Nick Lowe The Doings (Edsel)
Reviewed by Kent H. Benjamin, Fri., Dec. 17, 1999
The Doings (Edsel)Nick Lowe first came to the attention of most of us Yanks as the most prolific and influential musician, songwriter, and record producer on England's coolest (and first) indie label, Stiff Records. In a matter of months, he'd released era-defining singles ("So It Goes"/"Heart of the City"), toured and recorded with his band Rockpile (Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner, and Terry Williams), and produced debut albums by artists like Elvis Costello, the Damned, and the Pretenders. His first album was titled Jesus of Cool (retitled for us sensitive Yanks as Pure Pop for Now People), and he was just that. By the time he scored a real American hit with "Cruel to Be Kind" and married Carlene Carter (going on to write for Johnny Cash), he'd amassed a virtual motherlode of wonderful songs, mostly available only on hard-to-find British and European vinyl releases. Doings does a good job of collecting much of Lowe's extremely prolific solo output from 1976 through 1998 on one 4-CD collection. His early-Seventies band Brinsley Schwarz is ignored, as unfortunately is Rockpile's Seconds of Pleasure. Disc 1 is what most consider his peak period, the hectic years with Rockpile, which disbanded acrimoniously in 1981. It's a bit problematic, omitting essential (if silly) tracks like "I Love My Label" and "Rollershow" and some of Rockpile's best material such as "They Called It Rock," "Nutted by Reality," "Skin Deep," "Love So Fine," and the definitive live version of "Heart of the City" from Jesus of Cool. Discs 2 and 3 do a brilliant job of collecting all the essential post-Rockpile material. They force fans to admit that Lowe continues to produce brilliant material; many have taken the view that Lowe and Edmunds needed each other like Lennon and McCartney, and were never as good apart as on their seven albums together. Wrong. Songs like "The Beast in Me," "I Live on a Battlefield," "12-Step Program," and "Time I Took a Holiday" prove it in spades when heard together. Disc 4 is a rarities collection, which adds a half-dozen previously unissued demos and outtakes, a half-dozen live tracks taken from easy-to-find CD singles, and another half-dozen hard-to-find Japanese import only live tracks. The booklet is excellent and informative, but it's one of those cheap digi-paks so popular in Europe that tend to fall apart after a few uses. The box misses being a definitive look at a very important artist, but still contains over four hours of excellent music with barely a duff track included. Mind you, you really do get most of the best tracks on the single disc compilations (16 All-Time Lows or Basher), both easily findable and cheap, and if you add the rarities collection The Wilderness Years to either, you have most of what you need at a fraction of the price.