Few 30-year-old albums sound as fresh and as ripe for rediscovery as Jesus of Cool. Unavailable or out of print throughout much of the CD era, the debut LP by Nick Lowe (renamed Pure Pop for Now People for the American market with a reconfigured track listing) was unique in its day for both embracing pop readymades and satirizing the exploitative and fickle culture that creates and consumes them. Nowadays, every indie rocker and blogger skewers the record biz while celebrating its guilty pleasures, but in 1978 such ambivalence was both radical (it was the first New Wave album to encapsulate the budding movement's love/hate relationship with everything that preceded it) and misunderstood (Rolling Stone dismissed it as “a catalog of socko production effects held together with one-shot jokes.”)
Having struggled for years as the bassist of failed pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz, Lowe created Jesus during his ascent as Stiff Records'in-house producer of the Damned and Elvis Costello, and his sense of glee upon finally commanding his own destiny is palpable: No matter how cynical his lyrics get (check his still-shocking ode to fallen film star Marie Prevost, here dubbed “Marie Provost”), the music remains joyous. Nicknamed Basher for his technique of bashing out quick takes, Lowe gets remarkably kinetic performances from various members of Rockpile, the Rumour, and Elvis Costello's Attractions that play tug of war with his spoofing side, rendering Lowe simultaneously offhand and heartfelt in proto-mashup mode: “Nutted By Reality” starts off by nicking the Jackson 5's “I Want You Back” before abruptly shifting into a remarkably accurate Wings tribute, while “Tonight” recreates the teenage balladry of the Everly Brothers and climaxes on a melody cribbed from the Beatles'”It's Only Love.” Now including 10 extra non-LP singles, EP sides and compilation cuts that lead up to Jesus, this pop-about-pop landmark may ostensibly protest “Music for Money,” but Lowe's clearly doing it for love.