Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Lowe
The Impossible Bird
Nick Lowe
Upstart Records

Every decade or so, Nick Lowe suffers through a breakup and emerges the better for it--less a survivor who lived to tell the tale, more a loser left to pick up the pieces and beg for forgiveness. A decade ago, as he endured his bust-up with Carlene Carter, the Basher regrouped with Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, his most musically adventurous collection that transcended his own pure pop for now people; ranging from classic-styled pop to Tex-Mex to roots-country, it hinted at ambition far afield from pub-pop and Hiatt-Costello-Parker experiments in pun. Lowe, who recently became one of two of a kind once more, is revitalized through heartbreak--this time, though, as a complete songwriter who no longer shields himself with irony and wit, but who reveals himself as a total package and, in the process, a total wreck. With the help of former Commander Cody guitarist Bill Kirchen, Lowe has created an album that provides few hiding places: it's sparse and haunting where he once sought to create frothy, catchy tunes, and even the swinging songs now buckle underneath a darker shadow.

When he admits to "The Beast in Me" (which Johnny Cash covered on American Recordings), Lowe isn't apologizing for the monster but accepting his presence, hoping somehow to reconcile the sinner and saint within us all. "Sometimes it tries to kid me it's just a teddy bear or somehow manage to vanish in the air," Lowe sings, "and that's when I must beware the beast in me." But where Cash's "Beast" was a dark, vile monster lurking just underneath the surface, Lowe's creation seems somehow more compassionate--as much a victim as a perpetrator.

He equates love with a drug habit, and he's the addict in need of a fix trying unsuccessfully to kick the jones. He's the "Drive-Thru Man" picking up his things and moving on; he's the cowardly warrior who met love on a battlefield and returned home hollow and shell-shocked; he's the hopeful romantic singing sweet love songs, extending blissful promises to a "supernatural girl." And, as always, Lowe is the unrepentant rogue who, at the end, tells his love that if she's gonna love him, she'd better do it now because, dammit, he's got things to do.

--Robert Wilonsky


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