In 2002, The A/V Club ran a column called “Is There a God?”where they asked a bunch of celebrities, presumably as part of their regular interviews, the God question point blank. While my favorite answer was probably from American Movie guru Mark Borchardt (Q: Is there a God? MB: Why ask me?), my second favorite (tied with Dave Chappelle and Steven Wright) was definitely from New Wave deity Nick Lowe.
The Onion: Is there a God?
Nick Lowe: [Long pause.] Yes.
It’s a wonderful answer, and very much in keeping with modesty that has always been present on his records, and I’m talking about a lot more than his most well-known song, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” In fact, I’ve included a little playlist at the bottom of the post with a bunch of examples. The religious dimension of his work has become more pronounced since Basher (as he is known) got his ‘second wind’ as a torch singer about fifteen years ago with Dig My Mood. Beginning with that record’s arresting cover of Jimmy McCullough’s “Failed Christian” (not to mention his prayerful original “Lead Me Not”), moving to The Convincer‘s “Between Dark and Dawn” and At My Age‘s “Hope for Us All” all the way through to this past year’s “Checkout Time” off The Old Magic, Lowe has consistently employed his trademark lyrical wit and clean melodicism to deal with eternal subject matter.
Lowe, of course, led the charge in the British post-punk “movement”, producing seminal records by Elvis Costello, The Damned and The Pretenders. His first pair of solo records, the, um, immaculate Jesus Of Cool and its follow-up Labour of Lust, have held up remarkably well, still giving the jukebox impression he was after. Clever songwriting and quirky arrangements abound, a few favorites not listed below being “Little Hitler”, “So It Goes,” “Marie Provost,” and “You Make Me”.
It’s a tad ironic that the song of Lowe’s we’ve featured most prominently on here is “The Beast In Me,” also known for its placement in The Sopranos. A phenomenal piece of work for sure, but also as serious as they come, esp the version sung by Nick’s former father-in-law Johnny Cash. “Beast” may be a great example of Lowe’s insight into human frailty/conflictedness but it’s not really characteristic of his approach. Indeed, his two most famous songs, the aforementioned “Peace, Love and Understanding” and “Cruel To Be Kind” are considerably more emblematic, dressing up fairly intense sentiments with humor and hooks, and making it look easy. In both cases, there’s a sense of winking playfulness that thankfully never crosses the border into cuteness. Lowe understands the merits of spoonfuls of sugar when it comes to the medicine going down… Of course, he can also shoot straight from the hip and hit his target, e.g. the aforementioned “Beast” or “Failed Christian.”
Although his wise little songs tend to roll more than rock these days, Lowe’s gift for wordplay has never diminished. The immortal “Time Wounds All Heels” springs to mind, as does “All Men Are Liars,” a prophetically Rick-rolling track from a 1990’s out-of-print Party of One. It takes a real master to pull off such didacticism without sounding totally full of himself, but Lowe does ‘deceptively simple’ with more self-deprecation than anyone. While perhaps not one of his musical highpoints, “All Men Are Liars” is a chief example of the Lowe charm, impressively hokey video notwithstanding. Like his brilliant treatise on the divided self, “Half a Boy and Half a Man,” it’s as winsome an argument for a biblical anthropology (Romans 3:23) as we’re likely to hear:
Then there’s the catchiest song about “God’s alien work” ever written. Seriously! The Second Use of the Law has never been given a better soundtrack. The one-of-a-kind video, featuring Rockpile, doesn’t hurt either:
Ten Great Nick Lowe Songs Not Mentioned Above
- When I Write The Book – Rockpile
- Time Wounds All Heels – The Abominable Showman
- The Ugly Things – The New Favourites Of Brinsley Schwartz
- Nervous on the Road (But Can’t Stay At Home) – Nervous on the Road
- The Other Side Of The Coin – At My Age
- American Squirm – Labour of Lust
- Lately I’ve Let Things Slide – The Convincer
- What’s Shaking On The Hill? – Party of One
- I Live on a Battlefield – The Impossible Bird
- The Rose Of England – The Rose Of England
- There Will Never Be Peace (Until God Is Seated At The Conference Table) – iTunes Bonus EP