There’s a resilient cheerfulness here, a very British refusal to take things seriously.
Chris Roberts 2011
Whereas some singers resist the ageing process as if their careers depend on it – and in many cases they do – others embrace it, turn it to their advantage, and reinvent themselves as sage veterans, delivering wisdom and pathos in every world-weary line. The final Johnny Cash records did this best, but several senior crooners have tried since, with varying levels of conviction and success, from Neil Diamond to Tom Jones. Somewhat frighteningly, the punk generation appears now to be adopting this approach. Nick Lowe made his name with albums like Jesus of Cool and Labour of Lust as a new-wave songwriter’s songwriter, a less-marketable version of friend-ally Elvis Costello. On his first release since 2007’s At My Age, he’s languid and laid-back, offering lines like, in Checkout Time, "I’m 61 years old now / Lord I never thought I’d see 30".
He chooses that most conservative of genres – the subtly-styled country ballad – to underscore his pithy observations here. Most songs deal in gentle metaphors or pragmatic truths regarding mortality; but there’s an inherent, resilient cheerfulness in Lowe’s persona – a very British refusal to take things too seriously – which means it’s all winks and nods rather than tears and traumas. This may prove frustrating to some, encapsulating why he’s perceived as a minor talent – a "good bloke" – rather than a blazing genius, but to diehards it is precisely what makes him great. On much of The Old Magic, he’s Richard Hawley unplugged.
A cover of Costello’s The Poisoned Rose is darker, but generally Lowe soldiers on with the stoicism of those to whom self-pity is anathema. Sensitive Man is a dated romp, but Restless Feeling merges doo-wop and some Fred Neil techniques to fine effect. If I Read a Lot recalls Don’t Get Around Much Any More, made famous by The Ink Spots, it’s Nat King Cole who most frequently comes to mind, Lowe’s voice now almost a facsimile of those soft, sensuous tones. For all the surely deliberate fleeting echoes of George Jones, Jim Reeves or even Bing Crosby, it’s Cole he most resembles. High praise, indeed.