LLOYD COLE, once responsible for pretty-boy pop songs like Perfect Skin and Brand New Friend, has gone serious. The former lead-singer of the clean-cut Commotions, prime movers in the early Eighties Scotrock scene, has just released a brooding, ”grown-up” solo album, called, er, Lloyd Cole: ”This record is a lot more first-person than the previous ones. These songs have got beards.”

As if to reinforce the point, Cole has one too, although he inevitably puts his own stubble down to indolence rather than image: ”I frankly look better if I have a shave, but I can’t be bothered any more.” His face, ”symbolically” crossed out, glowers from this otherwise likeable album, which features songs like ”Undress”: ”You look so good when you’re depressed.” He has even been photographed smouldering in black leather on a motorbike.

Cole was for many years associated with Glasgow, although he isn’t Scottish. (No matter what it says in the Penguin Encyclopaedia of Popular Music, he was born in the distinctly un-Celtic town of Chapel-On-Le-Frith, Derbyshire.) He studied literature at Glasgow University, where he met keyboard player, Blair Cowan, in 1982, and they went on to form the Commotions. But, after three successful albums, the pressure from eager Glaswegians became too much: ”They are extremely charming people – they come up to you and say ‘howya doin’, big man?’ But if you’ve only got half an hour to go shopping, it can be problem.” He was sent to New York to promote Mainstream, the Commotions’ final album, and just stayed: ”It was a free ticket.”

The Commotions drifted apart after a concert at ”an Italian natural outdoor arena – a hideous concept to end on”, and Cole started putting together a Big Apple band. He soon met Fred Maher, a drummer invariably dubbed ”legendary”, who had co-produced the album with which Lou Reed returned to form, New York.

Cole then recruited Robert Quine, formerly guitarist with one of the finest-named proto-punk outfits, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and bassist Matthew Sweet from The Golden Palominos. Much was expected of this combination (with its supergroup overtones), especially when they played a secret gig under the self-effacing pseudonym of The Bob Dylan Band (well, Cole had learnt to play the harmonica and they covered Dylan’s ”She Belongs To Me”.)

Embarking on the album, the singer-songwriter was determined to shed the wordsmith’s reputation he gained on the many Commotions tracks overflowing with references to Joan Didion, Truman Capote, Raymond Carver, even Eve-Marie Saint. ”I consciously work against that these days. I wrote ”Patience” and ”Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?” from the Commotions’ first LP, Rattlesnakes when I was still at university. That album came out of studying language. On Easy Pieces the second album , it got clogged-up; I thought it was possible to cram a short story into a three-minute song. Now I know that by writing less you end up saying more.” Perhaps significantly, the singer’s latest single, ”No Blue Skies”, warns ”Baby, you’re too well-read; baby, you’re too well-spoken”.

Cole is taking his ”bearded”, simpler sound on a world tour, but it will be short and sweet, ”not the Bruce Springsteen approach”. Although he complains about the need to take ”intravenous vitamins” while on the road, Cole is already planning another album in November, and, audaciously, is pitching to produce the next Bob Dylan album (he has named a band after him.) So no thoughts of an early retirement to a Rest Home for Brooding Band-leaders? ”All rock stars say, ‘I hope I die before I’m 25’. I’m 29 already, so it’s a bit too late.”

”Lloyd Cole” is now available on Polydor.

Lloyd Cole is appearing at the Nottingham Royal Centre, tonight; the Hamersmith Odeon, 27 & 28 Feb; Norwich, UEA, 1 Mar; Liverpool Empire, 2 Mar; Portsmouth Guildhall, 4 Mar; Brighton Dome, 5 Mar & Birmingham Hippodrome, 6 Mar.

Publication: The Independent (London)

Publication date: 25/02/90