Posts Tagged ‘Brinsley Schwarz’

Buried Treasure: The Mona Lisa’s Sister

22 April 2010

[Today: The forgotten contender…]

In its August 27th, 1987 issue, Rolling Stone magazine counted down the 100 best albums of the previous 20 years. In a musical upset for the ages, Graham Parker had not one, but two albums on that list – #45 (Squeezing Out Sparks) and #54 (Howlin’ Wind) – both ranked ahead of usual suspects such as Electric Ladyland, Ramones, Rust Never Sleeps and Led Zeppelin II. That showing speaks volumes about the kind of musical contender Parker was once considered. His early albums channeled the fury of punk rock through a folk sensibility, and were as literate and biting as the best early Bob Dylan albums.

But he made some bad career decisions (firing his excellent backing band The Rumour and making an intentionally lousy album to get sacked by his first label, to name a couple), switched record labels the way Larry King switches wives (Mercury to RCA to Elektra to Atlantic back to RCA and so on…), and generally sabotaged any chance he had of reaching the kind of audience his music deserved. Tellingly, when Rolling Stone issued another Top 100 list a decade later, none of his albums were on it. Quite the snub for an aritst who was once considered a cinch to have a career on par with Elvis Costello.

But against all odds, Parker released the best album of his career in 1988, the year after the original RS list. The Mona Lisa’s Sister should have put him right back on the fast track – this is an excellent batch of songs that are slightly softer around the edges than his earlier, angrier work. He brought back some of the key pieces of The Rumour, including guitarist Brinsley Schwarz, who co-produced this with him. It’s impossible to pinpoint why some albums fail and others succeed, but Parker put his best foot forward here to no avail. Songs like the ‘Get Started, Start A Fire’ and ‘Under The Mask Of Happiness’ were probably too intellectual for the mass market, but they still burn brightly and intensely. Rolling Stone even agrees – when it released its list of the 100 best albums of the 80s, The Mona Lisa’s Sister checked in at #97…

Listen: Get Started, Start A Fire

Listen: Under The Mask Of Happiness

Listen: I Don’t Know

Buried Treasure: Basher

3 September 2009

[Today: Nick Lowe walks the line…]

Nick Lowe | Basher: The Best Of

“Bash it down and we’ll tart it up later” was the comment – during a session for a Dr. Feelgood album – that earned Nick Lowe the nickname Basher. As a founding member of Brinsley Schwarz, Lowe helped establish the sound of pub rock, a lively UK precursor to punk. When the nascent punk movement put his band out of business, he went solo and became the first act signed to Stiff Records, before landing the job as their in-house producer. In that capacity he produced The Damned’s debut (which was also the first UK punk album), The Pretenders’ debut, and Elvis Costello’s first five albums.

Although he was heavily involved in the formation of the punk sound, Lowe himself made music that leaned more towards pop or what would become known as ‘new wave’. Tunes like ‘Marie Provost’ and ‘Little Hitler’ were too catchy, smart, and biting to be considered punk proper. Basher, a double LP best-of, collects 25 of his finest songs, and makes a good case that he’s one of the most under-appreciated songwriters of his generation. It wisely leans heavily on his first two albums, plucking 14 of its tracks from 1978’s Jesus Of Cool and 1979’s Labour Of Lust.

An ex-son-in-law of Johnny Cash, Lowe has spent his career avoiding categorization and walking the line between fame and obscurity. Because he has enjoyed just one Top 40 hit in the United States (‘Cruel To Be Kind’), he’s at best a cult figure here. His most successful tune by far – ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding’ – was popularized by Elvis Costello. When a version of the song was included on the soundtrack to The Bodyguard, Lowe became a millionaire almost overnight, and was able to revive his flagging career. Fortunately, he’s continued to work in the margins of the music industry. “I’ve always felt quite like an outsider,” he told The Onion‘s AV Club in 2007. “I don’t really belong in the mainstream, and I quite like that.”

Listen: Heart Of The City

Listen: Born Fighter

Listen: So It Goes