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Labour of Lust
Nick Lowe

Columbia 36087
Released: June 1979
Chart Peak: #31
Weeks Charted: 22

Imagine the scene. Nick Lowe, emaciated Limey poseur, bon vivant, and general wise guy, spends his first night at the Nashville home of his sweetheart, Carlene Carter. The next morning they're having coffee in the kitchen, both of them a little bleary-eyed, when suddenly the door swings open and in walks an imposing figure dressed in black. Nick rubs his eyes, and the figure extends a hand in his direction. "Hi," he intones, "I'm Johnny Cash."

That's a true story, by the way. I bring it up because of the sense of dislocation and culture shock it invokes, since Nick Lowe's music, at its best, has about the same effect: he's a master of the incongruous and the slightly warped. Last year's Pure Pop for Now People pretty much established him as the Champ in that regard, and some even saw in its unlikely merger of adorable melodies and lyrics about castrating Castro the beginnings of a whole new genre: Non Sequitur Rock.

Those people will probably be a tad disappointed with this year's model, since it is in no way a mere reprise of the last. The reason for that is simple: it's not really a Lowe solo album at all, but the second installment of the collaboration with Dave Edmunds and Rockpile begun on Edmunds' Tracks on Wax 4, and Edmunds has slightly more conventional musical concerns, such as reworking genre clichés and searching for the ultimate Chuck Berry riff. None of this bothers me in the slightest, however, because the overall sound of the thing is reminiscent of what both men were doing in their pub days -- whipping blues, rock, and pop into a heady confection -- and because Edmunds' guitar is nicely up front throughout and as always quite brilliant: just listen to the way he opens up Mickey Jupp's otherwise unremarkable "Switch Board Susan." Further, there are some songs here that will make you swoon the way all those old Hollies and Searchers 45s did in the Summer of Your Teenage; "American Squirm," in fact, may be the best British Invasion tune written in 1979, and "Cruel to Be Kind" isn't far off the mark, either.

Nick Lowe - Labour of Lust
Original album advertising art.
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Let us not mince words. Labour of Lust is everything fluff should be but rarely is: artless, silly, and quite sublime. Rarely has so little been said so exquisitely.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 8/79.

Bonus Reviews!

While this LP, Lowe's second, does not have the immediate presence of his debut Pure Pop For The Now People, it may have a lot better staying power. As before, Lowe, who is undoubtedly the best producer the new wave has produced, mixes a stew of rock styles seasoned by his less than reverent wit. Lowe doesn't provide information on the sleeve as to who is playing with him on this LP, but it wouldn't be too off the mark to guess it is his old buddies from the Rumour, Elvis Costello's Attractions, and Rockpile. This is the kind of LP that brings a smile. Best cuts: "Cruel To Be Kind," "America Squirm," "Switch Board Susan," "Without Love," "Born Fighter," "Love So Fine."

- Billboard, 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 for Now People. This is nice -- my favorite 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

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

The grooves are tighter here than before, mixing the roots-rock sensibilities of Rockpile with his love of a good pop hook. It contains several minor hits, including "Cruel to Be Kind." * * * * *

- John Floyd, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Sex and twang are the driving forces behind the Rockpile-backed Labour of Lust, which features such saucy rockers as "Skin Deep," "American Squirm" and Mickey Jupp's "Switchboard Susan." * * * * 1/2

- David Okamoto, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

With a chewy bubblegum center and flavor that lasts and lasts pllus great guitars from Dave Edmunds and Billy Bremner, this intelligent power-pop classic fromt the Lowe/Rockpile combine is all about fun, witty rock & roll. Though "Cruel to Be Kind" became a surprise U.S. hit, this cache of amazing-to-dance-to, nicely crafted tunes was often overlooked -- it should have made the way-cool godfather of the new wave scene a household name. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

As a songwriter and producer (Elvis Costello, the Pretenders), Nick Lowe helped turn U.K. punk into pop. This long-out-of-print 1979 set, a hookfest full of barbed wit, was his own pop moment. The hit was "Cruel to Be Kind," an Everly Brothers-meet-Stylistics defense defense of masochism. Less radio-friendly are "Big Kick, Plain Scrap," which repeats the phrase "on drugs" over tweaked New Orleans funk, and "American Squirm," which features Costello. It's not all catchy snark: The bonus B side "Basing Street" is a ballad involving spilled blood and a pill-popping DJ -- a taste of the country-folk storytelling Lowe would master decades later. * * * *

- Will Hermes, Rolling Stone, 3/31/11.

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