John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“Long Limbed Girl”

The second act of Nick Lowe’s career is producing great songs with adult themes.

By - Aug 21st, 2014 03:04 pm
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Nick Lowe is doing the impossible. As he grows older, he is refusing the usual mantle of tired mediocrity that muffles early pop sensations.

Nick Lowe, photo taken by K8 Fan

Nick Lowe, photo taken by K8 Fan

He has, like anyone his age, a history. He met with early acclaim in the era of British pub rock with his band, Brinsley Schwarz.  From there he became a sort of staff producer for Stiff Records, a very happening label that coughed up Elvis Costello, among others. Their careers ran on parallel tracks for a while, and then E.C. accelerated into one of the bigger and brighter names in new wave. Nick kept toiling and his song, “(What’s So Funny About) Peace Love And Understanding,” was used in the movie, The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. This changed things by making The Basher, as he was known for his rough and ready style as a music producer, financially secure.

I have no problem with Nick Lowe’s early work — it is witty, supremely crafted and somehow warm even when there is sarcasm dripping from the grooves. Good trick, that. But there may have been a level of career burnout or maybe just boredom with himself. The endless tours and whatever grind a solid mid-level career like his requires were replaced with a less urgent lifestyle and a remarkable change in his music. He became obsessed with the idea of creating music suitable for a man past his twenties and thirties. He has largely succeeded in that noble mission.

Starting with his disc, The Impossible Bird, the volume went down and the smarts went up, along with an ability to tackle adult themes in ways that were startling and fresh. His production skills were still there, but the dazzle was less on the surface and more in the subtle aftertastes his songs provided. Always a student of American Music, Lowe retained a European flavor that you first encounter in his voice… he has never aped blues or country singers, instead, he has remained steadfastly British. I am curious how or when Brits decide who they want to sound like. There are so many of them who have become genuinely great interpreters of American styles and yet, artists like Ray Davies and Richard Thompson seem to have never considered converting completely. (And why is it that Americans doing English accents fall on their mannered faces so often?)

So, with a sensibility that lands somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, Lowe soldiers on. He doesn’t need the money, I don’t think, so that makes his output seem like the work of a man searching for something else. On his most recent collection (if you discount his must-have Christmas collection from last year) he is in top notch form. For a few years now, I have felt he has Costello in his rear view mirror and is pulling miles ahead — and there aren’t a lot of Costello fans bigger than me, so that makes me kind of sad. But there comes a point where the baroque and arcane language that rolls out of the E.C. song factory starts to leave me a little cold.

Meanwhile, Lowe has snuck back to his sources and is gladly displaying some of the tricks he has learned. He is creating music with it’s own logic. The chord progressions are familiar yet can linger in one spot or move on a dime as they follow the melody like a lost, hungry puppy. The thread that runs through his songs may lead anywhere, but it always seems to be exactly the right place when you get there. The lyrics of late are tinged with regret and are sometimes tales told by an aging roue who sees through his own cool and might be at a point in his life where mirrors are not a good idea.

Choosing just one from his recent work is maddeningly hard, as the quality is at an all time high. So let’s take two. with a flip of the romantic coin we get heads, the absolutely devious guy who sings I Trained Her To Love Me. After that a cleansing rinse with the effervescent but bittersweet tale of a lone wolf who stumbles across a photo of the one he let get away in Long Limbed Girl. This video is a solo performance, but you must seek out the recorded version. Among other pleasures, you will hear some horns arranged so cleverly and played with such soulful precision, you’ll wish he would announce his soul project tomorrow. The lyrics are crafted with such casual command — I have said many times of the Brits, it’s their language, we are just borrowing it.

I Trained Her To Love Me

Do you see the way she lights up when I walk in the room 
-that’s good- 
And the skip in her step when we’re both out walking in the neighborhood 

This one’s almost done now to watch her fall apart 
I trained her to love me so I can go ahead and break her heart 

If you think that it’s depraved and I should be ashamed 
-so what- 
I’m only paying back womankind for all the grief I’ve got 

I’ve got the latest believing, for ever I’ll be true 
I trained her to love me, now excuse me, I got work to do 

I trained her to love me 
And I’m gonna start working on another after this 
And when I got that one in a state of bliss 
Betray her with a kiss 

Well one time, one call of bluff told me I only do this cause I can 
Mmmmmmm 
And I’m bound to wind up one lonely twisted old man 
But look out here comes a prime contender for my agenda

The unreliable narrator, I pray. This guy’s as cruel as anyone Randy Newman ever dreamed up. But hold on…  just when you think there’s no redemption for this cad, he delivers this perfectly beautiful bit of wistful reminiscence:

Long Limbed Girl

Long limbed girl 
Where are you now? 
When I think back in my mind 
A sweet memory I find 
But the edges are starting to curl 
Where are you now, long limbed girl?

The other day, I was going through some old papers in my desk 
When I came upon a photograph and I had to catch my breath 
It was a picture of a girl tall and slender as a willow tree 
And she had her arms ’round me 

Long limbed girl 
Where are you now? 
Well, I wonder about you 
And if you made it through 
And had all your dreams come true now 
Or has it been a long and bumpy road, long limbed girl? 

So young and foolish 
But so in love 
You were my girl 
Where are you now? 

I wanna know what happened after me 
Did you find love eventually? 
And was it everything you’d hoped it would be? 
Or has it been a long and bitter road, long limbed girl? 

I wonder where you are tonight, girl 
Wherever you are, follow your star, girl 
In my mind, forever young long limbed girl 
Long limbed girl

Gadzooks, this man is good! His last CD somehow struck me as underpowered when popped in the car stereo, until I saw him conquer the cavernous reverb of Turner Hall, a very tough room to tame. The songs came into focus and it hit me right there and then — The Jesus of Cool hadn’t lost a thing, he was quieter, yes, but still relentlessly cool.

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