Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased tracks, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Midday Show with Cheryl Waters, is “Checkout Time” by Nick Lowe from his 2011 album, The Old Magic, on Yep Roc.
From pub rock to new wave to country rock, Nick Lowe has traversed the planes of pop and broke through the shackles of the hits that bind for a musician more than 40 years in the business. Trying his hand in a band until 1975 with Brinsley Schwarz and then Rockpile, which hasn’t seen accreditation as such until 1980 (look for Nick Lowe or Dave Edmunds); writing songs for Elvis Costello; producing for Dr. Feelgood, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello’s first five albums; the apparent Bowie connection; and launching influence in the unlikeliest places (e.g. Murfressboro, Tennessee with Those Darlins) is enough to say he’s an important figure in modern rock. Plus, hits like “Cruel to be Kind” (which is already stuck in your head like cement) or “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” (of Little Monsters fame) make for really great sidebars to an extensive career.
The past decade has been a demonstration of meticulous musicianship honoring quality over quantity, having released only two albums in that time: 2001’s The Convincer and 2007’s At My Age. For his latest album, Lowe wasn’t quite ready to discharge the tunes he’d been working on, partly due to his technique of playing songs to the point of unrecognizable as his own, like saying the same word over and over again, until he decided they’re ready for wax. And thanks to this, “Checkout Time” seems otherworldly coming from the man who brought us “Cruel to be Kind,” resonating a classic, timeless energy with a man who is totally self-aware. His lyrics “will i be beloved and celebrated for my master incline, or just another bum when it comes to checkout time?” might be an indication of what’s to come after old age — death — but seems to also be a metaphor for the singer/songwriter’s view on being a veteran in the industry, trying to outlive the hits that made him great and continue making it a career. But for all the pressure steeped on Lowe for the past few albums, he has never ceased to create inventive, thoughtful pieces of work worthy of classic stature.
Just last month he played Seattle at the Triple Door, and fortunately for us stopped by KEXP for a live session in our studio, which you can listen to on demand. Currently, he’s wrapping up the U.S. tour opening for Wilco and will be moving throughout Europe during 2012. For details on where Lowe will be, check out his tour dates here. And check out this oldie, of Nick Lowe performing “Cruel to be Kind” followed by an interview on David Letterman, taped around 1983: