Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Nick Lowe

  • Pure Pop for Now People [Columbia, 1978] A
  • Labour of Lust [Columbia, 1979] A
  • Nick the Knife [Columbia, 1982] B+
  • The Abominable Showman [Columbia, 1983] B+
  • Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit [Columbia, 1984] B+
  • The Rose of England [Columbia, 1985] B+
  • Pinker and Prouder Than Previous [Columbia, 1988] B+
  • Basher: The Best of Nick Lowe [Columbia, 1989] A-
  • Party of One [Reprise, 1990] A-
  • The Impossible Bird [Upstart, 1994] Neither
  • Dig My Mood [Upstart, 1998] Choice Cuts
  • The Convincer [Yep Roc, 2001] Dud
  • At My Age [Yep Roc, 2007] C
  • Quality Street [Yep Roc, 2013] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Pure Pop for Now People [Columbia, 1978]
This is an amazing pop tour-de-force demonstrating that if the music is cute enough the words can be any old non-cliche. Lowe's people cut off their right arms, castrate Castro, love the sound of breaking glass, roam with alligators in the heart of the city, and go to see the Bay City Rollers. But because the hooks cascade so deftly, I care about every one of them. As for Lowe, this Inspirational Verse: "She was a winner/Who became a doggie's dinner/She never meant that much to me." A

Labour of Lust [Columbia, 1979]
The title is more than a (great) joke--this album is consciously carnal, replete with girls who come in doses, tits that won't quit, lumps in the pocket, and extensions that aren't Alexander Bell's invention. With Rockpile backing, it's also more straight-ahead than Pure Pop. This is nice--my favourite line is "I don't think it's funny no more"--but it does nothing to stop Lowe from falling into cliches like "Without Love," which ought to be funny and isn't. But then again on the other hand that's probably the point. A

Nick the Knife [Columbia, 1982]
He's shed one guitar player and no hooks and as a man he's probably better for it: his cool seems more casual, his lust more committed. But the music is tossed off with what sounds like indolence rather than charm, and since Billy Bremner and Terry Williams are still on hand it would be too pat to claim he needs a real band. Hard to make that casual commitment sing, I guess. B+

The Abominable Showman [Columbia, 1983]
Pretends he only goes for bad puns, yeti trails "Time Wounds All Heels" with "(For Every Woman Who Ever Made a Fool of a Man There's a Woman Who Made a) Man of a Fool." No tour de force, just unlabored love songs, and my best to the Lowe-Carters. B+

Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit [Columbia, 1984]
Marital strife seems to have transformed Lowe from a power popper with brownout problems into the genre artist of roots eclectic he's always wanted to be. Slighter than ever lyrically and yet stronger overall than its two predecessors, this leads with a Tex-Mex something called "Half a Boy and Half a Man," and that's where it means to stay. B+

The Rose of England [Columbia, 1985]
For five years Lowe has marked time without ever quite losing the beat, and his most mild-mannered album of the decade is also his most consistent. I admit I missed the trademark sarcasm at first--until I realized that the most remarkable cut was a straightforward band-composed instrumental best described as mild-mannered Duane Eddy. Then I decided that the wimpy "I Knew the Bride" remake was deliberate--old beau Nick in the throes of fond regret--and went on from there. Will anybody notice this stirringly minor achievement? Probably not. Will I remember it myself a year from now? I wouldn't stake my job on it. B+

Pinker and Prouder Than Previous [Columbia, 1988]
Another small victory in his longstanding battle against the irony that made him famous, and he sure ain't the only one--as they get older, guys who were smart enough to keep their distance as callow authenticity fans can't resist playing their hard-earned experience straight. I mean, even Mick Jagger wants to be soulful these days. At least Nick is smart enough to take himself seriously with a smile. B+

Basher: The Best of Nick Lowe [Columbia, 1989]
Fourteen tracks recap the two great albums of 1978 and 1979, when he declared himself pure pop and spelled out the sound of breaking glass--roadie with arm torn off, actress eaten by dog. The remaining thirteen cull from the six good albums of the subsequent decade, when the fringe professional proclaimed a "Lovers Jamboree." The rowdy songs know whereof they kick, "Stick It Where the Sun Don't Shine" wounds all heels, and every decent half-boy/half-man has a couple of good love songs in him--"Heart" pure pop, "Raging Eyes" true romance. A-

Party of One [Reprise, 1990]
The latest old fart to slip into limbo and come back to play another day, Nick the Knife is a writer again, every song honed and there for a reason. With the likes of Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner spiking his wry cool, he yearns for yen, makes Boeing a modest proposal, spins off pungent epithets ("Refrigerator White"), nonsense syllables ("Shting-Shtang"), sexual metaphors ("Honeygun"). In a shameless bid for the rockcrit vote, he also finds the perfect rhyme for "ghastly" (starts with "Rick," lest you already forgot). And just like with Labour of Lust in 1979, he makes it sound so easy you expect a reprise a year for the rest of his life. A-

The Impossible Bird [Upstart, 1994] Neither

Dig My Mood [Upstart, 1998]
"Man That I've Become"; "Failed Christian" Choice Cuts

The Convincer [Yep Roc, 2001] Dud

At My Age [Yep Roc, 2007]
That would be 58, since he brought it up. Geezer's seven months to the good side of Robert Plant, who you'd never know was showing more savoir faire from the way bloggerati who weren't alive when "Marie Prevost" was written fawn over this labour of louche. Reborn as a crooner because he can't rev up the rock anymore, he can't rev up the croon either. Wit: Shot. Insouciance: Shot. Romantic prospects: On this evidence, shot. If you're worried about aging gracefully, maybe it's back to Elvis C. after all. C

Quality Street [Yep Roc, 2013]
On an album decked with Xmas rarities penned by Roger Miller, Boudleaux Bryant, Roy Wood, and the great trad. arr., the prize selections are Lowe originals ("Christmas at the Airport," "I Was Born in Bethlehem") *