When you think about it, Nick Lowe deserves the holy title that he bestowed himself on Jesus Of Cool. Christ uttered “Forgive them, Father” as he hung upon the cross while Lowe merely shrugged “So it goes” as he spun his wheels in the pub circuit for half a dozen years with no real commercial success to show for it. Both men are fine examples of patience and grace and both men have prompted more than a few disciples.
It wouldn’t be enough for Nick to lay down a few tirades about his experience. Instead, he channels his bitterness and his well-honed chops into a timeless solo debut that’s been thankfully re-issued and wonderfully expanded, paving the way for another generation of power-pop Gideons.
Nearly every facet of the industry receives a witty nod: from the record label (“They always ask for lots of songs / Of no more than 2:50 long / So I write ’em some” – “I Love My Label”), to the press (“They cut another record / It never was a hit / ‘Cause someone in the newspaper said it was shit” – “Shake And Pop”), to radio (“He got fifty thousand watts / And a big acoustic tower” – “So It Goes”); at no time does Lowe sound bitter, even when it’s quite apparent that he’s speaking from personal experience.
What makes Jesus Of Cool so refreshing is how passionate the performances are, even as Lowe tackles just as many genres as he parodies on the cover. These are the chops of a well oiled bar band member, perhaps one that was required to stop on a dime and change course depending on the venue, the crowd, or the amount of alcohol involved. He does it here, passing by the British Invasion, glam, punk, surf, and even disco with a carefree authority.
One of the best examples of Lowe’s carefree attitude is when Columbia Records signed on as the American distributor and then immediately balked at the “controversial” title. While most artists, particularly younger ones during punk’s beginnings, would have easily decried such a request, Lowe viewed it as a once in a lifetime opportunity. After years of not landing a record deal, here he is with two (one of which was perhaps the largest record company on the planet) and they’re giving him an offer so nice that he gets to name it twice.
On that point, the CBS version (Pure Pop For Now People) is actually on par with the original British version. There’s a few notable differences, but each one is worthy of the critical praise that has followed it/them for thirty years, and all of the material from both versions (along with the British EP Bowi and a few extra compilation tracks) are found here on this re-issue.
The other element that makes Jesus such a force is Lowe’s production strategy. It alternates between his “basher” persona to more polished craft when the song requires it. This ebb and flow of low and high fidelity make for a very interesting listening experience while never hinting that nearly every track was recorded at the same, tiny eight-track studio. It’s a credit to Lowe’s ability behind the board and it explains why he became such a sought after producer during this time.
Speaking of: Jesus Of Cool is one of those rare albums that absolutely transcend its era. This is an album as vital today as it was thirty years ago and, more to the point, it’s an album that’s just as original as it was back then. Lowe takes liberty with a few chapters from the rock and roll holy book and sprinkles just enough of his own righteous abilities to remind us it’s not how long you’ve been paying your dues, it’s what you’ve learned while playing them.
eMusic: Nick Lowe
Video: Nick Lowe – Cruel To Be Kind (Top of the Pops, 1979)