In one way or another, Nick Lowe has been connected to many of the best rock-'n'-roll debuts since 1976. He has produced records by Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, the Pretenders, Wreckless Eric, the Damned, the underrated Mickey Jupp, and himself.
Lowe has written songs for Costello, Dave Edmunds, the Rumour and his wife, Cartlene Carter. He and Edmunds are co-leaders of Rockpile, the best rock-'n'-roll band never to make a record under its own name.
Like an oversized cockney guardian angel, Lowe has hovered over a style of music that combines the craft of pub-rock and the angry message of punk-rock. Pubrockers like Lowe, Edmunds, Sean Tyla and Bob Andrews Lowe, Edmunds, Sean Tyla and Bob Andrews honen their skills in London bars in the early '70s playing American soul and country-rock. When punk-rock exploded in '76-'77, they already had the expertise to get the new message across. The pub-rock/punk-rock alliance has produced much of the best rock-'n'-roll over the past five years -- and it appears that it will continue to do so.
One piece of evidence is "Huey Lewis and the News' (Chrysalis CHR 1292). Lewis wrote a song and played harmonica on Dave Edmunds' last album, and was with Clover when that San Francisco band backed Elvis Costello on his debut album produced by Lowe. While in London for two years, Lewis worked closely with Lowe and Edmunds.
Clover provided a catchy rockability backing for Costello, but the group's own albums on Mercury lacked strong songwriting. When the group split up, John McFee went to the Doobie Brothers, and Lewis and keyboardist Sean Hopper formed Huey Lewis & the News. The Bay-area sextet will be at the Bayou on Wednesday. l
The band's debut album makes the same enthusiastic embrace of old rock styles that Nick Lowe's "Pure Pop for Now People" did. The Huey Lewis front album cover, makes the band look like rockabilly greasers; the back cover is a direct imitation of the Beach Boys' "Surfer Girl" cover. Those styles plus Motown soul are stripped down. for the lean attack of new wave pub-rock.
On "Who Cares?" Lewis imitates the jabber of broadcasters and politicians over Mario Cipollina's stuttering bass line. On the chorus, Lewis shouts: "Who cares! No one's talking anyway." On "Stop Trying," he turns feminism into some common sense advice to a jilted boyfriend: "Stop trying to call her -- she's exactly what she wants to be."
Gary Myrick & the Figures are a Los Angeles band that had no direct connection with the British pub-rockers until Lowe recently asked them to open for Rockpile on an October European tour and later American tour. (On Saturday, Gary Myrick & the Figures will be at the Psychedelly.) The band's debut disc, "Gary Myric & the Figures" (Epic NJE 36524), betrays the obvious influence of recent British rock.
Myrick's music hits hard with the sharp, clipped rhythms of the Clash and Kinks rather than with the springy bounce of Lowe or Lewis. Myrick' plays a slashing metallic guitar like the Kinks' 1965 "Who'll Be the Next in Line?" The production by Myrick and Tom Werman places Myrick's voice in a deep echo that gives it a distanced but ominous quality.
Myrick assumes the role of the eternal punk. "Ever since the world began," he sings, "I was here. I stood on the corners shouting, "I was here. I stood on the corners shouting, 'I don't take no for an anser.'" He describes an urban lanscape of failed relationships and misdirected of failed relationship and misdirected ambitions. "What does it means?" he asks. "I said absolutely nothing -- it's meaningless."
Even if the world is meaningless, Myrick is determined to explore it. His determination alone makes his record interesting. Unfortunately, his existentil attitude often becomes a self-righteous posture unrelieved by melody. Two songs stand out as exceptions: "You and Deep in the Heartland" are tales of betrayed love that strike home with real hurt in both the lyrics and melody.
Elvis Costello and Graham Parker remain Lowe's most gifted alumni. Like Lowe on his own records, Lewis sounds like he's having too good a time to be overly ambitious. Myrick has plenty of ambition but sounds like he doesn't know how to have to good time. One can only hope that traveling on the road with Lowe will teach him the wisdom of Costello's aphorism: "I used to be disgusted, but now I'm just amused."