Nick Lowe: “Quiet Please: The New Best of…”

quiet-please

More than almost any other long-time rock and roller still making music, Nick Lowe is a potrait of what it means to age gracefully. Though he’s gradually shifted from the old-timey rock and roll and punkish New Wave that were his calling card in the 1970s to a warm, lived-in brand of laid-back country-rock and R&B, he hasn’t lost a bit of his charm, his impish humor, his wit, or his keen sense of craft; in fact, the seeds of his current sound have been there from the start, going all the way back to his start as a pub rock pioneer in Brinsley Schwartz as well as his stint in Rockpile, where he was less the angry young man of many of his New Wave peers and more a big-hearted pop songsmith, as much interested in warmth and emotional candor as snarky wit and tongue-in-cheek atitude. In other words, Lowe’s latter-day renaissance as one of rock’s elder statesmen is less a sudden tranformation than a natural evolution, a case that is marvelously laid out on the wonderful, career-spanning retrospective, Quiet Now: The New Best of Nick Lowe.

Indeed, the selections here– all hand-selected by Lowe– seem chosen with an almost narrative arc in mind, showing the steady maturation and expansion of his sound, from roots-rocker to laid-back crooner. As such, the scope of his early material is somewhat limited– there aren’t as many rock and roll numbers here as there were on his previous best-of, Basher— and the collection pays as much attention to his latter-day material as the work he did at the peak of his popularity, a rarity among compilations like this one. And it’s very much to the collection’s advantage; the second disc, drawing from his more recent material, is actually more consistently brilliant than the first disc, probably because it draws from his four most consistent records: charming, immaculately crafted, warm and witty records The Impossible Bird— which is, in many ways, his finest album– as well as Dig My Mood, The Convincer, and his most recent recording, 2007’s wonderful and wry At My Age.

But of course, the first disc is no slouch either, picking up with the demise of Brinsley Schwartz and picking highlights from his early studio records, drawing heavily from his twin classics Jesus of Cool and Labour of Lust. There’s not a bad song in the bunch, of course– the closest thing to a dud is his slowed-down take on “Heart,” a song that sounded much better when Billy Bremmer sang it on the lone Rockpile album– and the collection even serves up a couple of choice non-LP cuts, which are hard to come by unless you were lucky enough to snag the original vinyl singles. It adds up to be an essential collection for exploring the rich catalog of one of rock’s greatest craftsmen, a man whose records are nothing is not seductive, as demonstrated by this compulsively listenable set.

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