“I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” / Nick Lowe
NICK LOWE WEEK
Nick Lowe is often called the Godfather of Punk, most likely because when Stiff Records blazed onto the scene, he was (largely by default) their house producer. But Nick himself didn’t record much that I’d call punk music. Even this track, which has punk attitude up the wazoo, is a giddy syncopated number sung lightly and tongue-in-cheek.
You’ll find it on Nick’s 1978 solo debut LP, called Jesus of Cool in the UK and Pure Pop For Now People in the US.
In the four years since he’d left Brinsley Schwarz, Nick had released a couple Stiff singles, produced other artists (Elvis Costello, the Damned), and gone on the road with the legendary Stiff Tour, but didn’t record an album of his own until Jake Riviera left Stiff to form Radar Records. By then Nick was playing with the core of musicians who would eventually tour as Rockpile – Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner, Terry Williams – though for contractual reasons they had to release their LPs as solo acts. For all intents and purposes this is a Rockpile track, charged up with irrepressible rock & roll energy, a far cry from yesterday’s laidback Brinsley Schwarz jam.
This song (which Nick wrote with Andrew Bodnar and Steven Goulding) is a perfect expression of teenage nihilism – “I love the sound of breaking glass / Specially when I’m lonely / I need the noises of destruction / When there's nothing new.” MY NICK LOWE THEORY #2: The “I” in Nick Lowe songs is usually a character, but Nick’s such a chameleon, he can get into another person’s mind with total conviction. When this track came out, I’ll bet plenty of people thought Nick was advocating vandalism (just like people thought he was a hippie when he wrote “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding,” though in interviews Nick says he thinks he was poking fun at flower children – he just can’t remember why).
After all, with the Clash and the Sex Pistols and the Stranglers around, anarchy was the order of the day; Nick had to deliver something in that vein. But I feel no threat here, just a reckless sort of joy. The weird disconnect going on here is textbook adolescence – the kid’s smashing windows in the deep of night just for the aural sensation, not out of any social rage or personal malice. He just likes the feeling it gives him to hear that sound.
The chorus’s call and response works perfectly – various phrases (“nothing new,” “all around,” “safe at last,” "change of mind” ) are invariably answered with “sound of breaking glass,” which Nick sings with a shrug, almost like a kid idly riffing through things to do. Whatever’s going on, hey, breaking glass is as good as anything. SMASH.
Nick has nailed so well what it feels like to be a juvenile delinquent on a rampage -- and in a way, I suppose being at Stiff was Nick’s turn to be a juvenile delinquent. What can we get away with? This’ll piss off the old guard, won’t it? Wot larks.
Still, the song is way too syncopated, and at 3:05 minutes, way too long to be standard punk issue; the arrangement isn't stripped-down enough for the punk aesthetic. Can anybody tell me who played the electric piano on this number? It’s fantastic, all these shattering glissandos, playing off the reverb chords on the guitar and the offbeat smash of a tambourine; it’s like you can hear the rocks being pitched in the dead of night, echoing off the surrounding walls. But Nick’s voice floats carelessly over it all, his bass line lounging negligently beneath. I imagine him chewing gum as he sings, sticking out his tongue at his mates. Anarchy, yes, but the fun kind. You don’t have to throw rocks, you know, but with that hooky syncopation, you really DO have to dance.