Labour Of Lust

Nick Lowe

Columbia Records, 1979

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Why is it that certain British pop artists have been criminally ignored in the States? I've complained so much about XTC not being bigger over here (and will be talking about them again really soon). Now, I'm upset that Nick Lowe didn't become a megastar.

Oh, it's not that he hadn't earned attention in this country. His work with Rockpile, featuring Dave Edmunds, was pretty well known, even if they weren't huge stars. But it was his 1979 album Labour Of Lust, an album which could have easily been called a Rockpile album (they were the backing band), that gave Lowe his biggest success, and his only top 40 hits with "Cruel To Be Kind". It also is, to put it mildly, a my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 goddamn great record .

"Cruel To Be Kind" is the ultimate description of a pop song that one could want: a decent melody, intelligent lyrics, and a chorus that is infectious. Lowe's happy-go-lucky attitude seems to ooze from his vocals, and this song is one I constantly find myself going back to without getting tired of it. Sadly, this would be the only time that Lowe would see the charts from this high of a position.

But mixed in with all the humor (or is that "humour"?) of some songs ("American Squirm," "Born Fighter") is a seriousness that Lowe doesn't just brush off. "Crackin' Up" reaffirms the more glum feeling with the repetition of the lyric, "I don't think that's funny no more." And the gentle take Lowe gives to "You Make Me" is a pleasant surprise on this album, one that might just throw you for a loop after the bubbly pop bounciness of "American Squirm" and right before another pop wonder, "Skin Deep".

But the musicianship on Labour Of Lust is also a wonder. Lowe's bass work is surprisingly complex, as can be heard on the choruses of "Born Fighter". Edmunds proves that he could be one of the '70s and '80s most underrated guitarists. Just check out the solo on "Cruel To Be Kind" for proof of this.

Sure, one or two songs don't hold up as well, but Lowe and company, for the most part, have crafted an album that should have been a smash hit. Unfortunately, fate would not be as kind. Lowe went on to work with Rockpile until their implosion in 1981, and wouldn't follow up Labour Of Lust until 1982's Nick The Knife. But why didn't this album just burn up the charts? Only two things I can think of for this: disco and punk. Damn shame... had this album been released just two years later, it could have capitalized on the birth of MTV. (As it was, the video for "Cruel To Be Kind" still got airplay, though I'll admit it's been years since I saw it, and wouldn't mind seeing it again.)

If you really want to know what a pop album sounds like, put away the Milli Vanilli sludge, hie yourself to Best Buy, and grab Labour Of Lust. (The record, last time I checked, is now available on Demon Records.) It's a quick listen, but a mandatory one which will open your eyes to a whole new world.

Rating: A-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.