Sunday, November 29, 2015

Leftovers (Lies/Liars): All Men Are Liars

Nick Lowe: All Men Are Liars

It is a post-Thanksgiving tradition at SMM to have a “Leftovers” theme, which allows our writers to look back and post something on prior themes that, for whatever reason, we couldn’t or didn’t do at the time. As the most prolific writer here recently, I pretty much have posted twice on every theme, although there are a few that I only got around to a single piece. One of those was back in March, when the theme was “Lies/Liars,” and I wrote about a great, rocking blast of Southern rock from Jason and The Scorchers. There are so many songs in the rock canon about liars and lying that it is almost hard to narrow down the choices. But I did, and thus we have today’s feature song, by the great Nick Lowe.

Since this theme is all about looking back, I did write about Lowe back in January, so I won’t repeat what I wrote there, and instead focus on this tune. Lowe has said that the idea came to him while watching, believe it or not, Oprah Winfrey. According to Lowe:

"When I was over here once I was watching an edition of The Oprah Winfrey Show. They had some poor sap sitting there who'd run off with a maid or something like that, and the audience was extremely upset with this guy. I remember this large black lady standing up and shouting at the top of her voice, 'All men are liars! All men are liars! All men are liars!' She just was chanting it. And I thought, 'Yeah, you know what? You've got a point there, darling.' And along came that song." 

Now, of course, all men are not liars. Yeah, that’s the ticket.....

The song is a fun, bouncy pop tune, with Lowe's typical clever wordplay. The other thing that the song is remembered for, to the extent it is remembered at all, is for its somewhat gratuitous insult of English singer Rick Astley. Astley had a massive, annoying hit with the song “Never Gonna Give You Up,” which led to the phenomenon of “rickrolling,” defined by the Urban Dictionary as:

To post a misleading link with a subject that promises to be exciting or interesting, e.g. "World of Starcraft in-game footage!" or "Paris Hilton blows Busta Rhymes' dick" but actually turns out to be the video for Rick Astley's debut single, "Never Gonna Give You Up". A variant on the duckroll. Allegedly hilarious. 

Even my beloved New York Mets got rickrolled.

In the song, Lowe sings:

Well, do you remember Rick Astley? 
He had a big fat hit, it was ghastly. 
He said I'm never gonna give you up or let you down. 
Well I'm here to tell ya that Dick's a clown. 

Which is more than “allegedly” hilarious, but which Lowe, as time went on, regretted. He has commented:

At the time, he was everywhere. “Never Gonna Give You Up” was just on all the time. It drove me mad. [Impersonates Astley.] That constricted voice. And so I put that rather barbed line in, which I regret now. I hardly ever do the song. I went through a phase of doing it fairly recently, but it sort of went off the boil and I stopped doing it. But when I used to do the Rick Astley line, people used to fall about, rolling in the aisles, clutching their sides laughing, and I thought, “This is rather a shame to do this. Poor old Rick. He’s not exactly in the public eye much anymore. It seems a little unfair to kick him when he’s down.” 

One of the many fun things about writing these pieces is that I actually research what I write and learn things about songs that I like. Which is how I found the interview that I have quoted from at length. But it is also interesting to read reviews of the music I post. The album that “All Men Are Liars” comes from, Party of One, is a pretty good one, in my estimation. Lowe, of course, was originally best known as a producer, but also created one of the all-time great albums, Jesus of Cool (and its slightly different American version, Pure Pop For Now People), not to mention the fine follow up, Labour of Lust. After that, he released a bunch of albums, all of which had moments, some more than others, until his recent critically acclaimed reinvention as a crooner.

But, if you read the Allmusic review of Party of One, you might be dissuaded from listening to it—it refers to the album as “stilted,” and “an unwelcome surprise” filled with “forced humor and bland support,” and “stiff, colorless performances.” (I suspect that the reference to “stiff” in that review was not meant as a reference to Lowe’s days producing for the legendary Stiff label).

Instead, I commend you to read Robert Christgau’s review, who hears things quite differently, and more in accord with my opinion:

Nick the Knife is a writer again, every song honed and there for a reason. With the likes of Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner spiking his wry cool, he yearns for yen, makes Boeing a modest proposal, spins off pungent epithets ("Refrigerator White"), nonsense syllables ("Shting-Shtang"), sexual metaphors ("Honeygun"). In a shameless bid for the rockcrit vote, he also finds the perfect rhyme for "ghastly" (starts with "Rick," lest you already forgot). And just like with Labour of Lust in 1979, he makes it sound so easy you expect a reprise a year for the rest of his life. A-

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