What looked like the second solo album by new wave star Nick Lowe wasn't quite that simple. For one thing, it should've been billed as a Rockpile album; the band recorded it simultaneously with Dave Edmunds's Repeat When Necessary. And Lowe, for all his new wave bona fides as a producer, wasn't particularly interested in futurism or revolution. "It's funny if people think I'm 'new wave,' whatever that means," he said a few years later. "I'm not at all."
Lowe, in fact, was a sly, snarky rock 'n' roller of the old school, and most of 1979's Labour of Lust is comprised of jaggedly witty turns on some very familiar styles. His biggest American hit, "Cruel to be Kind," is a bouncy paean to casual emotional sadism; "You Make Me" is a slow one worthy of Elvis Presley; "Without Love" is a country-rock miniature so perfectly turned it seems impossible that it's not by Buddy Holly or one of his contemporaries. (In fact, it's a Lowe original.) Still, there's an overwhelming darkness that surges up from some of these songs, especially "Cracking Up": when Lowe mutters "I don't think it's funny no more," he's only kidding a little bit. (This 2011 reissue includes all the tracks from the slightly different U.S. and U.K. editions, most notably a terrific, smartass rocker called "American Squirm.")