Nick Lowe – “Cruel to Be Kind” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Joanna Landrum

Joanna holds a BSc in English Literature and uses her expertise in literary analysis to uncover the deeper meaning of her favorite songs.

Lowe’s catchy track gives us a snapshot of a complex relationship where love and frustration intertwine. It’s a song that speaks of love’s contradictions and suggests that sometimes, challenging our loved ones is the most caring thing we can do. Through it, Lowe grapples with understanding love’s boundaries and challenges, painting a relatable picture of romantic tensions.

Ever been in a love-hate relationship? Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind” could be your anthem. Let’s unpack this classic.


“Cruel to Be Kind” Lyrics Meaning

Opening with “It’s understood, I said it many ways,” Lowe reveals a communication barrier in the relationship. He’s tried to express himself, but feels misunderstood. The conflicting emotions of wanting to leave yet staying, perhaps out of loyalty or fear, are evident in “I said I’d leave, I can never leave her”. Lowe starts by highlighting the dichotomy in relationships with lines like “Too scared to run, I’m just scared to stay.” This feeling of being stuck, not out of necessity but out of a conflicted heart, sets the tone for the song. Love can often feel like a push and pull, and Lowe captures this perfectly.

In “But this I ask, it’s what I wanna know, How would you feel, if I should choose to go?”, Lowe is seeking validation, needing to know his worth in the relationship. It’s a vulnerable admission, wanting assurance of his significance to his partner.

“She’s a dove, she’s a fuckin’ nightmare” is perhaps one of the most vivid lines, describing the unpredictable nature of the woman he’s in love with. Love can be tender and gentle (like a dove) but can also bring out the most challenging aspects of a relationship (nightmare).

Lowe’s assertion that “I need a girl that I can train” is a loaded statement. It might speak to the desire for a simpler relationship, but it could also reflect the societal expectations of the time, where men might have felt pressure to be in control. This sentiment contrasts sharply with the independent spirit of the woman he portrays, showing the tension between them.

Lastly, the chorus’s echo from his father’s advice, “You haven’t got a chance now,” is more than just a catchy repeat. It gives a sense of inevitability, suggesting that the relationship is doomed from the start, or at least perceived that way from external viewpoints.

The Story Behind “Cruel to Be Kind”

“Cruel to Be Kind” is a signature track from Nick Lowe, released in 1979. During the late ’70s, the music scene was evolving, with punk rock and new wave emerging. Amidst this shift, artists like Lowe explored deeper emotional territories. While the song title suggests one thing, the lyrics are a rich tapestry of emotional complexity.

It’s worth noting that during this period, Lowe had personal ups and downs. The late ’70s were filled with significant events for him, including collaborations, the launch of his solo career, and personal relationships. It’s possible the song drew inspiration from his own experiences or observations of relationships around him.

“Cruel to Be Kind” reflects a universal theme – the challenges and intricacies of romantic relationships. Love is multifaceted, and often, what appears as cruelty might be an act of kindness, and vice versa.

By blending upbeat melodies with contemplative lyrics, Lowe masterfully showcased the juxtapositions inherent in love. The song remains a timeless exploration of love’s contradictions, reminding listeners that relationships are rarely black and white, but rather shades of gray.