To find one of rock’s best examples of slick lyrical wit, sharp catchy rhythms, and raw power-pop energy, one doesn’t have to look any further than Nick Lowe’s Labour of Lust. Released in 1979, this is the album that spawned “Cruel To Be Kind,” a pure pop-rock gem, and also followed suit from his previous album Pure Pop For Now People (also known as Jesus Of Cool), to further solidify his status as an excellent songwriter and musician.
For people who aren’t familiar with Nick Lowe, he was the bass player and key songwriter for the country pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz back in the 1970s. From there, he created Stiff Records, which became iconic in the world of indie rock and new wave. He began his solo career in 1978 while at the same time being a part of Dave Edmund’s band Rockpile, who then toured with Lowe in the late ’70s and helped him out on the Labour Of Lust album. Lowe married Carlene Carter, Johnny Cash’s step-daughter, in 1979—and then helped produced a couple of her albums.
Yep Rock Records has just re-issued Labour Of Lust, like they’ve done with other Nick Lowe albums, complete with bonus tracks and deluxe packaging.
When listening to Labour Of Lust, Lowe’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humour and poignant lyrical candor are front and center. His skill at polishing off smooth yet far-from-cliché pop songs is prevalent in every track, but standouts like “Cruel To Be Kind,” the pulsating “Big Kick, Plain Scrap,” and the genuine beauty of “Without Love” represent his talents as an artist. Even Mickey Jupp’s “Switchboard Susan,” with its poppy twang and semi-staccato drum beats is brilliantly caught somewhere between country and pop-rock.
Although the album is known for “Cruel To Be Kind,” its crown jewel is “American Squirm,” a song that best exemplifies Lowe’s genius for crafting rhythm and melody and then hitching them firmly to simple, appealing lyrics. “I made an American squirm/And it felt so right,” he sings. It’s not that enigmatic, really, but matched with the contagious pop clatter and flirtatious drumming, it works beautifully and is instantly appealing.
The album itself is produced to perfection, exuding vigour, energy and new wave momentum. The drumming is deliciously tight in some places and slack in others, while Lowe’s guitar work is charming, exciting and even charismatic throughout the course of each track. There’s a certain flavor to each song here, from the unassuming sound of country-rock, to mature new wave attitude, to the attractive jangle of Top 40. These elements, all mixed into one complete album, are what make this a fun listen all the way through.
Those who haven’t discovered the talents of Nick Lowe can start right here, as this album is one of the greatest examples of this power-pop genius.