make It Better” alone are worth the price of admission! The EP also features a nice reinterpretation of the previously released “Nervous.” Oh for the days when a ferry could taxi me over Lake Ontario to see this band.
I Gotta KnowMake It Better
The story of The Decibels is like a script right out of indie rock and roll Hollywood. Promising band release a handful of great records to critical acclaim but poor sales. They break up. Then they’re brought back together for a one-off show and fan demand pushes them to reunite but, alas, poor health stalls the comeback. But somehow, years later, the band returns with new material and new lease on rock and roll life! The Decibels roared back into action in 2019 with not one but two new records, both critically acclaimed. Big Hits (plus twelve more!) was a rehearsal session of the band’s live act (focusing on cover tunes), originally taped to help them prepare to record new original material. But the record company liked the sound so much they insisted on releasing it. It was so the right decision. Compared to their other 2019 long-player, the feel of Big Hits (plus twelve more!) is a bit edgier, with a punky live vibe. It’s amazing to hear how they bring new life to songs like “Pictures of Matchstick Men” by picking up tempo (frankly, I found the original Status Quo version a bit plodding). The album is full of highlights like the glorious “Sometime in the Morning,” the melodically rocking “Ship Went Down” and “There’s a Place,” the vocally clever “Try and Stop Me” and the very 1979 stripped-down new wave sound of “Cover Girl.”
Of course, none of this is meant to suggest that their other 2019 release, Scene, Not Herd, is anything less than stupendous. The album is brimming with radio-ready should-be hits like “Hey Emily,” “I Need to Tell Her” and “Misery.” The renewed band sometime come off like a more indie version of The Wonders, the fictional group from the film That Thing You Do. At other times you could be forgiven for thinking The Plimsouls had got back together on tracks like “The Only Reason Left” and “Thinking About You.” And here’s a bonus if you just discovered The Decibels – there’s a pretty special back catalogue awaiting your attention! For instance, the band’s 1997 debut Create Action is a janglicious mix of 1960s-meets-1990s swinging tunes. Check out “Change,” “Something Good to Go By” and “Can’t Play Tag Alone,” the latter sounding like a compressed greatest hit of the 1966 mod rock and roll sound.
I don’t know what Sesame Street was on about but as the letter D has no money it clearly cannot be the real sponsor of today’s post. That, dear reader, is left to you, via your dutiful patronage of these fine artists. Visit The Demos and The Decibels to help sponsor ever more quality poprock programming.
Never underestimate the sidemen. Billy Sullivan has played with a host of great acts over the years. From local legends in Detroit, to various bands with other up-and-comers from the 1970s on, to the touring outfits of Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Herman’s Hermits, the Raspberries, and many, many others. Amidst all this activity, Sullivan has managed to squeeze out a few solo albums and a variety of singles, both original material and inspired covers. And they are freakin’ fabulous! Just open your ears to “I Go Crazy” with its mad ear-wormy ringing guitar and melodic hooks at every turn. This is power pop heaven. Or how about the spot-on Byrdsian jangle and harmonies coating “Everywhere I Go”? Magic! Both tracks appear on Sullivan’s woefully and undeservedly ignored 2001 album All American Popster. Yet Sullivan appears undiscouraged, continuing to release an occasional single or tribute album every few years. Personally I love his 2013 single “There’s a Fire” with its wall of guitars and seductive harmony vocals. Or more recently he’s got a killer cover of the Beau Brummels’ minor hit “Don’t Talk to Strangers” that definitely improves on the original.
Go CrazyEverywhere I GoThere’s a FireDon’t Talk to Strangers
In this internet age it’s never too late to make somebody a star. Do your part, click on the link, and complete your Billy Sullivan collection today!
Have you met Bombadil? Given the band formed in 2006 and has released 7 albums and 2 EPs, it’s definitely possible. But given our present state of low impact indie self-promotion it’s entirely likely you haven’t. Well, get ready for a sonic treat. One where every instrument aims to create a carefully crafted moment. Where the songs are intellectually engaging, though not in some hipster elitist sort of way but in a thoughtful everyday relatable way (e.g. “Perfect”). Where no instrument break is wasted but each is like a perfectly tended garden of sounds, both colourful and creative. Possible musical comparisons abound, from the quirky musicality of They Might Be Giants and Tally Hall to the wordy yet poetic lyrics of The Shins and the Magnetic Fields. Longtime band member Daniel Michalak once described the band’s influences as ‘Ernest Hemingway, Ronald Dahl, or Shel Silverstein’ as well as ‘science/math and computer programming’. One reviewer called the band, ‘obtuse but melodic indie folk pop with a flair for the fantastic,’ while another suggested Bombadil were like a ‘less drunk Pogues.’ Longtime drummer James Phillips described their sound as simply ‘pop-rock.’ That sounds about right to me.
