Saturday, October 23, 2010

“I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” / Nick Lowe

I know I've been MIA for a week or so, but that's what happens when a fangirl sneaks off into the Rock 'n' Roll Zone.  Graham was there with his old band, and Nick kept showing up with his new band (love that Geraint!);  I'm told Greg T. was over by the bar, and Tim and Landon and the Scotts and Jahn wandered in and out, washed on a river of the house pinot noir.  Where were you, Mike?  We were breaking glass, and going west, and shakin' on the hill and living on a battlefield night after night, with the lady doctor and the village idiot and the bride who used to rock and roll in a black Lincoln Continental. Sorry, officer!  And y'know, even if you only know one person from Canada, your new friend from the great north is bound to know him too.

But I digress. Nursing a somewhat delicate head this morning, the best I can offer in the way of explanation is a rerun of this earlier post. . . .

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 1978 track (you'll find it on the recently re-issued Jesus of Cool) --  it may have punk attitude up the wazoo, but it's still a giddy syncopated pop track, sung lightly and tongue-in-cheek.

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. This track, however, finds Nick working with former Brinsley keyboardist Bob Andrews, along with bassist Andrew Bodnar, drummer Steve Goulding, and -- in this video at least -- guitarist Martin Belmont. Which, as all you good little rock historians know, means it's the Rumour, that great ensemble that also backed up Graham Parker on his earliest LPs.

This song (which Nick wrote with Bodnar and 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. 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.

But I feel no threat here, just a reckless sort of joy. The weird disconnect going on 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. And 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.

Granted, the song is too syncopated, and, at 3:05 minutes, too long to be standard punk issue; the arrangement isn't stripped-down enough, either. But thank god, because if it were stripped down we might not have Bob Andrews' fantastic electric piano, 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. And Nick’s voice floats carelessly over it all, the 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.


Uncle E said...

Hey, welcome back! Other than the Damned I don't consider much of what he produced "punk" either. I don't even consider the damned punk, including their first album that Nick produced.
Love love LOVE this song, the happiest song about destroying a hotel room ever.

BobCT said...

I hate the sound of breaking glass, but I love the sound of Nick loving it. Brilliant song and brilliant review. Thanks, Holly.

scottmandu said...

Oh yeah, the Stiff days.
You captured the spirit of the gig perfectly. Also very worthwhile backgrounder for the young 'uns.
I'm back in the great north now, or as I like to call it, "stupid reality".