For those diehards who bristle with righteous indignation whenever the phrase "pop music for grownups" rears its balding little head, I offer but two words: Nick Lowe.
With At My Age, his first new release in nigh on six years, the fiftysomething, white-maned "Headmaster of British Rock" answers the skeptics with tuneful soul, grace and good humor. What captivates most upon first listen is the crafty vet's late-blossoming knack for employing his celebrated wit in the service of wisdom honestly and often painfully acquired. Not in a clumsy, heavy-handed fashion, mind you, but with the same effortless panache that's marked Lowe's best songwriting since the pub-rock dawn of Brinsley Schwarz. Autumn reflection never went down so smooth.
Yep, what we have here is a sly ol' dog with a shiny new bag of tricks. Bark, bite, and brain biscuits. Track one sets the pace straight away with "A Better Man," a velvety shot of jukebox country gratitude, followed in kind by "Long Limbed Girl," a breezy reminiscence of lost love unsullied by the faintest whiff of irony. Even when Lowe's trademark verbal twists resurface on "I Trained Her to Love Me," there's a distinct undercurrent of regret and a player's mixed emotions about his manipulative ways.
Musically, the tasty, barebones arrangements served up by Lowe and his longtime cohorts (including guitarist Steve Donnelly and keyboardist Geraint Watkins) sample the roots music menu from Cash-style country ("The Club") and cracker swing (Faron Young's "Feel Again") to rockabilly (Charlie Feathers' "The Man in Love"). But the album's predominant flavor comes straight outta the Memphis R&B kitchen. The silky "Hope For Us All" (another sincere reflection on romantic redemption) and "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" would do Al Green proud, while the propulsive "People Change" and "Not Too Long Ago" offer similar sentiments of substance with a booty-waggin' backbeat.
Yes, my friends, you can have it both ways. Pop music for grownups needn't dull your edge or corrupt your senses, certainly not in the capable hands of a purveyor such as the esteemed Headmaster Lowe. At his age indeed.