Posted on January 13th, 2015 (4:00 pm) by Nick Manai

On the cover of Nick Lowe's 1978 masterpiece, Jesus of Cool, Lowe is seen decked out in six different approximations of your typical music star per the times. There’s the sensitive songwriter, the double-neck wielding guitar hero, the prog-rock psychedelic, the man in black, and the pop heart-throb. However, the point of Jesus of Cool is how decidedly uncool Lowe looks in all of these guises. The goofy pose he adopts in every shot is like a foretelling of the failure of each of these avenues, while his refusal to market his music behind just one of them helped build one of the decade’s most daring and divergent records.

When Jesus of Cool came out in 1978 it was looking over a musical landscape being bludgeoned awake by the newly christened punks, while disco and its more sparkling pop sidekicks were still ruling the charts. Lowe was already an experienced hand in the music business, having produced Elvis Costello’s debut record My Aim Is True for Stiff, and was known for a fast and furious recording approach that brought him the nickname "Basher." But Lowe was equal parts glitter and grime. As part of Rockpile, a band with whom he shared vocals with Dave Edmunds, he had asserted himself as a pop craftsman of the highest caliber, but it was Jesus of Cool that represented the most ambitious synthesis of Lowe’s talents. It's an album that can be quirky, poppy, rough, and pure before you’ve turned it over to side B.

“Music for Money” starts things off, and like “Shake and Pop” or the late addition, “They Called It Rock,” it pulls no punches in production or message. Any designs you might have thought Lowe was harboring for pop stardom seem to easily dissipate into the first chanting chorus, which is a scathing indictment on the state of the industry. "Fenders for fame / Music for money," point taken. On “Shake and Pop” Lowe delivers a characteristically embracing rockabilly riff, while dryly adding that it’s only a real rock and roll romance if “CBS is going to pay a great big advance.”

However, that's only one of the guises you will find the “Jesus of Cool” wearing. “So It Goes” and “Marie Provost” both shake with some of the catchiest pop rhythms Lowe has ever written, both with his charmingly humorous sarcasm and wit. Balancing out the hustle and bustle of the live burner, “Heart of the City,” is the gorgeous pop ballad, “Tonight,” which finds Lowe reaching deep into his bag for a tuneful croon. The spastic “36 Inches High” seems like a Krautrock demo rewired for efficiency, and "No Reason" holds on to a bustling reggae groove you couldn't have seen coming. Too professional for the punk kids and too rough for the teeny-boppers, the endless rediscovery of Jesus of Cool isn’t just jarring, it’s risky.

At the center of it all is Lowe’s uncompromising ear for melody and nowhere is that more evident than on the early single, “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass.” As the piano falls in and out of one of his more intoxicatingly catchy guitar riffs, the whole ship occasionally crashing to the effect of a broken bottle, Lowe delivers some of his most insightfully painful couplets. “I love the sound of breaking glass / Especially when I’m lonely,” he repeats at intervals, fully combining style and meaning. It is this skill for reconciliation between identities that turns Jesus of Cool into a masterful assembly of parts and not just a buffet of influences.

Track List:

  1. Music for Money
  2. I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass
  3. Little Hitler
  4. Shake and Pop
  5. Tonight
  6. So it Goes
  7. No Reason
  8. 36 Inches High
  9. Marie Provost
  10. Nutted by Reality
  11. Heart of the City (Live)
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

90 / 100
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