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Will Birch

Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe

Published by Da Capo

Oct 07, 2019 Bookmark and Share

For the past 50 years, Nick Lowe has been a staple of British music, from his days in pub rock act Brinsley Schwarz through his illustrious solo career, not to mention a litany of production credits, perhaps most famously for Elvis Costello during his prime. Lowe’s contribution to the modern canon of British pop music is massive and his influence vast.

It is into this context that Will Birch, author, journalist and himself drummer and songwriter for groups Kursaal Flyers and the Records, presents Lowe’s life in full. Cruel to Be Kind is a remarkable book for both its scope and detail and also its engaging readability. One might think that a more than 400-page tome spanning over half a century would at some point bog down in minutiae. But while Birch’s text spares no detail, the book retains a sprightly pace and entertaining flow throughout.

Birch is first and foremost thorough. Every recording project and seemingly every tangential recording or production project of Lowe’s is detailed. All of the main players, and many of the lesser players, are interviewed and quoted herein. And most importantly, Lowe’s own voice is so liberally present that often one lapses into thinking he or she is reading an autobiography.

But Birch’s talent for storytelling is bar none, and Cruel to Be Kind is as captivating a biography as one will read. It is also notable that Birch saves the typical detailed generational family history for an appendix at the book’s end, which avoids the book stagnating before it ever gets off the ground. And anyone not terribly interested in Lowe’s great grandparents’ transcontinental history can simply reach the end of the text proper and close the book. All in all, Birch’s document of the life and music of Nick Lowe is everything any Nick Lowe fan could want.

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10


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