Cowboys International®

  • Cowboys International®
  • The Original Sin (Virgin) 1979 
  • Revisited (Pnuma) 2003 
  • The Backwards Life of Romeo (Pnuma) 2004 
  • Ken Lockie
  • The Impossible (UK Virgin) 1981 
  • Dominatrix
  • The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight EP (UpRoar / Streetwise) 1984  (Gigolo) 2003 

Ken Lockie, an early cog in the loose Clash/Pistols axis that revolved around guitarist Keith Levene and eventually led to the creation of Public Image Ltd., is the man behind Cowboys International. The ’70s edition specialized in deceptively chipper numbers about fear, loathing and love betrayed. Credited to Cowboys International®, The Original Sin is a cornucopia of clever and well-tooled high-tech pop songs (“Thrash” was the one that got club play at the time), each a should-have-been hit. Lockie’s vocals provide a human counterpoint to the crisp metallic happenings in the instrumental work, aided by a musical team that includes original Clash drummer Terry Chimes as well as a guest turn by Levene. Revisited is a CD containing the album’s tracks and some extras.

The Impossible is less successful than the debut, mostly due to stiff production by Steve Hillage. Lockie’s accompaniment is once again impressive — Magazine’s John Doyle and John McGeoch, Nash the Slash, Steve Shears (then of Ultravox), among others — and his songs still have a guileless punch when they aren’t buried under the slick production. The whole thing never quite meshes, but all the parts are there to be enjoyed if you have the patience.

Lockie, like Levene, subsequently relocated to New York, where he participated in numerous other musical projects. The charming and catchy Dominatrix New York club hit consists of passionless dada femme recitation over light atmospheric music by Lockie and Stuart Arbright (né Argabright), with scratch mix effects by Ivan Ivan and Lockie. The 12-inch offers two full-scale versions plus two additional remixes (“Chants” and “Beat Me”).

A quarter-century after Cowboys International seemingly ended, Lockie restarted the project with a surprising second album. The Backwards Life of Romeo proves he hadn’t spent his adulthood ruminating on the past: notwithstanding its synthetic elements (there are stringed instruments and trumpet, but the electronic drums and keyboards give it a specific, dated undertone), it’s a gentle winner that at times invites comparisons to, of all people, recent Memphis-minded records by Nick Lowe and the lowest-key work of the The. Not all of it is top-notch: the blend of technology and soul occasionally echoes the lush platitudes of the early-’80s new romantic ilk, but most of the album has a lighter touch and succeeds on its own terms. Lockie’s earnest singing and small-scale lyrics have believability to burn (“as I roll my shopping cart across the empty parking lot…” is an exquisite image), which help make “Strawberries,” “Escape,” “Here With You,” “Silent Sky” and the twangy, organ-charged “Ready Steady Go” seem like much more than mere creative exercises.

[Steven Grant / Ira Robbins]