Six years since his critically acclaimed The Convincer wormed its soulful way into our hearts, we've waited for new music from Nick Lowe. So now he finally stirs himself from semi-retirement to release a new album, and just to make sure no one buys it, he sticks on the old-fogey title At My Age. The cover? It’s a caricature of a skinny white-haired gent clutching a cup of coffee. Oooh, yes, I’ll take that instead of Justin Timberlake, thank you very much.
But for those of us who refuse to be deterred – who know that Nick Lowe is one of the wittiest and most subtle craftsmen in pop music – At My Age is deeply, deeply satisfying. The only problem is — like the old joke about Chinese food — an hour later, I want more.
It’s ironic that Lowe’s latest should be released on the same day in the U.K. (the US release date is June 24) as Paul McCartney’s Memory Almost Full. How typical of Nick to get overshadowed like this. It’s like a re-run of the 1970s, when Nick’s band Brinsley Schwarz was the opening act for Wings. The two musicians have a lot in common. Both are left-handed bassists. Both have a bone-deep faith in the value of the three-minute pop song. But whereas Macca’s trademark has always been sweet (some would say treacly) sincerity, Lowe’s is wry, self-deprecating irony. Where McCartney demands our love, Lowe flinches away from it.
Far from being the “godfather of punk” some believe (sure, he was house producer for Stiff Records, but he never released a punk album of his own), Nick Lowe has always had country roots, not only with Brinsley Schwarz but with the raucous rockabilly combo Rockpile. Increasingly these days, he layers on classic R&B and even a touch of jazz to the mix, with a mellower, more laid-back groove. What hasn’t slowed down is his delicious word-play, or his inventive sense of rhythm. Both are as supple and quick as ever.
His main theme — indeed, the theme of most pop music — is of course still love. Though trust Nick Lowe to home in on the comic aspects of desire (cases in point: “Cruel To Be Kind,” “I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock ‘N’ Roll,” “All Men Are Liars”). But love rarely works out – that’s the shocking news Nick Lowe has discovered at his age (for the record, white hair notwithstanding, he’s only 58). We should be astonished whenever love does triumph – astonished, grateful, and very, very afraid.
Well, I’ve tallied it up, and At My Age has three positive love songs — a pretty high total for a Nick Lowe album. But don’t worry, they’re all completely non-gushy. Balanced against this are two baleful break-up songs; three snarky relationships-on-the-rocks numbers; one dogged I’m-gonna-make-you-love-me song; one longing-for-a-lost-girlfriend tune; and one funny loser-in-love lament (a Nick Lowe speciality).