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February 21, 2008
Aging sucks, and one thing Mike Doughty and Nick Lowe have in common is that they prove the hell out of it. In their respective primes, they had no parallels and no equals in (not very) popular music when you consider not just wit but catchiness. Lowe strutted into Stiff Records as a hyperproductive triple threat - a songwriter/producer/singer - who helmed records for Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and the Damned, and wrote wickedly funny, hooky solo records in his spare time. After choogling through the '80s respectfully, his career took a turn for the bizarre and he became a millionaire when the royalty check from the blockbuster-selling soundtrack of The Bodyguard (where his "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love & Understanding?" was covered) cleared.

This rare industry-victory-for-talent begat an even rarer occurrence, though: getting rich let loose a freak flag no one expected from a well-to-do popmeister, and it turns out that all Lowe ever wanted to be was a boring singer-songwriter with a propensity for creaky lounge stylings. Since the fantastic, short-lived rockabilly triumph Party of One in 1990, Lowe has released four albums of new material, and not one of them is any good. He rarely plays the inspired (fast) ones from his "youth" anymore live, and doesn't appear to look back on his beginnings fondly. Some telling treason from his new reissue: "In those days, I wasn't interested in creating serious art. I was much more interested in the mischief. I wanted to make music that was accessible… I do regret it somewhat, but time was of the essence and it had to be disposable."

"Disposable?" Why even reissue it then? I guess in a way, stapling that fuck-you to old fans onto the 30th Anniversary Edition of his first and what many consider, seminal work is the most Nick Lowe thing the guy's done in years. Jesus of Cool, known to U.S. admirers like myself as a reshuffle of Pure Pop For Now People, is still great, still hooky (er… disposable), still - if you couldn't tell from those titles - loaded with funny jokes. And with a wiseguy like Lowe, the funniest ones are the best ones: "So it Goes," with its nonchalant roadie dismemberment and conscious plagiarism of Steely Dan, and "Marie Provost," with the dachshund that eats the title corpse. By all means, add this overdue, essential purchase to your audio collection, just remember to be ashamed of yourself for appreciating it more than his "serious art," which last year handed out such keen wisdom as "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" (duh) and "People Change" (double duh, and not funny, asshole).





-


Mike Doughty
Golden Delicious
ATO
Rating: 5.8/10 ?
-
-


Nick Lowe
Jesus of Cool
Yep Roc
Rating: 8.9/10 ?
-


By contrast, Mike Doughty's vitality drained far quicker that Lowe's, but his "serious art" sucks less. For one thing, he hasn't gone and lambasted the old stuff (yet). That would be Soul Coughing, one of the 1990s' great epitomes, a mélange of upright bass, free-jazz drumming, visionary sample-collating and beat poesy-rapping that somehow got on the radio twice. All three of their albums - Ruby Vroom, Irresistible Bliss and El Oso - are essential to any respectable collection of alternative anything, so get 'em. Doughty's brand of humor is more slanted than Lowe's, rambling about planes crashing into the Chrysler building or the 5% nation of nipple clamps. But if you understand hooks, you understand "Blame" and "Blueeyed Devil" just fine. And his surrealistic verbiage sometimes did factor out to actual poetry; his finest recitation, "Screenwriter's Blues," could change your idea of Los Angeles forever.

After those three, Doughty lived through a heroin addiction and a rental car tour all by himself, and the fine recordings of that period surfaced on, of all places, Dave Matthews' ATO imprint in 2004. But then he started to take this solo artist thing a bit too seriously, and soon his limited knowledge of acoustic guitar and ham-fisted "sincere" lyrics ended up on Gray's Anatomy, and thus began his recent descent into the mediocre. But because he's still a catchy melodist, he's failing at a slower rate than most. His new album, Golden Delicious, has tunes that almost survive the ill-chosen production of Semisonic's Dan Wilson, the same hack who turned what should've been the Dixie Chicks' defining hour at their cultural peak into the feeblest Bush-protest song of the era.

My favorite thing on Golden Delicious, "Like a Luminous Girl," is so corny-beautiful it might land Doughty another run soundtracking nighttime chick dramas. The runner-up is "I Got the Drop On You," a minor-key dirge that makes a clean oasis in the bustle of overproduced Dave Matthews-funk, even if the first verse rather horribly rhymes "easy," "Japanese-y," and "cutesy."

So I'm not gonna lie, Golden Delicious looks pretty terrible on paper. The first song takes its chorus from Hair, and the second one's an unnecessary parody of Doughty's own patented "barump-a-dum-dum" scatting. The minute-long rap "More Bacon Than the Pan Can Handle" is an embarrassing bid to bring the Beck comparisons back, and no one needed a remake of "27 Jennifers" (from 2004's likeably patchy Skittish/Rockity Roll comp) lacquered down with bland-funk organ soloing (Wilson's work I presume). Words may be failing him, but I insist nearly all of these terrible ideas are tuneful, even if he's the 134,568,979th songwriter to ask a girl to keep dancing. Either way, Mike Doughty's still young and there's yet time to save him from becoming Nick Lowe (or Dave Matthews). If he can kick smack, he can kick bland music, and an intervention from ex-bandmates might be all he needs. What do you say, guys?

SEE ALSO: www.mikedoughty.com
SEE ALSO: www.nicklowe.net

--
Dan Weiss
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.

See other articles by Dan Weiss.

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