Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart" / Nick Lowe


The Convincer -- my god, what an album, simply saturated with excellence. There are so many landmark tracks here -- "I'm A Mess," "Let's Stay In and Make Love," "Has She Got A Friend," "She's Got Soul" -- that I didn't even pay proper attention to this modest gem for ages. Time to right that wrong.

"Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart" has that classic late Lowe combination: weary wisdom fighting against a stubborn romantic streak. The story line's simple, an all-too-familiar plot, laid out in downward-rambling musical phrases -- "Why do I go on fooling myself / When I know you love somebody else" -- but the title refrain puts a shrewd psychological spin on it: "Only a fool breaks his own heart." This isn't some adolescent drowning in self-pity; on top of feeling lovelorn, he's beating himself up for feeling lovelorn -- really, at his age, he should know better. And yet, for all his wisdom, we know he's going to go right on ahead with this fool's game. It's not like he can't help it; he chooses heartbreak. Now there's a self-aware romantic for you.

"I have to admit," he adds in the bridge, full of unresolved chord changes, "Even though it hurt me so / I can't forget." Then he musters his good intentions: "If I'm a man / I'll let you go." I hear a very big If there, though -- listen to how uncertainly that line climbs up to its trembling last note (also unresolved, anything but triumphant). With a sort of sigh, he stumbles back into the third verse: "There's no sense in holding on / To an old love that's gone wrong / Only a fool breaks his own heart." He may be the Convincer, but right now he's not even convincing himself.

The whole arrangement is full of rueful, resigned weariness -- the shuffling two-step tempo, the plodding piano and drums; hear that wheezy organ in the break, and that hypnotic circular guitar riff. How many times has this hapless lover gone over these same arguments? He's sick of them himself by now. But he's still not ready to give up the girl.

Now, a lesson in fangirl psychology: There is nothing sexier than a man who's hopelessly in love with another woman. Since it's hopeless, of course, she's no competition; meanwhile he's demonstrating enormous ardor, always a great qualification. And of course, you want to mother him; you want to be the one who heals that broken heart of his. I'm dizzy already. Have another cup of coffee, Nick, and tell me all about it . . .

I can think of a dozen artists who could do a great job with this song -- the late great Johnny Cash, of course, and while we're dreaming, why not Frank Sinatra or Ray Charles or Marvin Gaye? Willie Nelson would do a killer version of this. I'd love to hear it in Guy Clark's hands. Peter Wolf, Mark Knopfler; shoot, even Rod Stewart. (Just trying to drum up songwriting royalties for you, Nick.) It should be a classic. And, of course, it probably never will be. That's injustice for you.

Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart sample

1 comment:

Uncle E said...

One album of Nick's I've yet to purchase. All I've read confirms your love of the album. It's tops on my list of next purchases.