At My Age Label: Yep Roc
Although it’s been said within virtually every piece that’s been written about Nick Lowe since 1992, it bears mentioning once more within the review for his latest album, At My Age: thank God for Whitney Houston.
Although it was actually Curtis Stigers, not Houston, who actually recorded Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding” for the soundtrack to “The Bodyguard,” it was Houston’s five – count ‘em – five hit singles from the album that led it to sell over 37 million copies worldwide, and since Mr. Lowe gets royalties for the song, that soundtrack alone has made him a millionaire several times over. As a result, our dear friend Nick can record whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and, after having done so, he can afford to sit on the material ‘til a record label provides him with a contract that meets his preferred terms. Nice work if you can get it, eh?
It’s no real surprise, then, that the three studio albums Lowe’s recorded since his financial windfall (1994’s The Impossible Bird, 1998’s Dig My Mood, and 2001’s The Convincer) have felt decidedly relaxed, with the middle entry often finding the man about as mellow as one human being can be without slipping into a coma. Still, as enjoyable as each of the trio of records have been in their own way, it’s hard not to look at some of his earlier, jauntier work and think, “I miss those days a bit.”
Well, apparently, he just needed to wind down. After taking the longest between-album break of his career – six years – Lowe has returned in top form, providing a record that’s almost back to the sound of The Impossible Bird. Okay, so perhaps it’s a bit mellower than that particular record; even so, on a song like the horn-laden foot-tapper, “The Club,” we get a glimpse of a Nick that we haven’t seen in over a decade, and it proves mighty nice to see him again.
At My Age is, rather like Paul McCartney’s Memory Almost Full, an album which explores past, present, and future, showing how things used to be (“Not Too Long Ago”), how they are today (“Hope For Us All,” “People Change”), and what the future might hold (“Rome Wasn’t Built In a Day”). Nine out of the twelve songs are originals, but given Lowe’s long-standing reputation as a great interpreter of other people’s material, it will come as no surprise that the covers – Charlie Feathers’ “The Man in Love,” Faron Young’s “Feel Again,” and an all-but-forgotten ‘60s obscurity by the Uniques (the aforementioned “Not Too Long Ago”) – tend to blend into the pack.
Lowe has, in recent years, developed a persona that’s not terribly far removed from Dean Martin; he’s always spiffily dressed and ready with a snappy quip, and his lyrics would have you believe that he’s quite the womanizer. The album may open with a song entitled “A Better Man” (as in, “You make me want to be...”) that leaves you thinking, “Oh, that Nick, he’s such a sweetie,” but a mere two tracks later, he’s singing, “I trained her to love me / So I could go ahead and break her heart.” It’s all an act, of course…isn’t it? Surely it must be, given that, between those two poles, he’s sweetly reminiscing about a “Long Limbed Girl” from his past. Plus, if Lowe was truly the arsehole he appears to be in “I Trained Her to Love Me,” there’s no way he’d ever have been able to talk Chrissie Hynde into singing backup on “People Change.” (She sees right through guys like that, you know.)
Though it’s now almost 30 years on from his debut album, Lowe unquestionably remains the Jesus of Cool (or, if you’re particularly sensitive about possible blasphemy, then let’s call him the Sultan of Suave). Whichever term you prefer, At My Age finds Nick Lowe continuing to stroll down his own path at a leisurely gait, and it’s a pleasant reassurance to find that the songs he keeps in his heart remain as classy as the man himself.