CD Reviews

Art in Heartache #1
"Lately I've Let Things Slide"
From The Convincer by Nick Lowe
(CD, Yep Roc Records)

Breaking up with someone can put a dent in your routine. Last month, I missed more deadlines than I met, I slept too much or too little, and shaving became a less-than-daily habit.

Nick Lowe knows the feeling. As he sets the scene, in which his mental state manifests itself in lax housekeeping, he's aware that he has come to this more or less deliberately: "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." Refusing to over-dramatize his situation, he lists trivial details: unwashed laundry, spoiled take-out food, et cetera. But Lowe's gift as a singer is such that he can play heartbreak for either sympathy or laughs, sometimes both in the same verse. Other songs on this record, such as "Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart" and "Between Dark and Dawn," take loneliness seriously, but he intersperses them with more optimistic tunes.

The Convincer makes a strong case for Lowe as the quintessential modern soul man, taking classic country tropes (like the booze/broken heart connection in "Slide") and melding them with an urbane vocal delivery that wrings every bit of meaning out of the words he's singing. Music mags are full right now of critics extolling Elvis Costello's voice, but they should really give a listen to the guy who produced Costello's early records: Lowe is just getting better as he goes along, and he hasn't forgotten how much beauty there is in suffering — even when the pain is largely self-inflicted.

Art in Heartache #2
"All the Things She Gave Me"
From A Pagan Place by the Waterboys
(CD, Chrysalis/Capitol)

You don't have to believe in magic to concede that physical objects have power. You're minding your own business, rooting through a desk drawer for something, when you stumble across that book She gave you when you were happy together — and the rest of your day is transformed. Mike Scott's song is as emotionally raw as a box containing all those gifts and trinkets, tied up in ribbon and demanding to be stored somewhere.

It's fitting, on a Pagan record, that Scott's impulse is to burn his box of sorrow. But what he really wants is just to put it someplace where he won't stumble across it. As the song progresses, his singing becomes more pained with the effort; the second time through the chorus, the word "hide" feels like it's being yanked physically from his chest.

On this new reissue,"All the Things" is restored to its original five and a half minutes, giving Scott's band time to repeat his theme again and again, acknowledging the power of objects to hold their evocative sway for years. It would still be a couple of albums before the Waterboys explored Irish music, but Scott had already learned his Van Morrison lessons well, painting a huge emotional picture with just a few details and a voice soaked in feeling. His "big music" ideal is in full force throughout the record, with wailing horns and heavy guitars, but the biggest thing about Scott's music has always been his ambition to grapple with the spirits behind the physical world. Sometimes, as in this song, those spirits mean to do you harm.

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