When my old friend (and fellow music aficionado) was dating his then-girlfriend (now wife and mother of their two children), he sat her down to listen to both sides of Nick Lowe's 1979 sophomore release, Labour of Lust, stating that the record was an example of perfected contemporary pop. More than 30 years later, his bold statement still stands concerning Lowe's long-out-of-print pop masterpiece.
Yep Roc's reissue treatment of Labour of Lust, near-equal to the label's earlier packaging of Lowe's classic '77 debut Jesus of Cool, contains a pristine remastering of the original album, informed liner notes and bonus tracks "Endless Grey Ribbon" ("American Squirm" was substituted for the U.S. release) and "Basing Street" -- two spare numbers that would provide Lowe a blueprint for future masterful records.
Lowe was part of Rockpile, a UK pub-rock superstar group comprised of Dave Edmunds, guitarist Billy Bremner and drummer Terry Williams (who would later join Dire Straits), whose nonstop touring garnered the band a reputation as one of the tightest rock outfits around. Lowe and Edmunds, who were signed to two different record companies at the time, recorded their respective solo records simultaneously with Rockpile backing Lowe on Labour of Lust, and backing Edmunds on his superb Repeat When Necessary (arguably his best effort), also released in 1979. Later that same year, Lowe produced Elvis Costello And The Attractions' Armed Forces.
Rockpile also provided the backing for UK singer/songwriter Mickey Jupp during his '79 recording of Juppanese. At the sessions, Jupp opted to scrap his song "Switchboard Susan." Lowe bought it from him, then substituted his own vocals in place of Jupp's, adding another gem in Labour of Lust's crowded trunk. It's a record lined with pop jewels, including the kicking drums of "Big Kick, Plain Scrap," the hook-filled melody of "Skin Deep," the clever sneer of "American Squirm," the Everly Brothers/country-inflected "Without Love" (which his father-in-law Johnny Cash would later record). It led to Lowe's only top 20 US hit, "Cruel to Be Kind," a song reprised from his days with another band, Brinsley Schwarz.
As a producer, Lowe's "bang it down and tart it up" credo earned him the nickname "The Basher." But because of his whirlwind schedule (he also produced The Pretender's version of "Stop Your Sobbing" the same year), he wasn't afforded too much time to tinker over Labour of Lust. The mixture of spontaneity, maturing production skill and brilliant execution would make the album a hallmark moment for the talented singer/songwriter, performer and producer who went on to quietly build a career littered with such moments.