Music Picks

New Classic Summer Rock

Nick Lowe's latest is better than hipster.

By Elaine Corden 19 Jul 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Elaine Corden writes regularly on pop culture and music for The Tyee. She regularly discusses music and media villainousness on her blog, Trifective.

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Not cool, but authentic.

If you go through the next two months without hearing Fleetwood Mac, CCR or The Eagles, you have not done summer correctly (and yes, I know The Eagles suck). It's rock time.

But while I'm sure I don't need to provide you with classic rock songs to float your inflatable dinghy, you might want some suggestions for when you can't possibly listen to "Dreams" again, but still want to keep the freewheeling mood going.

At My Age, from legendary country-rock songsmith Nick Lowe, is a rare delight -- an artist who has been at it for 30-plus years, who keeps getting better. Released last month, Lowe's first album in six years is a winsome effort full of easy-like-Sunday-morning crooning set apart with wry, clever lyrics and blue-eyed soul horns and harmonies.

The album opens with "A Better Man," which sounds disturbingly like a Johnny Mathis song, but Lowe's intrinsic cool and wit lay waste to that impossibly square first impression. As he sings later on the album's best track, "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day": "First I have to break down your resistance to my charms."

While Lowe is often associated with the foundlings of punk (and is best known for penning the anti-war anthem "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding"), that association is more about Lowe's take-me-as-I-am attitude than his songs. Here, he's doing what he does best -- earnest, stunningly crafted songs, rooted in traditional '50s pop structure, that invoke a sweeter, more innocent time while simultaneously painting a picture of himself as a bit of a jaded cad.

Indeed, many of the songs parallel '50s hits: "The Other Side of the Coin" invokes Patsy Cline singing "You Belong To Me," and "Long-Limbed Girl" reminds a keen ear of what was so great about Buddy Holly. It's dip-your-toes-in-the-lake, long-winding-drive-through-the-country, timeless, chugging country. Practically irrefutable.

You might put this on at a party, when the campfire is almost dying and you're taking long hauls off a cool bottleneck, and it might get shouted off for the initially naive-sounding quality of the songs Lowe writes. It ain't immediately cool, to be sure. But you look those hipsters* straight in their Buddy Holly horn-rimmed glasses and tell them not to harsh your mellow. Lowe, in his confident, easy and utterly authentic way, hasn't let anything change his style and at his age, he's never sounded better.

*Can we invent a new word for hipster? It's kind of over. Please put suggestions below.

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