With a little more luck and a little less label trouble, Rockpile might have been a household name. A quartet made up of Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremmer, and Terry Williams, the band recorded and toured together, but never got the chance to release an album under its own name until tensions—some caused by those contractual difficulties and the management teams navigating them—had nearly wrung the collaboration dry. That left listeners in the position of having to patch together Rockpile’s career from one proper album and a handful of Edmunds and Lowe solo albums (and some odds and ends recorded with other artists), including a pair of 1979 releases recorded in tandem: Edmunds’ Repeat When Necessary and Lowe’s Labour Of Lust. After spending years out of print, the latter is now receiving a much-needed reissue.
Lowe has suggested that a truly killer Rockpile LP could have been pieced together from the Repeat and Lust sessions. That isn’t really fair to either album, however. Repeat remains one of Edmunds’ best efforts, and Lust one of Lowe’s. Both showcase what a remarkable, diverse band Rockpile was, dealing in classic pop that fit perfectly into the scorched landscape cleared by punk’s back-to-basics demands. “Cruel To Be Kind,” a leftover from Lowe’s time with Brinsley Schwarz that was reluctantly recorded at Columbia Records’ insistence, provided him with his biggest hit, but Lust, even more than Lowe’s stunning solo debut from the year before, Jesus Of Cool, sounds like a collection of hits waiting to happen.
Though it’s a Rockpile album in all but name, Lust has its own identity. Lowe’s tracks frequently break from the, in Lowe’s words, “Amphetamine-fueled Chuck Berry music” sound that defined the band. “Cracking Up” and “Big Kick, Plain Scrap!” have a nervous edge, and “You Make Me” and “Basing Street”—a masterfully tragic song rescued here from B-side obscurity—anticipate the mature singer-songwriter albums that have been Lowe’s specialty since 1994’s The Impossible Bird. Fast-charging roots-rock gets plenty of room here, too, most notably with the anthemic “Born Fighter” and “Without Love,” the latter of which Johnny Cash covered in later years. Maybe Rockpile could have kept going, or maybe, in the end, the band played too fast, hard, and well to last even without label complications. Either way, this reissue finally gives one of its finest moments an overdue second chance.