Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Not Too Long Ago

Nick Lowe has been referred to as the "Headmaster of British Rock." On his graceful new album, At My Age, this Headmaster gives a master class on how to age gracefully in the music business. Not too long ago, or so it seems to me, Mr. Lowe helped form the cutting edge of pop music, penning the classic "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding," and teaching us that one has to be "Cruel To Be Kind" -- well, in the right measure, anyway. At this point in his career, At My Age represents not so much a victory lap as a comfortable stroll down memory lane.

Not to say that the songs on At My Age make any effort to reconstruct Lowe's Rockpile past. Instead, they settle into a more mature groove that, for lack of a better term, I'll call "country lounge." In many ways, this set is pleasantly reminiscent of some of the music that I remember my parents listening to when I was young, which was a sort of "citified" country, with touches of rock, jazz, and soul, and perhaps best exemplified in some of the music played by Charlie Rich ("Behind Closed Doors"), Ray Charles ("I Can't Stop Loving You"), and even Dean Martin ("Houston").

While the songs on At My Age sound like they were written, and even recorded, contemporaneously with the foregoing, that's not the sum of their charm. They're damn good songs, well-constructed and replete with the requisite hooks, both melodic and lyrical. Each one tells a story, often intertwined with the theme of looking back over a life fully-lived. Whether singing about turning a corner late in life ("A Better Man" and "Hope For Us All") or ruminating on past pain and loss ("The Club"), the songs paint deeply personal pictures.

In "Long Limbed Girl," the narrator comes across a long lost photograph of an all but forgotten girlfriend and wonders what became of her and whether her dreams ever came true. "I Trained Her To Love Me" is sung from the point of view of an aging misogynist whose agenda is to gain retribution for the perceived sins of the fairer sex by seducing them for the sole purpose of breaking their hearts ("Do you see the way she lights up, when I walk in the room? / That's good.") -- in essence, Cruel To Be Cruel.

Chrissie Hynde provides backing vocals on the glass-half-empty warning shot, "People Change," which suggests early 60s British pop. On the jazzy "The Other Side Of The Coin," it's not too hard to picture the Headmaster in the spotlight of a smoky lounge, simply requesting that any judgment of one who may have chosen to do it "My Way" be carefully measured. The sparkling "Love's Got A Lot To Answer For" is simply a timeless classic.

Clocking in at barely over half an hour, At My Age may wind up going to bed early, but it certainly leaves one wanting more. And while it may be that Nick Lowe has grown too old to rock and roll, he's not too old to show everyone else how to play the perfect encore.

MP3: Nick Lowe: "Long Limbed Girl" - from At My Age
MP3: Nick Lowe: "Love's Got A Lot To Answer For" - from At My Age