Andy Miller

Nick Lowe is that rare phenomenon — the veteran rock star who improves with age

Cruel to be Kind, Will Birch’s scrupulously fair biography, doubles as a guide to how to grow old, stay creative and keep your friends

It is to Nick Lowe’s everlasting credit that in May 1977, a few months after David Bowie released the album Low, Lowe issued an EP entitled Bowi. Appearing on Stiff Records at the height of punk, the record contained ‘Marie Provost’ (sic), an account in two and a half minutes of the unhappy life and bizarre death of the silent movie star Marie Prevost: ‘She was a winner/ Who became the doggie’s dinner,’ chorused a heavenly choir of multi-tracked Lowes. Surfing on the New Wave, as Stiff Records’ slogan had it, Lowe followed Bowi with an LP called Jesus of Cool in the UK and Pure Pop for Now People in the US: tracks included ‘Nutted by Reality’, ‘Little Hitler’ and ‘I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass’, a top-ten hit in 1978 which saw Lowe appear on Top of the Pops dressed as the Riddler from Batman.

It is further to Lowe’s credit that he has spent the decades since his brush with pop-punk stardom attempting to live those various notorieties down, in the process becoming one of the UK’s most distinguished singer-songwriters and performers. As the writer David Hepworth has observed, Lowe is almost unique among veteran rock musicians in that he has steadily improved with age.

His songs have been covered by Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, Solomon Burke and Diana Ross. As a record producer — including seven albums with Elvis Costello, plus classic singles for the Damned and the Pretenders — Lowe’s nickname was ‘Basher’, reputedly because of his ‘bash it down and tart it up’ modus operandi, though Lowe disputes this. In his current guise, however, he has more in common with Nelson Riddle than the Riddler. He is an old-fashioned craftsman who practises a blend of vintage pop, soul, country and rock ’n’ roll, crooning lyrics of wry self-deprecation and heartbreak: ‘Lately I’ve Let Things Slide’, ‘12-Step Program (To Quit You Babe)’, ‘I Read a Lot’ (‘Not just magazines / But other more serious things / To get me through the day / Night-time too…’).

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