A Year After the Death of the King, Jesus Rose
One of the great lost pop records of the 1970s, Nick Lowe’s debut Jesus of Cool has a bit of a checkered past. Released originally on Stiff Recordsâ€šÃ„Ã®the label that claimed, “If it ain’t Stiff, then it ain’t worth a fuck”â€šÃ„Ã®it was rearranged and renamed Pure Pop for Now People for its Stateside release due to Columbia not sharing Lowe’s sense of humor. In out-of-print purgatory for most of the CD age, in 2008 Yep Roc stepped in and gave this album the treatment it deserved. The running order of the album was changed as a loving nod to its spotty history, with some of the 10 bonus cuts making appearances within instead of as supplements tacked onto the end of the original roster. That this doesn’t completely muddy things up is a testament to both the quality of the original material as well as Lowe’s other output at the time.
Things start off in smarmy pub-rock fashion with “Music for Money” creating a clever, funny tone as Lowe growls, “Music for money / Gibsons for gain” over a bluesy guitar riff augmented with Berlin-era Bowie-esque backing vocals. Cutting wit about selling out also appears in â€šÃ„ÃºShake and Pop,â€šÃ„Ã¹ Lowe lampooning a music industry where “the drummer is a bookie / The singer is a whore / The bass player’s selling clothes he never would’ve wore.”
He repeats the same lyrics but packages them in more rollicking fashion in “They Called It Rock” later in the set. Gleeful sarcasm peppers other gems like “Little Hitler,” “I Love My Label,” “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass,” and “Marie Provost,” which is actually a true story of a silent film actress whose corpse was found half-eaten by her dachshund.
Jesus of Cool also contains some heavyweights in terms of sheer songcraft, from the sweet ballad “Tonight” to the A and B sides of the single that launched Stiff Records as a label, “So It Goes” and the thunderous, guitar-driven “Heart of the City.” “Nutted by Reality” is actually a two-for-one song that begins with a pseudo-disco beat and twinkling guitars, abruptly shifting into a second-wave ska romp on par with anything to come out on 2 Tone in the years to follow.
Oddly enough, that this album was passed over at the time due to the punk juggernaut and rise of New Wave is fitting. On this side of the Atlantic, Nick Lowe is probably more revered for the things he produced, among them “New Rose” by The Damnedâ€šÃ„Ã®the first UK punk singleâ€šÃ„Ã®as well as their pioneering debut Damned Damned Damned and Elvis Costello’s first five studio albums, each a masterpiece in its own right. For those whose music collections are like archaeological excavations connecting historyâ€šÃ„Ã´s dots, they’ll come to Jesus of Cool and see the boundless creativity of one man whose self-proclamation couldnâ€šÃ„Ã´t be more correct.