Monday, February 11, 2008

The Jesus of Cool Returns - Nick Lowe's At My Age

I wanna be Nick Lowe when I get old. Not when I grow up, but when I get old, when I start pushing sixty and am supposed to settle down and start getting reflective on life. Lowe's latest album, At My Age, sort of sounds like the kind of album an aging rocker would put out; slower, softer, more melodic and (I hate to use the term) mellow. But this is not one of those Rod Stewart piece-of-shit nostalgia CDs (two of which I've had to buy for my mother), it's just Lowe doing what he's always done but at a much slower pace. The results prove that the Jesus of Cool is aging appropraitely.

Nick Lowe's place in music history is assured, thanks to his work with Elvis Costello, co-writing such classics and "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding?", on top of his own solo hits like "Cruel To Be Kind" and "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock 'n' Roll)", a song played at every wedding in America (Amish ones included). He was the in-house producer at Stiff Records (another assurance) and is one of the unquestioned masters of power pop, even writing a brilliant anthem to the Bay City Rollers that tops the brilliance of the Rollers themselves. But in recent years Lowe has toned down the sound, getting a bit more romantic and unquestionably more reflective. However, the wit and the sarcasm remain, as evidenced in the album's third track, "I Trained Her To Love Me". This is the man who a song about Marie Prevost's tragic end, after all:

Do you see the way she lights up when I walk in the room, that's good
And the skip in her step when we're both out walkin' in the neighborhood
This one's almost done, now to watch her fall apart
I trained her to love me so I can go ahead and break her heart

For the most part, though, At My Age finds Lowe in a happier, more peaceful place, seemingly finding some peace and happiness at last and not ashamed to wallow in it. On his last album, 2001's The Convincer, things seemed to be less steady, with beautiful (if heartbreaking) songs like "Cupid Must Be Angry" and "I'm A Mess"; now, he sings about finding love with songs like "Hope For Us All" and "A Better Man" and the result is a happier, more peaceful album than before (though heartbreak does get ample due in songs like "The Club" and "Love's Got A Lot To Answer For"). Love songs are very tough to write, especially since they're so commonplace, but Lowe is a master of them, up there with McCartney, Gram Parsons and Chris Bell, someone who is able to articulate love and heartbreak in intelligent, clever and genuinely heartfelt ways that others simply cannot. Sometimes you see someone happy in love and you just want to smack them in the face, while other times you think to yourself, "Good for them, they deserve it". This is unquestionably one of those latter times.

One of things that I find most remarkable about At My Age is that even though it's an album that fits squarely into that mellower baby boomer sound but is so miles above anything else of its type out there (and trust me, I've had to listen to some of it at family gatherings) that I have to wonder who the fuck Lowe has to bribe to get this album out to more people. He's gone the indie route (the album was released by Yep Rock Records here) and no doubt he's been able to do what he does without much interference, but if Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, and Josh Grobin can sell shitloads of records to folks my mom's age, can't we have a little justice in the world for Nick Lowe? The guy is a brilliant songwriter, not off his game one little bit, and the stuff he does is perfectly in line with what old folks seem to like these days, so where's the love? Can someone shove a copy of At My Age into Oprah's hands and get her to book Lowe on her show? This is a guy who has unquestionably met with some success in his lifetime, but he's still due that huge, massive hit that will endear him to the masses, and At My Age deserves to be it. Why this isn't happening, I don't know, but I know that it certainly deserves to happen, and happen soon. If even Nick Lowe can have a bit hit on his own terms, then there must be hope for us all.

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