Thursday, March 22, 2007

“One’s Too Much (and A Hundred Ain’t Enough),” “Chicken and Feathers,” “I’ve Got the Love” / Nick Lowe


I’ve been dealing with major Nick Lowe tracks up to now – but the way I see it, a truly topnotch artist is judged by his minor tracks, and what passes for album filler with Nick is pure gold. Granted, some of it’s kinda goofy, but MY NICK LOWE THEORY #4: Nick rightly understands the value of goofiness in rock music. And there are days when that’s all I want on my playlist.
Here, then, are three “throwaway” numbers from those out-of-print mid-1980s albums (why has Nick been so careless about his back catalogue?), three songs totally dear to my heart.

“One’s Too Much (and A Hundred Ain’t Enough)” from Nick the Knife – Like “Cruel to Be Kind” revisited, this song is sung by a guy who’s getting a rough ride from his woman, and knows it. “I love my baby,” Nick explains, “But lovin’ ain’t enough / I try to make her happy / But she’s running me around.” It’s the undercurrent of desire that makes this song work – that powerful sexy tug of that sinuous minor-key melody, underlaid with congas and maracas and a throbbing bassline. That’s why he puts up with her crap. But he’s not happy – witness those dissonant guitar and organ accents, that canny vocal full of hissed s’s and growly low phrases. And the jerked-around rhythm of the chorus: “Her kiss is the best / Her touch is the most / One’s too many and a hundred ain’t enough,” he groans. This guy’s so beat-up by this relationship, he can’t see straight. I want to rescue him.

“Chicken and Feathers” from 1983’s The Abominable Showman – here Nick goes for Abba-like glossiness, with lots of echo-chambers, a slinky guitar hook, fluttery electric piano trills and synthesizer flourishes. But it’s got an intriguing jigsaw puzzle of melodies, and a completely irresistible beat, which makes me forgive him the EXTREMELY SILLY lyrics. “You get the chicken / I get the feathers / I’m always eating crow, no matter whether / Whether I’m right or I’m wrong / This sorry situation’s gonna be changing pretty soon.” (Next verse: "I get the sip / You get the swallow / Just dying of this thirst..." -- well, I told you it got silly.) Again, it’s a guy who’s getting screwed by his girlfriend, but now he’s ready to do something about it . . . and I'm swooning over those earnest boyish vocals, cheering him on (and ignoring the snarky "oh yeah, unh huh, boo hoo" vocal fillers in the bridge). “Patience of saints is what I've got tons of / But even saints have got to snap sometime / And I’m about to,” he announces with perfect pop sincerity – and here I am, waiting to be his next in line.

“I Got the Love” from 1988’s Pinker and Prouder Than Previous – I've been told that this record appeared on Rolling Stone’s Worst Record Albums Ever list, but what does Rolling Stone know? It’s an absolute treasure. Evidently it was cobbled together from a number of recording sessions over a couple of years, as if somebody – I’m guessing Elvis – finally pulled Nick out of his mid-80s personal crisis and pushed him into the studio to get back to work. Recorded in Austin, Texas, this track is just Nick, Paul Carrack on organ (plus a few double-tracked plinks on the piano), and Robert Treherne (aka Bobby Irwin) on drums. Maybe it was originally just a demo, but I love the loping back-to-basics arrangement, which perfectly fits the dead simple lyrics – “I’ve got the love, and I’m gonna give it / I’ve got the love, and you’re gonna get it / I’ve got the love, girl I’m with it / Lay down your arms to my surrender [nice Arthur Alexander reference there] / I’ve got the love, I’ve got the love.” Who says rock music has to be profound all the time? Nick peels off a few twangy electric guitar riffs, and the whole track is just pure goofy joy, a jaunty invitation to love that I’m powerless to resist. I dig how that thrumming bass line comes through every once in a while, like a heightened pulse. “Come on sugar,” Nick begs, with a sort of Buddy Holly hiccup, “Don’t make me wait no later than Monday.” Wait? No chance of that. I’m here, and I’m yours.

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