How to describe discovering Bombadil? How about ‘enchanting’? A lot of that has to do with the bracing originality of the songs. The band’s catalogue ably demonstrates the continuing, seemingly endless creative possibilities left in a 3 minute pop song, whatever genre. And these guys definitely push genre boundaries. The folk veneer is there but can easily give way, depending on where the song goes. “Johnny,” from the band’s 2006 debut EP (also included on their 2008 debut long-player A Buzz A Buzz), illustrates this, vibing folk but quickly coming on like an outtake from Will Finn’s Broadway smash, Falsettoland, while from the same album “Get to Getting On” showcases Bombadil’s signature folk/country sound and their distinctive harmony vocals.
You can dip in anywhere over the band’s next six albums and come up with a treasure. Like “Sad Birthday,” “Kate and Kelsey” and “Matthew” from 2009’s Tarpits and Canyonlands. Check out the exquisite piano turnaround at the 21 second mark of “Matthew” – a killer and unexpected hook. Or the Pogues meets You Won’t aura of the songs on 2011’s All That the Rain Promises, particularly “Laundromat” and the lyrically eccentric “Leather Belt” (with that great banjo). 2013’s Metrics of Affection broadened the sonic palette with the Rogue Wave-ish “Learning to Let Go,” the magisterial “Born at 5:00,” the moving solitary piano balladry of “Have Me,” and the whimsically folky “When We Are Both Cats.” Meanwhile, “One More Ring” sounds like an alternate universe hit with its endearing melodic twists. 2017’s Fences continued the good vibes trend with “Perfect” an aptly named should-be single.
As luck would have it for recent Bombadil converts, a brand new album is out, Beautiful Country, and it may just be their best yet. I love how “Goodwill Socks” starts with an uber folky sound but then quickly adds more instrumental depth and hooky ornamentation. “The Man Who Loves You” is the should-be hit single, with a stirring vocals arrangement and hooky handclaps. And then there’s the lovely duet with Kate Rhudy on the “The Real Thing.”
Did I mention that Bombadil have recorded songs in French (“Framboise” from 2015’s Hold On) and Spanish (“Laurita” from Tarpits and Canyonlands)? Just one more reason to hustle over their Bandcamp page and buy up their whole catalogue.
Throughout my life, Nick Lowe has been poprock constant. No matter what was going on, the arrival of a new Nick album was always an occasion. I probably first heard him as most other people did when “Cruel to be Kind” hit the radio in 1979, and Rockpile’s “Teacher Teacher” cemented my love of his style a year later. And what’s not to like? I had grown up consuming my parents’ record collection – Chuck Berry, Hank Williams, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, etc. – and Nick was like a new wave synthesis of all those influences! Over the past four decades he’s grown as an artist, shifting his songwriting style and performance, but somehow managed to stay true to these roots. Currently on tour with retro rocking Los Straightjackets, Lowe continues to release great songs.
In what follows I review Lowe’s album career, highlighting the non-hit songs that stand out for me as great overlooked poprock tracks, ones I think are strong on melody and hooks. No doubt other Lowe fans might choose differently but these are the ones that stuck in my head and remain eminently listenable to me, even after countless hearings.
