Composer: Nick Lowe
Conductor: Nick Lowe
Label: Yep Roc
Release Date: 2008-03-05
Genre: Power pop
Due to a religious right that was screwing things up even then, a worried Columbia Records cowardly retitled this seminal New Wave classic Pure Pop for Now People upon its 1978 U.S. release. In many ways, however, the American title was the more appropriate one, since this was pure pop music for both the now and the future. And that boastful claim holds true 30 years later, especially if rewinding is the new fast forwarding. Whatever the case, a great pop song remains a great pop song — and that certainly doesn’t change much at all with the passing of time.
And Jesus of Cool is overflowing with perfect pop tunes, if one accepts that perfect pop can include wry, cynical and often hilarious lyrics about, among other things, little Hitlers, castrating Fidel Castro, breaking glass, the corruption of the music business or a 1920s silent film star who committed suicide and whose corpse was eaten by her dog. The lyrics to that latter song are in direct contrast to its wonderful melodicism. Indeed, it’s that surrealistic juxtaposition that gives the album its magic and power, as Lowe explores nearly every modern pop sound imaginable, from pre-Beatles “girl group”-like melodies to disco, bubblegum (there’s an ode to the Bay City Rollers here), ska/reggae, folk-pop and even a form of proto-techno à la Bowie and Eno.
Lowe was already a cult hero in ’78 for his work with pub legends Brinsley Schwarz, as well as for producing the early works of both Elvis Costello and Graham Parker (not to mention releasing the first-ever single — both tracks included here — on the now-legendary Stiff Records label). But this is the album that transformed him into a genuine New Wave star and trailblazer. It’s been out of print for far too long, so this re-release (which includes every track on the U.K. and American releases, singles, live tracks and the 1977 Bowi EP) deserves to be celebrated in no uncertain terms.
— Bill Holdship