Adventures of a University Finalist

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Pub Rocker's Lament


Nick Lowe - Dig My Mood (Demon Records, 1998)

Nick Lowe - Faithless Lover
Nick Lowe - Man That I've Become
Nick Lowe - High on a Hilltop
Nick Lowe - Time I Took a Holiday

Member of Brinsley Schwartz, in house producer at Stiff Records, writer of some of the keenest pop songs in recent decades, friend and confidante of Elvis Costello... Nick Lowe can be regarded as the Lon Chaney Jnr of the New Wave movement. However, one of his many faces is often overlooked by the public: the Tony Bennett crooner crossed with Hank Williams melancholia.
From the first groan of "Faithless lover/Heartless thing/For you I'll swing/And for no other" of the album's opener, backed by Morricone tumbleweed guitar picking, it would be impossible for anyone not to expect something special from this effort. The sparsity of the arrangment on 'Faithless Lover' is a welcome change from Lowe's other production work with his time at Stiff, especially Costello's late 70s albums, often critcised for offering a suffocating mix. This would give the songs a claustrophobic and immediate feel whilst sacrificing any form of melodic subtlety. 'Dig My Mood', on the other hand, looks toward a calmer torch song style with the music echoing Lowe's new lyrical and vocal maturity with his crisp Dixie Chicken hybrid of a singing voice. People often point out the the import of the country influences in his music yet they often forget the intellectual soul behind his large proboscis: he's a man who understands that a few hummed bars of sadness can say more than a thousand words. It's an old Sam Cooke trick used to great effect amid the subtle washes of the rhythmic tide.
Listening to this album, you would more than likely expect Lowe to have decamped to Memphis, Nashville or any other such hubs of Southern Music, for months on end working together with wisened session musicians with calloused hands and cancerous tongues. The recording and mixing did take Lowe a year in the sunny locales of... St John's Wood, Wimbledon and Twickenham. To think that a man can perform a Johnny Cash pastiche such as, 'The Man That I've Become', amidst the grey of the South East suburbs of London with its favourite colours resembling that of a nasty bruise is at once both remarkable and rather fitting. It's stripped to the bone's marrow with its muted guitar flashes, hi hat chugs, and that inevitable moonshine riff pushing the song into second gear after every chorus. When I call it a Cash pastiche, I refer merely to the song's country tilt and the general subject matter for, god rest his soul, the Man in Black would never been witty or cocky enough to include such delicious couplets as "His heart is prune/When it once was a plum".
Whereas 'The Man...' is all country, 'Time I Took a Holiday' bows upon bended knee in the direction of that Mecca of songwriters, The Brill Building, in particular Messrs Goffin & King. It delights in its subtle Tapestry piano base which is cautiously admonished by delicate Cropper guitar licks, angelic accordion and wordless doo wop harmonies. It looks to rewrite Southern Soul, keeping with it the emotional power but replacing the raw edges with gilted alternatives. It's possibly the busiest composition on the entire album with its heavily textured blue eyed soul but somehow remains perfectly balanced keeping firmly away from the chest beating and heavy duty synth/organ fills of its compatriots. A fabulous song is created from the old school formula of identifying the basics needed for the song and then putting so much effort into those fundamentals so that what you end up having is a polished gem rather than a pocketful of stones.
The other day, I referred to Wire's 'Outdoor Miner' as having some form of archetypal quality to it. A song that is both new and a song that you have heard all your life in the efforts of others. 'High on a Hilltop' is such a song. Its production is yet again simplistic to an extreme with its uncomplicated drum beat, unobstrusive mahogany bass line, a soft patina of organ, pointed and direct guitar strikes, and wordless acoustic harmonies. The song is just your basic instrumental members layered in such a fashion so that they reach this wonderfully anthemic quality; both gospel-like and minimalist. This feeling is shared by the soft lamentations of Lowe as he returns the optimistic yet personal imagery of one day being far away from the city and thus in some form of peace. Ater all the work he's done in his life, who on earth would find at all meritorious to deny the man such a simplistic pleasure? Not I, that's for sure.

Buy - Nick Lowe - Dig My Mood
Visit - Nick Lowe's Official Website