Trashing a former wise ass is no fun, especially when the rock and roll plains are strewn with the corpses of ironists who renounced their winning ways for a notion of sincerity that doesn't reckon with the rhythms of biology: a calcifying body needs constant amusement. Senescence without wit is suicide. Nick Lowe won a few admirers for a trio of sincere roots-rock albums released after 1990's Party of One, a half-sincere attempt at roots-rock. The tune most adduced by critics as a sign that the songwriter responsible for "Marie Prevost" and "(I Love The Sound Of) Breaking Glass" still functioned contained a leaden Rick Astley joke. As for The Impossible Bird and Dig My Mood, I only heard them last year, nodded politely, and filed them in my archives. Since I never had much invested in Lowe anyway – he who lives by pub-rock shall die by pub-rock – I didn't begrudge him making inoffensive albums brokered by the most generous thing that Whitney Houston's ever been responsible for, even if it was unintentional.
It would be easy to claim that At My Age is Lowe's "Love & Theft" – the guy was due, right? Features like this hint that a Lowe revival is in the works (if so, let's hope that those long out-of-print eighties album you can find easily in used record stores get remastered). But At My Age got more in common with Modern Times; it's droll and crinkly, with Lowe sounding confident and a backing band to match. Lowe's persona, however, is too self-effacing, his attention span too short, to transform homespun Farfisa-fueled ditties into anything other than good-to-excellent pub-rock; he has no patience for myth anyway. Ah, but girls – girls inspire him. "I Trained Her To Love Me" and "Rome Wasn't Built In a Day" are sharp, shapely, and tuneful enough to hope that Bryan Ferry gets around to applying his own considerable persona to songwriting again.
Ambition ill-suits Lowe anyway, and he was quick to make fun of others for being conscious strivers (for all his Americana leanings, this attitude towards ambition revealed his innate Englishness). That's why "(I Love The Sound Of) Breaking Glass" remains not just the funniest, truest Bowie parody ever recorded, but an excellent dismissal of the social value of alienation. Not to mention the aesthetic value. A listen to those eighties records suggests that Lowe took his own avowals too seriously (Nick the Knife excepted, my favorite Lowe). He confused facility with ease. At My Age is a step towards negotiating a truce between the two. Maybe hooking up with some hotshot guitar slinger – Charlie Sexton, Brad Paisley [!] – would show him how. Youthful facility, meet aging ease.