In no particular order:
Nick Lowe: Quality Street
A disc of Christmas songs by the man formerly known as the Basher. This is similar in feel to Nick's last few albums, though it's not as catchy as the others. The arrangements are sparse, and the vocals are mixed far forward. His voice is as silky as its been. And there are nice guitars and all. But there's just not a whole lot to hold my interest. One thing I note, is that "I Was Born in Bethlehem" (video below) sounds sort of like a slow version of "If I Only Had a Brain (from The Wizard of Oz. The melody, that is. Not the words.
What I find most interesting about this album is the creepy cover. Nick standing with an aloof look, surrounded by nine grumpy people, one grump dog and one adoring woman in a Santa suit (is that the same woman who was on the cover of his prior album, The Old Magic?). I'd heard the whole album already since the label, Yep Roc made it available for streaming a few months ago. My opinion hasn't changed in the interim. The disc will probably grow on me, though. That's the way Nick Lowe albums are.
When this first came out in 1985 I reviewed it for The Island-Ear, a Long Island based music and entertainment weekly (or was it bi-weekly?) tabloid. I wrote the following:
Despite their simplicity and sugar flavor, all of Candy's songs are upbeat, teenage anthems. For this reason, they may very well be the next Bay City Rollers—with all the positive and negative implications that go with such a label. Chances are that, if they get noticed at all, Candy will be looked down on by elitist fans of "serious" rock. If they're lucky, they'll enjoy a couple years as chart toppers before fading into obscurity.God, I hate that review. I was right about that whole Bay City Rollers thing, though I missed the whole thing about them being "glam," which is largely how they're remembered today. It's hard to judge my assessment of "if they're lucky." They weren't lucky as a group.More on that in a minute. What's missing from the review was how much I just enjoyed the album. The anthemic songs stuck with me, and I still love them today -- though rethinking them, they're a bit darker than I remembered.
One new observation is that the sound is tinnier than I remembered. I'm not sure if that's a function of the recording or the remastering that went into the CD reissue. Another interesting fact, which I didn't know at the time -- though I couln't possibly have been expected to -- is that the guitarist, Gilby Clarke, would go on to be a member of Guns 'N Roses. Not that I am at all intrested in G'N'R. I just figured I'd mention it. Oh, and if this kind of thing interests you, I believe the infamous GG Allin did a cover of "Kids in the City, reinventing it as "Sluts in the City."
This is the only one of these four albums that I hadn't heard in advance (when you count hearing the vinyl version). I have to say I'm disappointed here. TFIA generally does really good kids music -- they seem to be the only one out there who do fun kids' tunes without letting the lesson get in the way of the fun. But their last several albums, this included haven't been up to their peak matrerial, which came, in my humble opinion, shortly after I first heard of them. The album, It's A Puzzle, with the sublime "Alien in My Nose," was great. After that? meh. My wife theorizes that it's because their kids are grown, and that when they have grandchilderen the creative juices will get better again. I certainly hope so. The one high point on the album is "Creepy Dead Bug," which isn't even theirs. Oh well.
I originally got this album on vinyl during one of my trips to St. Marks Sounds when I was in high school. By way of background, my high school was in Manhattan, on 14th Street, between First and Second Avenues. St. Marls Sounds was a wonderful used record store on St. Mark's Place (the equivalent of 8th Street) between Third and Fourth Avenues.I never knew their exact system, but I did know that Sounds would reduce the prices on records that didn't sell. Their pricetags were circles, about two inches in diameter, with black and pink ink. But when they slapped on a big black and white rectangle with "25¢" on it, you knew the price had hit bottom. This was one of those albums that I decided to risk a quarter on, without really having any reference point. I guess I also liked the fact that the design screamed "New Wave" at the top of its lungs. It was OK. Not great. But I loved their cover of the Shocking Blue Classic, "Venus."
Some years later, after I was into The Washington Squares (a New York-based neo beatnick group), I noticed an uncanny resemblance between the women on the album covers and realized that New Waver Lauren Agnelli of Nervus Rex had become beatnik Lauren Agnelli of The Washington Squares. I alwauys find it interesting when someone whose music I've liked in one context shows up in a new one. By now, of course, Agnelli has moved on in other directions. I think I have an album of her and Dave Rave, but I can't recall what it sounds like. If memory serves she has had at least one solo outing. I wonder what they sound like?
Anyway, even though this album never did knock my socks off, I found it for like $2 on Amazon (which, adjusting for inflation, is probably not that far off a quarter at Sounds). So I bought it largely to re-experience that cover of "Venus." Lo, it's better than I remembered. Lots of catchy quirky new wave hooks. They really deserved better than the ignominy they got.