Friday, March 11, 2011
The thing about Nick Lowe, circa '79, is he was a busy little beaver, what with playing in Rockpile with Dave Edmunds, producing Dave's and Elvis Costello's records (at that time he had done both This Year's Model and the classic Armed Forces), and touring like an American with the runs. (Yeah, I don't know what that means either...). At the time of recording this, Lowe's second proper solo album, the band (Nick, Dave, Billy Bremner, Terry Williams) were also recording the songs for Edmunds' Repeat When Necessary (another brilliant record!). Both albums ended up with a superb selection of songs, though naturally Edmunds' was more rockabilly and '50s rock, while Lowe's Labour was chock full of oddball pop gems, hit records that were never to be, and songs eventually covered by the likes of Johnny Cash ("Without Love").
"Cruel to Be Kind" was not only a big single for Lowe (his only US Top 40 tune, asamatteroffact), but an amazing anchor for the album, despite not being considered for the album at all until his American A&R guy begged him to recut the song, which had originally appeared as a Brinsley Schwarz title. The Brinsleys version was very middleoftheoroad country pop—pretty bland, actually. Lowe & Cowe added some thick harmonies, more of a backbeat, and vóilá, a hit was born. The album itself also featured further pub rock classics like "Switchboard Susan," "Born Fighter," "Cracking Up," and the US-only "American Squirm," possibly Lowe's most overlooked gem. (In the UK they substituted "Endless Grey Ribbon," also on this reissue.) Labour of Lust was the best power pop record of the time, save maybe Squeeze's East Side Story (only one degree of separation from this) and The Clash's London Calling, though I'm sure you'll argue whether those two can be called power pop. Call 'em what you will, these three albums in late '79/'80 are what made me what I am today... an almost-divorced, 48-year old power pop junkie sitting in a Starbucks in Tacoma writing a music blog entry while waiting for "his woman" to get home from work.
Sadly, there are only thirteen songs on this release, the dozen that appeared on both the US and UK versions (actually eleven on each), and the B-side, "Basing Street," so you'll blow through this pretty quickly. But there's no doubt that this album deserves not only to be in print, but in every CD collection (or LP, 'cause it's gonna be out on vinyl too) in America. Oh, and the UK.
Now, let's get Nick out on tour... You can play the whole album for us, Nick, acoustic, electric, or however you like. Just treat us to your magnum opus before the moment's gone for another ten years.