Rock musicians typically don’t know how to age. The first time they see a shock of grey in their styled-to-look-mussed-up hair, they either double down on their denial and make music that proves they “still got it,” or go off the “reinvent myself” deep end. Which just adds to the pure pleasure of listening to Nick Lowe in the 21st century. With The Old Magic, the 62-year-old pub rock/new wave legend gives us his third straight offering of gently smirking tunes about loving, losing, and getting older all the while. It’s beautifully written material from an artist who’s comfortable in his own wrinkled skin, and a production that keeps its genre jumping to a minimum – relying mostly on soft vocal jazz arrangements and sprightly Buddy Holly shuffles to support Lowe’s curious, cooing voice. Because when you’ve got metaphors for failed love that are as wonderful as “Stoplight Roses,” you don’t need much else.
Stevie Wonder – In Square Circle (1985)
In my younger, stupider days, I would say things like “NOTHING good came out of the ’80s,” accompanied by the requisite eye-roll. I don’t like to think about me being an ignorant dick, but albums like In Square Circle demand this kind of personal reflection. Stevie Wonder fully embraced the synthetic production values of the decade here, something that would’ve once inspired my passive-aggressive scorn. Thankfully, now I actually listen to albums before judging them, and while Wonder’s 20th record doesn’t possess the warmth and grandiosity of his ’70s earth-shakers, it’s darn close to a pop masterpiece. Two jaw-dropping ballads are the biggest highlights – the scorned-lover-as-missing-person weeper “Whereabouts” and the classic unrequited love song “Overjoyed” – but the minor synth groove of “Part-Time Lover” and the staccato, drum machine funk of “Spiritual Walkers” are also fantastic listens, despite sounding very much like they were recorded in 1985.
Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (2011)
Lykke Li made her first splash with the 2007 single “Little Bit,” a simple declaration of love that stayed with you, no matter how silly it looked on paper. And the singer continues to explore the same chilly neo-soul territory on her second album, digging deeper into her vocabulary to express love and devotion. Wounded Rhymes does possess the ruminative quality implied by the title, but it’s in the atmospherics more than the songs themselves, resulting in an album that sounds like Portishead after a fruitful therapy session. “I Know Places” is six-minutes of lo-fi folk strumming, an instrumental track that just might be coma-inducing – if it weren’t for Lykke Li’s light, bluesy vocal. When she sings, “I know places we can go, babe/Comin’ home, come unfold, babe,” the song goes from a slog to a spiritual.