They called him Basher, which seems hard to believe when you look at the cover of 2001’s The Convincer. Nick Lowe, then only in his early ’50s, sits cigarette in hand, resplendent in silver-fox quiff, blue blazer, cufflinks, pinstriped shirt and pale tie, looking about the age he is now (69) – and thanks to his tobacco-thickened voice sounding it, too. He looks a crooner for the Peter Skellern set, but looks can be deceptive.
The unlikely-seeming nickname goes back to the late 1970s. As an in-house producer, Lowe earned the sobriquet from his repeated advice to young bands to just “bash it out”, an attitude that birthed the Damned’s debut single New Rose – a fearsome 2-minute block of distorted noise – and led a generation to believe that Elvis Costello was essentially a punk artist (OK, EC’s spittle-drenched delivery of his manic diatribes contributed to that, too).
But Lowe’s own records were always somewhat more elegant than his production clients’, even during the years when he was a semi-father figure to the punk generation, and they’ve only gotten more so.
Lately I’ve Let Things Slide from The Convincer is a portrait of a man who ruefully admits he’s going to pieces over the end of a love affair, but is still trying his best to hold everything together and not let it show. Lowe’s style is usually an economical one, and in typical style he sketches his character with a few simple details, in plain language and short phrases:
With a growing sense of dread
And a hammer in my head,
Fully clothed upon the bed,
I wake up to the world
That lately I’ve been living in.
There’s a cut upon my brow:
Must have banged myself somehow,
But I can’t remember now.
And the front door’s open wide –
Lately I’ve let things slide.
The five-stress pattern he establishes in these first two verses is the basis of the entire song, but it works without becoming repetitive because of the accumulation of wryly funny details (“That untouched takeaway/I brought home the other day/Has quite a lot to say”) and the little variations in Lowe’s phrasing – for example, in the lines “Smoking I once quit/Now I got one lit/I just fell back into it”, it’s the way he pauses for a tiny split second after “just” and hangs on “fell” a hair longer than you expect. Lowe’s voice might have become rounder with age and lost some notes from the upper ranges, but his delivery is still razor-sharp.
The Convincer is a lovely record. Between Dark and Dawn, I’m a Mess, Let’s Stay In and Make Love, Indian Queens* and his cover of the Norman Bergen/Shelly Coburn song Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart are all favourites of mine, but the whole record is worth your time, and Lately I’ve Let Things Slide is the song I’d put on mixes for anyone interested in late-period Nick Lowe.
*Indian Queens is an oddly named village in Cornwall. The song is a character sketch of a man who has travelled the world and now years to return to the village where he grew up.