A Pile of Pop

The Convincer (Yep Roc Records)
Nick Lowe

By James Conway

You have to give Nick Lowe some credit for not resting on his artistic laurels, so to speak. From the pub rock of Brinsley Schwartz, the pure pop of the Labor of Lust LP, the roots rock of Rockpile, and the rockabilly of 1994's The Impossible Bird, Lowe has morphed through more stylistic changes and critical kudos than anyone this side of Todd Rundgren.

Which makes it difficult to figure how such a respected figure could make such a seemingly tasteful collection of sensitive ballads like The Convincer, and all the while being in dire need of a major vigor transfusion? Upon initial listening, one has trouble putting a finger on the problem. What presents itself on the surface is a highly crafted, lovingly produced, standard-like pop with adult sensibilities and scaled-down instrumentation. Lowe has obviously produced this CD with an understated, less-is-best approach, where the songs stand or fall on their own merit.

But obviously when the instrumentation is less amplified, the vocals and lyrics must sell the song to the listener, which, to my ears, isn't happening on this album. The songs, although well crafted, tend to borrow too much from the Anglo-country pop of the late sixties, a la Bobby Goldsboro, Glen Campbell and Johnny Rivers.

Speaking of Rivers, Lowe does a crack version of "Poor Side of Town," which fits the regret-filled romance-gone-bad themes of The Convincer's original offerings. Clearly, "Lately I've Let Things Slide," which tells of a middle-aged man who is overwhelmed with the bitter irony of his useless existence since his woman left, is a winner. Also "Homewrecker," which provides a chilling look at a female who knows how to break up families (and frankly has no remorse), provide reassurance that Lowe can produce impeccable three-minute songwriting.

After these offerings, unfortunately, the pickings get quite slim. The Convincer is simply not convincing, and to be honest, Lowe is not at his strongest being a crooner, which is what he's trying to be on this, his 12th solo project. The longtime Lowe fan will probably suffer the urgent need to go sprinting to the old LP collection for 1978's Pure Pop for Now People, to get a fix of fresh, humorous pop masterpieces, sans the heartache of this outing.