Nick the Knife, The Abominable Showman, And His Cowboy Outfit, The Rose of England, Pinker and Prouder Than Previous, Party of One (REISSUES)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
It’s Christmas in July for roots-pop fans as Yep Roc unloads reissues of the remaining six entries in Nick Lowe’s catalog. This batch, initially released from 1982-’90, is the final installment of Lowe’s recordings which are all now happily back in print. Most haven’t been officially available for decades, which makes these — many with additional live tracks and demos — even more appreciated, especially for younger roots rockers who might have heard some for the first time on the recent Los Straitjackets disc of Lowe covers.
The U.K. singer-songwriter was fresh out of Rockpile when Nick the Knife was released in 1982 and as such the disc rocks a little harder and has more rough edges than the five that follow. Lowe reprises that band’s “Heart” in a reggae arrangement and kicks up a ruckus on the opening “Burning,” “Stick it Where the Sun Don’t Shine,” and the tribal drums of “Zulu Kiss.” But generally the album is a blueprint for the snappy pop, snarky wordplay, American-inspired rockabilly, country, soul and Everly Brothers-styled folksy ballads that he continued to crank out over the next eight years.
While the highlights of these discs have been available on various Lowe compilations, the delight of discovering the deeper tracks is what makes this such enjoyable listening. Songs like “You’re My Wildest Dream” (from Pinker and Prouder … arguably the weakest effort of this group), the honky-tonking humorous “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young,” the sweet ballad “I Can Be the One You Love” and the jaunty “Who Was That Man” are just a handful of the hidden gems sprinkled throughout the discs. Remastering makes them sound as fresh and inspired as if they were recorded last week.
Sure, there is filler. Lowe seems to have a soft spot for ’60s “Tequila”-inspired novelties (“Tanque-Rae,” the doo-wop “Ba-Doom,” the zippy if innocuous “Shting-Shtang”), but these feel less like toss offs than innocent, frisky, fun-in-the-studio moments showing Lowe and his band don’t take themselves too seriously.
Party of One from 1990, which reunited Lowe with Rockpile co-frontman Dave Edmunds who produced it, notably marked the close of Lowe’s peppy roots-rocking years. His next iteration of smooth, jazz-influenced crooning was ushered in with 1994’s The Impossible Bird, and since then he has worked primarily in that vein. While that approach, which some consider Lowe’s “ACT II,” has resulted in some terrific if far more subtle and low-key music, many prefer the peppier, rollicking sound found on these albums.