Pure Pop For Now People (Jesus Of Cool)
Columbia JC 35329
Released: April 1978
Chart Peak: #127
Weeks Charted: 10
Nick Lowe, the man who produces Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, is a rising deity on the English pop front. But as you might guess from the title of this LP and its English equivalent (The Jesus of Cool), Lowe replaces Costello's nerved-up sneer with a snicker, and Pure Pop for Now People is a catalog of socko production effects held together with one-shot jokes.
Though much of the music is addictive and winning in the myriad fashions of the Bay City Rollers, Wings, Thin Lizzy or even the latter-day David Bowie, the cover photos give fair warning that what you're holding is a novelty record, an admiring vivisection of other people's hit singles. And the rush of industry-trend seismographers to kiss off punk rock in time to champion Lowe as the messiah of "power pop" shouldn't fool anyone about this album's importance, which is slight.
Women, in Lowe's droogishly satirical cosmography, are "meat" -- figuratively in "Heart of the City" and literally in "Marie Provost," the melodic and macabre tale of a decomposing silent-film star who is snacked on by her pet dachshund in a Hollywood hotel.
Like most parody/tributes, this record teases with approximations. "(I Love the Sound of) Breaking Glass," for example, yokes its nearly breathtaking attractiveness to a hollow chattiness that finds refuge in sarcasm. Nick Lowe surely has the sit to know that pop-drenched disaffection is a dead end, but it'll be interesting to watch him as he tours America, playing the pawn in the kind of sales schemes he rails against. We might even get to see where his heart is.
- Fred Schruers, Rolling Stone, 6/1/78.
Nick Lowe has done something both remarkable and long overdue on Pure Pop for Now People. He's called the bluff of nearly all the purveyors of revivalist pop fluff now working and exposed them for the preening poseurs they actually are. Unlike, say, Elton John, who claims that "pop music should be disposable" and then proceeds to dispense ponderously "significant" piffle that would be embarrassing coming from anybody dressed in normal clothes. Lowe absolutely refuses to write for Posterity. Instead, he has concocted a group of songs that are exquisitely, even commercially tuneful, comprising a mini-encyclopedia of the pop styles of the last two decades, and then deliberately rendered them meaningless. He's done this in a variety of ways, my favorite being the purposeful mismatching of works and music, as in his "Marie Provost," a gorgeous Beatles pastiche (Eric Carmen must be gnashing his teeth in envy) whose lyrics recount the tender true story of a faded silent-movie queen who was eaten by her pet dachshund. A sample inspirational verse: "She was a winner/ Who became a doggie's dinner."
Lowe can afford to be such a wiseass for the simple reason that his grasp of his craft is so sure. "Tonight," for example is a McCartney sendup that is both empty-headed and more melodically memorable than anything that McCartney (who possesses perhaps the purest pop sensibility in the Western World) has done since the Beatles went down the tubes. I have no doubt that, given sufficient financial inducement, Lowe could with equal success pen a tune about anything from the Treaty of Ghent to the fortunes of his favorite soccer team. Just imagine -- at long last some totally seductive aural cotton candy that you can swallow without guilt. The mind boggles at the implications of the achievement.
- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 6/78.
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
A masterpiece from a year that was full of them, this offers the best glimpse into his sometimes demented and ear-catching world. * * * * *
- John Floyd, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
More send-up than put-down, Pure Pop for Now People mocks everyone from David Bowie ("I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass") to the Jackson 5 ("Nutted by Reality"). It also showcases Lowe's perverse sense of humor by marrying innocuous 60s melodies to "Little Hitler" and "Marie Provost," about an actress whose corpse is devoured by her dog. More important, the Chuck Berry-derived "Heart of the City" and "They Called it Rock" tear it up with a vengeance. * * * *
- David Okamoto, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
(2008 30th Anniversary Edition) Why is Elvis Costello a huge star while his early collaborator Nick Lowe continues to crank out excellent records in relative obscurity? It's a bit of a mystery, though the answer might have to do with consistency, charisma, and a certain pair of chunky black eyeglasses. One thing's for sure, though: You can't fault Lowe's solo debut, reissued in America three decades after its release.
Jesus of Cool is hard to pin down, both a product of its time and totally apart from it. As the first artist signed to Stiff Records, Lowe often gets lumped in with early punk, and there is plenty of cynicism and anger here. The polished pop sound, however, is something else entirely. Jesus is full of mini masterpieces -- like the cheerfully resigned "So It Goes" and "Marie Provost," a bit of musical uplift about an actress who was eaten by her dog --that rival Costello's more famous work of the time.
The somewhat skimpy bonus material includes three tracks from a slightly retooled U.S. release (1978's Pure Pop for Now People), along with other worthy but mostly familiar odds and ends. A killer concert version of "Heart of the City" closes the original album, so why not include a second disc of live material -- like the recent reissue of Costello's debut? This underappreciated achievement deserves to be treated like the classic it is. A
- Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly, 2/29/08.
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