TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Our rock critic Ken Tucker is excited that six albums that the British songwriter and performer Nick Lowe recorded between 1982 and 1990 are being reissued in remastered versions with some previously unreleased tracks. Ken says much of this music has been underrated. And he singles out, in particular, the album "Party Of One" as being among Lowe's finest works.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S SHAKIN' ON THE HILL")
NICK LOWE: (Singing) There's a cool wind blowing in the sound of happy people at a party given for the gay and debonair. There's an organ blowing in the breeze for the dancers hid behind the trees. But I ain't never going to see what's shaking on the hill.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: In an interview after "Party Of One" had been released, Nick Lowe lamented that the album had, quote, "sold about four copies." It was very depressing, he said. I can understand his dismay. "Party Of One," released in 1990, holds up as one of the liveliest and wittiest collections Lowe has ever released, and that's saying something.
Lowe at his best has a gift for both melodic hooks and clever wordplay that is in full force on a song here such as "All Men Are Liars," which includes his immortal rhyming of the singer Rick Astley with the word ghastly.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL MEN ARE LIARS")
LOWE: (Singing) All men...
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) All men...
LOWE: (Singing) All men are liars. Their words ain't worth no more than worn out tires. Hey, girls.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Girls.
LOWE: (Singing) Bring rusty pliers to pull this tooth. All men are liars, and that's the truth. Well, do you remember Rick Astley? He had a big, fat hit that was ghastly.
TUCKER: Six of Lowe's 1980s albums have been reissued. In addition to "Party Of One," they are "Nick the Knife," "The Abominable Showman," "Nick Lowe And His Cowboy Outfit," "The Rose Of England" and "Pinker And Prouder Than Previous." Each of these has some excellent songs. And I'd put "My Heart Hurts" from "Nick The Knife" on a Nick Lowe best-of.
But for sheer consistency, "Party Of One" is, I assert, equal to his 1978 debut, "Pure Pop For Now People." There's a power to "Party Of One's" rhythms and its novel use of repetition, as in the way Lowe tightens the chorus of "You Got The Look I Like" into a coiled spring.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU GOT THE LOOK I LIKE")
LOWE: (Singing) You got the style, you've got the sense that makes a man race till he's spent, that makes him twang like a guitar string, you overpowering thing. I go to work, but I'm in late. I can't think or concentrate. My rapid rise will have to wait. I'm in a pitiful state. You got it. You got it. You got it. You got it. You got it. You got the look I like, baby. You got it. You got it. You got it. You - girl, you got it. Hey, you got the look I like. Help me, baby.
TUCKER: One reason this album sounds so good is that it features what is probably the finest assemblage of musicians Lowe has ever had, including the great drummer Jim Keltner, Ry Cooder and producer Dave Edmunds on guitar, and Paul Carrack on keyboards and some backing vocals. Tight yet loose, this group knows what to do, even when Lowe is dipping into the absurd with nonsense lyrics called "Shting-Shtang."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHTING-SHTANG")
LOWE: (Singing) Shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang. Well, I made some money, and I'm feeling good. Shting-shtang, shting-shtang. Found a honey, and I think she would. Shting-shtang, shting-shtang. Well, I'm moving up from a great big down. Shting-shtang, shting-shtang. And the way I feel feel like this sound. Shting-shtang, shting-shtang. I'm talking about shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang. Yeah, shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang, shting-shtang. Just the other day...
TUCKER: For many years, I drove up to Maine in the summer - a 12-hour ride for which I had accumulated a choice selection of albums on cassette tape to make the journey more jaunty. By the time we got to Maine, my daughters were singing the refrains of "Party Of One" songs like "All Men Are Liars" and "Honeygun," whose lewd organizing metaphor I was never called upon to explain, thank goodness. This is a testament to Nick Lowe's ability as a writer of catchy hooks.
But now, years later, I sit more calmly, alone in a chair, and listen to "Party Of One." And I find myself marveling anew at the emotional directness and bristling intelligence underpinning this superbly enjoyable music.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. The set of Nick Lowe reissues is on Yep Roc Records. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, our guest will be Eric Lipton, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter who covers corporate agendas and government relations. He's been investigating the extent to which the regulated have become the regulators in the Trump administration. He writes about industry lobbyists who are now in senior positions at many government agencies working to roll back regulations they once fought. I hope you'll join us.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie and Thea Chaloner. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF JULIAN LAGE'S "PERSIAN RUG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.