Call me speculative, but I don’t think John will be writing about Nick Lowe’s new album, At My Age, on his Wild Mercury Sound blog. It doesn’t, for a start, resemble the battle for Stalingrad reaching a furious climax, like the more deafening parts of the latest Queens Of The Stone Age record he’s been frightening me out of my wits with over the last week or so. I think therefore I might be permitted a few passing words on a particularly fine album without trespassing on John’s turf.
As regular readers of Uncut may know from about a dozen separate Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before back page features, I was frequently in Nick’s company at a time when he was quite the man of the moment as one of the prime movers behind Stiff, where he was what you’d call house producer for a while. He also handled production duties on what remain Elvis Costello’s best albums, made some terrific solo albums and with Dave Edmunds fronted Rockpile, one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands ever.
A disinclination perhaps to work any harder than he had to, a suspicion of inflated rock star egos that led to him turning down a lot of production work he simply wouldn’t have enjoyed, a curious modesty about his own talents as a producer, songwriter and performer have all contributed over the years to his status as a cultish figure in English rock, much-loved but not as widely-known as he might have been if his ambition had been as great as his humour, charm and way with an anecdote.
I guess, also, that the unexpected windfall of a cheque for a million dollars that landed on his door mat when his great song “(What’s So Funny) ‘Bout Peace, Love And Understanding?” was featured on the soundtrack to the Whitney Houston flick The Bodyguard allowed him the opportunity to put his feet up and not to have to worry unduly about paying the milkman.
Anyway, to the point. Anyone who’s followed Nick’s career these last 35 years or so will surely love At My Age.
Back in the day, as per the exploits I’ve documented in various Stop Me columns, Nick was often a riot. He’s inevitably calmed down over the years, especially with the recent responsibilities of late fatherhood, and there is a grainy ruefulness to several of the new songs here that are evidence of a thoughtful maturity. At My Age isn’t exactly an essay in the kind of bleak mortal reflection Dylan brought to Time Out Of Mind – Nick remains a tad too sparky and tongue-in-cheek for any inclination towards the morbid or darkly self-obsessed.
But where once he could be cheerfully off-hand about love’s particular travails on songs like “Undereath My Shirt, My Heart Hurts” or “Time Wounds All Heels”, he’s here often in relatively sombre mood, especially on the “The Club”, “Love’s Got A Lot To Answer For” and “Not Too Long Ago”.
Musically, At My Age is what I suppose fits the description of stately country, with a little twanging rockabilly, embellished beautifully with soulful horns. It’s mellow, I suppose, rather than raucous – but by no means merely comfy or complacent. The misogynist rancour of “I Trained Her To Love Me” is particularly spikey and comes frankly as a bit of a shock.
Best of all is a song called “Long Limbed Girl”, in which Nick finds an old pcture of his younger self with the woman who back then he loved and clearly lost and about whom he is now given to wonder – where she might be, who she might be with, how she has fared, what she’s been through, whether she is happy now wherever she is?
It’s a beautifully touching song with a wonderfully delicate touch, two minutes of unassuming brilliance, typical in its brevity of the album as a whole, the entirety of At My Age’s 12 songs clocking in at 33 minutes at a time you could grow a beard listening to most modern CDs.
At My Age is out on the appropriately named Proper Records. Go fetch.