CRUEL TO BE KIND by Will Birch


The Life and Music of Nick Lowe
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Solid, occasionally hagiographic life of the British musician who helped pub rock evolve into punk, New Wave, and beyond.

Nick Lowe (b. 1949), writes Mojo contributor and musician Birch, is “simply peerless,” a musician’s musician whose songs have been recorded by the likes of Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, and Rod Stewart. He is also an international man of mystery and renowned toper who, while now calmed down at age 70, would put the fear in Keith Richards for powers of consumption. The author recounts Lowe’s musical evolution from “beat group” to pub rock, the latter of which was a more energetic answer to America’s singer/songwriter wave of the early 1970s, born with the rise of bands like Kippington Lodge, which, though they “simply lacked teen appeal,” put Lowe at center stage as singer, songwriter, and bassist. An encounter with fellow musician Brinsley Schwarz sealed the deal. Their live debut was unimpressive, writes Birch, opening for Van Morrison; watching him onstage, Lowe recalls, “I had a mounting sense of dread that we’d made a terrible mistake.” They got better, launching a musical movement that fed directly into the punk ethos of a few years later. After Costello recorded his “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” Lowe came under increasing demand as a songwriter, boasting that he could write for anyone—the Clash, the Jam, Tin Pan Alley; he also began to produce while playing live with Dave Edmunds, Carlene Carter, Ry Cooder, and others. The question, asked and answered, as to why Lowe isn’t more famous is a little obvious; there are and have always been many journeymen musicians who provide rock-solid support without ever making the headlines. But though he tends to be a touch worshipful, Birch makes clear that Lowe’s contributions to pop music have been many and mighty—and certainly worthy of celebration with a biography.

If unlikely to bring new fans into the fold, sure to please old-time admirers of an essential rocker.

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-306-92195-7
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Da Capo
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2019


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