Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Love's Got A Lot To Answer For" / Nick Lowe

28 DAYS OF LOVE SONGS


Come on, you really didn't believe I could get through a whole month -- let alone a whole month devoted to love -- without Nick Lowe? Honestly, I could have done the entire month on just Nick Lowe songs, he's got so many with "love" in the title. What else would you expect?

I know this is a minority opinion, but I love the fact that smart-ass rock jester Nick Lowe has turned into this rumpled country-soul balladeer. (Imagine Willie Nelson covering this song, or Waylon Jennings.) It makes me wonder what Ricky Nelson and Buddy Holly and Bobby Fuller might have got up to if they'd been lucky enough to age gracefully. Nick's been chronicling love and loss for so many years, he's got it down to a fine art. He may have started out his career 40 years ago parsing unrequited lust and spectacular bust-ups, but by now he's tightened his focus, devoting each song to a different tiny vector of emotion, smack in the middle of the mess we humans generally make of love.

How gently this song starts out, with a rueful arpeggio of horns, then Nick's restrained vocal, jumping to the high note of the first line, "That little white lie" (hear how he plays down the "leetle" -- aw, hon, it was just a little fib), then dropping an octave to land huskily on "you’ve been caught in." There's nothing like starting off on a diminished chord to signal heartbreak ahead. He may be using a second-person pronoun, but the ache in his voice makes it clear that "you" is "I." Gravely he notes, "Seems to be the last straw / Now there’s going to be an eruption." Everything's tilting off course between them, and apparently it's not just this one incident -- in verse two, he 'fesses up further ("That crack you made / Only half-joking / Has poured salt on a sore.") Raise your hand if you've ever smarted at a "half-joking" remark from someone who's supposed to love you. I love how this drops us right into the middle of their mess. The details don't even matter; fill in the blanks with whatever's on your own conscience.

Rhyme and meter are so muted, they've practically vanished; what he gives us instead is grinding chord shifts, a sidling tempo, and minimalist instrumentation -- an acoustic strum here, a wary bass line, gradually layering on a whisper of drums, punctuated by those heart-melting horns. He slides into that title phrase with a tremble of regret in his voice: "Love's got a lot to answer for," jumping up a fifth for the internal rhyme of "got a lot," then plummeting an octave to growl "to answer for." He's grown-up enough to stand there and face up to it -- he's not lashing back with blame or self-pity or revenge. He knows the score, but that doesn't make this hurt any less.

And then in the bridge, Nick -- god love 'im -- plunges deeper. After all, it's love that he's talking about, and these cracks in the surface matter. "It’s not the same as infatuation/It comes from deeper down / It won’t be played about with /It won’t be pushed around" -- note how he keeps pushing the key changes upward, tapping insistently on a single note for each line, swelling the volume intently. He wants to make it work, goddammit.

But it all breaks down with the downward arpeggio of the last line, "
I could have told you what’s in store," before sadly winding it up with (again) "Love’s got a lot to answer for." And it hurts all the more because it IS love. Nick's raising the stakes here, keeping love right where it should be -- at the center of our all-too-human quest for happiness. And who ever said love should come easy?

Love's Got A Lot To Answer For sample

8 comments:

Uncle E said...

The dude could fart in a can and I'd download it...

Mark said...

What a nice way to end the month! Well, okay, so the song is a bit of a downer, but I'm just happy to read about Nick Lowe. This is a truly great song, I love the "downward arpeggio" as Nick sings, "I could have told you what's in store." Just one of those little moments that send shivers up my spine.

Holly A Hughes said...

Well, Unc, there's an image I won't soon forget...try as I might...

I'm still trying to recall what song that bridge reminds me of. Something old, like the Righteous Brothers or Roy Orbison -- it's been tickling my brain all evening. But you're right, Mark, that arpeggio line cuts to the heart. That's the same arpeggio that the horns keep lacing through the song, but you don't hear it in the vocal melody until this moment -- I think that's part of the shiver of recognition. God is in the details.

Betty C. said...

Hmmm, I haven't kept up with the great Nick, but is it any surprise to you he used to be one of my favorites?

What do you think of this album? I almost Amazon one-clicked it -- I love the title and the cover -- but thought I'd ask for your opinion first.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful piece, Holly! You nailed the essence of the tune. Nick has got those bridge parts down to a perfect science. Reminds me of "Bygones Won't Go" when the tension builds "And I sang the song of the poets, that describe the way I feel, but they were only make believe, this one's all too real". It's like he's finally found the truth! Or from "I'm A Mess" - "the smart set, I used to run around with are invisible now, they all cut me loose, when one said that what I've got might just rub off on them somehow - I'm a mess.."
Those bridges just kill me - and I look forward to hearing more!
Spencer

Holly A Hughes said...

Oh, so true, Spencer -- and that "they all cut me loose" line is so damn plangent.

Betty, I love this album, love it to death, and I highly recommend. Just be prepared, if it's been a while since you heard any Nick Lowe, it's the "new" Nick, which is to say an older and wiser artist -- he's traded in the sound of breaking glass for sitting by the fireside with a good book. But then, haven't we all?

Betty C. said...

Well, I suppose yes, in some ways...

OK, I'll get the album. Thanks for hte recommendation.

Betty C. said...

the