Due to a religious right that was screwing things up even then, a worried Columbia Records cowardly retitled this seminal New Wave classic Pure Pop for Now People upon its 1978 U.S. release. In many ways, however, the American title was the more appropriate one, since this was indeed pure pop music for both the now and the future. And that boastful claim holds true 30 years later, especially if (as a friend suggested online the other day) rewinding is the new fast forwarding. Whatever the case, a great pop song remains a great pop song — and that certainly doesn't change much at all with the passing of time.
And Jesus of Cool is overflowing with perfect pop tunes ... if one accepts that perfect pop can include wry, cynical and often hilarious lyrics about, among other things, little Hitlers, castrating Fidel Castro, breaking glass, the corruption of the music business or a 1920s silent film star who committed suicide and whose corpse was eaten by her dog ("She was a winner who became the doggie's dinner"), a story taken directly from the pages of Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon. The lyrics to that latter song ("The cops came in and looked around/Throwing up everywhere over what they found") are in direct contrast to its wonderful melodicism that wouldn't have sounded at all out of place on the radio during the Beatles-led mid-'60s British Invasion. Indeed, it's that surrealistic juxtaposition that gives the album its magic and power, as Lowe explores nearly every modern pop sound imaginable, from pre-Beatles "girl group"-like melodies to disco, bubblegum (there's an ode to the Bay City Rollers here), ska/reggae, folk-pop and even a form of proto-techno à la Bowie and Eno.
Lowe was already a cult hero in '78 for his work with pub legends Brinsley Schwarz, as well as for producing the early works of both Elvis Costello and Graham Parker (not to mention releasing the first-ever single — both tracks included here — on the now-legendary Stiff Records label). But this is the album that transformed him into a genuine New Wave star and trailblazer. It's been out of print for far too long, so this rerelease deserves to be celebrated in no uncertain terms.
One caveat: Like the Clash's first album, the U.S. and British versions of Jesus of Cool/Pure Pop were significantly different, featuring a different track order and even some different songs. In the same way that many American baby boomers don't consider Rubber Soul to really be Rubber Soul unless it opens with "I've Just Seen a Face" (as opposed to "Drive My Car"), many folks (myself included) may prefer the U.S. version, as that's how they were first introduced to the material. Nevertheless, this 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition redeems itself via its extra tracks, featuring all the songs from both versions, as well as singles (including covers of a Carole King song that was Tony Orlando's first hit in the early '60s and Sandy Posey's "Born a Woman"), live cuts, the tracks from his Bowi EP (a play on Bowie's then-new Low album — get it?), and the early Stiff single version of his classic "Cruel to Be Kind," which is rawer and much harder than the better-known version on Lowe's sophomore Labour of Lust LP.
Nick Lowe is a true musical treasure and Jesus of Cool still proves it in spades. Highly, highly, highly recommend. Now if he'd just call Dave, Billy and Terry and get that Rockpile reunion in gear ...
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to [email protected].