The whole Pub Rock/Pure Pop for Now People Dream was running its course. Nick Lowe put out an album called Nick Lowe & His Cowboy Outfit. Nick assembled what, on paper, looked to be a band worthy of the legacy of Brinsley Schwarz and Rockpile. His Cowboy Outfit included Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont and Ace lead singer-turned-session man and super-sub Paul Carrack. Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner even played on a couple of tracks!
My close personal friend, Townsman Andyr, bought the album when it came out. I had already been keeping my distance from Nick since a string of mediocre albums following the exquisite Labour of Lust and the energetic if not great Rockpile album, Seconds of Pleasure. There was too much music, new and old, to explore, and I didn’t need something called The Abominable Showman to bog me down. It was hard not to groan at the site of this new album with a new, desparately tongue-in-cheek title. Nick seemed to be following his worst impulses, going for the easy basket with, what, his 12th recorded version of “Half a Boy and Half a Man”?
Or maybe it just felt that way after countless remakes of “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ‘n Roll)” and “Heart of the City.” Also, during these years when Nick was grasping at the gifts he once had in the palm of his hand, the tongue-in-cheek/hokey side of Lowe’s music was coming naturally to our old Philly music scene friend Ben Vaughn. Ben had been hitting on the charming side of Nick’s work without already having set us up with a view from the mountaintop (ie, with no songs as majestic and pure pop perfect as “Cruel to Be Kind” – no offense to Ben). That day Andy brought home the latest Nick Lowe album we gathered around Andy’s turntable and were duly unimpressed by Nick Lowe & His Cowboy Outfit. (Andy, did we see this outfit play live around the release of that album, or am I getting mixed up with that solo Costello/Lowe show we saw at the demi-Spectrum?)
For the next 6 years I stayed away from Nick’s releases, only dipping a toe back in Lowe waters with 1990’s decent Party of One. Finally, in 1998, Lowe released Dig My Mood, an album that saw him confronting down-to-earth adulthood and shucking almost all the schtick, which Huey Lewis had regrettably poisoned for all wiseass roots-pop guys in the ’80s. I’ve been told that the album right before that one, The Impossible Bird, was the first of Lowe’s low-key, all-business releases, but it just sounded boring the first couple of times another friend played it for me – and I haven’t heard it again since!
Anyhow, Dig My Mood has stuck with me. The two albums that followed, The Convincer and At My Age, have continued in this vein. I listen to those three albums as much as I listen to any albums released over the last 10 years. Nick’s grown up. He sounds comfortable in his own skin. He’s no longer in need of any sort of “outfit.” I listen to these albums and hope that I’m shucking any outfit I felt I needed to get through awkward, difficult, painful times. It’s a good feeling, and it’s a good feeling to know that I am ready to forgive Nick Lowe for His Cowboy Outfit.