Friday, March 28, 2008

“People Change” / Nick Lowe


Now here it comes: Nick Lowe’s philosophy of love. Given the title of this 2007 album, At My Age, you’d expect it to be full of sadder-but-wiser reflections on human relations; what I didn’t expect was how snappy and snarky he still can be at his age.

On the one hand, there’s the mellow, rueful “Love’s Got a Lot to Answer For”; but it's balanced by “People Change,” a much more hard-bitten appraisal of love’s vagaries. I couldn’t even tell you what genre this is; with that uptempo strum, the meaty horn section, and the back-up vocals, I guess retro pop is the best label. Nick’s voice is particularly velvety here – confiding, well-worn, sincere.

At his age, Nick’s become an incredibly economical songwriter: two succinct lines and you’ve got the whole set-up: “Storybook love, made for one another / Now she treats you just like a brother.” He hangs fire for a moment, strumming away, while the contrast sinks in, then plunges on, with two hurried lines that meander melodically: “And you don’t know what you’ve done / Or even how to make it right.” I can just see the baffled bloke, nodding in recognition. Yeah, yeah, that’s how it is, man. So tell me, what do I do?

Nick ashes his cigarette – or the instrumental equivalent thereof – and then delivers his counsel in the chorus. The lyrics are straightforward -- “People change / That’s the long and short of it / Prepare yourself for it / Or get bit / People change” – but he keeps it dancing, with staggered rhythms, dodgy shifting chords, and an edgy swooping melodic line. Nick’s sudden double-octave drop from “bit” to that last growly “people change”, that’s the song in a nutshell.

Those chipper horns add sympathy to what’s basically a tough-minded credo. “Save your tears, you’re gonna need ‘em,” he warns at one point; “cut yourself a slice of reality,” he adds later. We’ll have no whining here. But it’s not classic British stiff-upper-lip-itude; Nick’s deft phrasing gives the song a stinging undertone, a slight defensive hitch of the shoulder.

Chrissie Hynde generally annoys me (I still haven’t forgiven her for breaking Ray Davies’ heart), but her hard-edged nasal backing vocals here are just right. She’s like the woman in the picture, who’d be happy to chime in with her side of the story -- and it wouldn’t be pretty. With her still haunting him, he can’t get away with self-pity or excuses. All he’s got left is a shrug and two words of advice: “People change.”

Well, I'm already lost in the novel behind that motto. When you get to be Nick Lowe's age, you're bound to have a story or two. And me, I could sit up all night listening.

People Change sample


Anonymous said...

EASILY the worst album he's done in decades....reborn as a crooner because he can't rev up the rock anymore, he can't rev up the croon either. Wit: Shot. Insouciance: Shot. Romantic prospects: On this evidence, shot. If you're worried about aging gracefully, best get the Joe Jackson album instead, this sucks!

Holly A Hughes said...

The Joe Jackson album is excellent, I'll agree there. But I adore this Nick Lowe record. Who says that "revving up the rock" is the be-all and end-all? The wit and insouciance are still there, they're just slyer and subtler. And as far as romantic prospects go, I know I'm still swooning.

Anonymous said...

I love this song! I love Nick Lowe week. Delicious!

Carlos Lopes said...

Hi there,
First time here. It happened because of Jimmy Destri´s Heart On a Wall, a record I'm after for more than 20 years. Vinyl Gold Mine got it and so do I now.
Nice blog.

Anonymous said...

The true story about People change.....Nick ran to Chrissie's house in London and he presented her this song he was stuck on...she thought it was all wrong, so he left it with her and she finished it and then offered to sing back up. Sad to hear she annoys you. I think she is one hell of a singer...never oversings but everything is always emotional. A true original.

Carabella said...

I just start singing this tune all the time. Catchy little number, no? Just true too. I dig the line "...and cut yourself a slice of reality...".

But hey Holly, how do you *know* Chrissie broke Ray's heart. Could be the other way around. Heck we don't know.

I am jealous as shit as you got to see both Nick and Robyn at the same time and I just can't make it to SF to do so as well.