Discovering Lowe in 1979, I had to play catch up with his earlier career releases. “I Can See Her Face” from Kippington Lodge was Lowe first songwriting credit in 1969 and arguably that band’s best tune. From there Lowe wrote most of Brinsley Schwarz’s material over the course of six official album releases (seven if you include the long unreleased It’s All Over Now) from the early to mid-1970s and he would recycle some of that material later as a solo artist, most famously “Cruel to be Kind” and “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding.” There’s some strong material on those records but “The Ugly Things” (from 1974’s New Favourites, later covered by Elvis Costello) really stands out for me as reaching the Nick Lowe solo-era standards for melody and hooks. Solo material started emerging in 1977 with the EP Bowi and various one-off singles (like the faux Bay City Rollers tributes or the label-ripping “I Love My Label”). Lowe’s first solo album, Pure Pop for Now People (or Jesus of Cool in the UK) contained a host of great songs (“Marie Provost,” “So It Goes,” “I Love the Sound the Breaking Glass”) but I think “Tonight” really captures Lowe’s talent for tuneful, ballady material.Brinsley Schwarz – Ugly ThingsNick Lowe – Tonight
1979’s Labour of Lust would be Lowe’s breakout album, featuring his only American top 20 hit, “Cruel to be Kind.” But the album has real depth songwriting-wise with great rockers like “Switchboard Susan” and tender ballads like “You Make Me.” Personally, I was always drawn to the crashing intensity of “American Squirm” and the pop jauntiness of “Without Love.” Next up was Rockpile’s Seconds of Pleasure, where only six of the twelve tunes were penned by Lowe and that didn’t include the charting single, “Teacher Teacher.” Of the six, the sparkling jangle of “Now and Always” only slightly edges out “When I Write the Book” as the best Lowe tune on the album. By 1982 Lowe was back to being a solo artist but Nick the Knife failed to produce a charting single. Still, I love acoustic guitar-anchored “My Heart Hurts” and the wistful “Raining Raining.” 1983’s The Abominable Showman (despite its dad-joke worthy title) was a strong album, featuring a great organ-heavy Paul Carrack duet on “Wishing You Were Here.” But for me, “Raging Eyes” was the obvious single, while “Mess Around with Love” (Lowe’s reworking of his earlier Brinsley cut “We Can Mess Around”) was another highlight.
Nick Lowe – Without LoveRockpile – Now and AlwaysNick Lowe – Raining RainingNick Lowe – Raging Eyes
In 1984 Nick was an early adopter of the roots sound on his Nick Lowe and his Cowboy Outfit, a record that also contained a should-be hit single, “Half a Boy and Half a Man.” But I was more drawn to the poprock gems “Love Like a Glove” and “God’s Gift to Women.” 1985’s The Rose of England contained Lowe’s most naked attempt to get back on the charts with his own version “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll),” a song previously popularized by his old pal Dave Edmunds on his 1977 album Get It. It proved to be a very minor hit that tended to overshadow just how strong the album was, particularly it’s folk-poppy title track and the inspired John Hiatt cover, “She Don’t Love Nobody.” Nick’s next two albums witnessed him struggling to find his place in the then contemporary music scene. Both 1988’s Pinker and Prouder than Previous and 1990’s Party of One had plenty to please Lowe fans but no hit singles that might expand that base of support. Still, for hooks, I’d single out “Wishing Well” from the former and “Who was That Man?” and “All Men Are Liars” from the latter.
Nick Lowe – Love Like a GloveNick Lowe – She Don’t Love NobodyNick Lowe – Wishing WellNick Lowe – All Men Are Liars
In 1992 Lowe took another stab at joining a band, this time Little Village with John Hiatt, Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner. With such an all-star line-up, excitement about the project was palpable, but the response to their sole album was lukewarm. Personally, I think Lowe’s turn on vocals is one of the record’s highlights on “Take Another Look.” Then Lowe shifted gears again, taking his albums into darker, more serious moods, with the release of The Impossible Bird (1994), Dig My Mood (1998), and The Convincer (2001). Here Lowe deliberately sought to reinvent himself as more introspective, mature artist, and the overwhelming critical response has been that he succeeded. Still, every album has a few more poppy numbers, like the uptempo “I Live on a Battlefield” or the more subtle earwormy “Indian Queens.” At My Age (2007) and That Old Magic (2011) lightened the mood somewhat, with the latter producing a particularly impressive range of material with songs like “Sensitive Man” and “Somebody Cares for Me.”
Little Village – Take Another LookNick Lowe – I Live on a BattlefieldNick Lowe – Indian QueensNick Lowe – Sensitive Man
While clearly slowing down on releases, Lowe continues to record, most recently releasing EPs with backing from Los Straighjackets on Tokyo Bay (2018) and Love Starvation (2019), both representing a return to Lowe’s more rollicking rock and roll sound. But check out “Blue on Blue” to see how he still has a few surprises.
Nick Lowe and Los Straightjackets – Blue on Blue
Nick Lowe truly is a legend of poprock and one of my favourite artists. He is the bar that I judge what great poprock sounds like. I can still go back and listen to any of his albums, enjoying them as if for the first time. Check out Nick’s website and Facebook page to keep up with his continuing exploits. You can also read all about Nick in Will Birch’s great new biography, Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe. Click on his name to find out more.