When is the last time you heard music from a certain, hyper-literate, prolific, longtime great, British singer-songwriter? No, I dont mean Elvis Costello. Even within the fickle, ever-changing pop scene, its still difficult to understand how some artists fall through the cracks. With the release of his new Broken Record, Lloyd Cole epitomizes this quandary as he delivers yet another quality set of moody, polished pop-craft.
Once a leader of the Commotions way back in the 80s, Cole has since transplanted himself to Massachusetts, having gone solo as early as 1990. In the meantime to the tune of little fanfare, hes amassed a large body of witty, slightly cynical, but always subtly romantic records.
He leads off the new collection with the title track, a jaded sigh of self-deprecation if there ever was one. Check out the opening couplet, Not that I had that much dignity left anyway / Nor could I feign great surprise when she finally walked away / Yesterdays lover will fall for another / And I wont stand in her way. Sip a glass of wine and remember the last time you screwed up and lost that one. Cole commiserates, but with a sly twinkle in his voice.
Coles Commotions once specialized in jangly guitar-pop, but now nearing 50 years old, he has added a sweet country tinge to this collection. Mandolin and slide guitar color his wry observations now, and it suits him. Though a contemporary of Englands the Smiths in both their heydays, Cole was always more influenced by North American songwriters such as Dylan and Leonard Cohen. He shares their wit, lyrical precision, and strong sense of melancholynot to mention acid sense of humor. Put it this wayhe named his most recent records Antidepressant and Music in a Foreign Language, and perfected that blackly comic touch.
Writers Retreat, a should-be hit single, revels in quicksilver puns as Cole documents both writers block and the end of an affair behind spiraling guitar arpeggios. In one of his longstanding traditions, he even alludes to Rod Stewarts classic You Wear It Well in the second verse for just the romp of it all. He has name-checked icons in song, film, and literature from the start; you can go back to his debut Rattlesnakes in 1984 and find allusions to Eva Marie Saint and Norman Mailer, and many others along the way.
Cole is accompanied here by Blair Cowan, an ex-Commotion, on keyboards and also co-writes Guinevere with him. Fred Maher, Lou Reeds ex-drummer and a producer as well, plays percussion, while Joan (As Police Woman) Wassers harmony vocals provide tender counterpoint to Coles arch baritone.
Its interesting to compare Cole with Elvis Costello, once his peer and with whom he shares so much in some ways. Why is Costello known worldwide while Cole still plays at small clubs and on indie labels? Its clear that Costellos large-scale ambition across multi-genres helps him, but Cole has always seemed satisfied to play the lone outsider who drops off a small gift of songs every few years. I would argue, though, that Coles records are much more consistent quality-wise than Costellos more frequent, scattershot deliveries.
Broken Record embodies Coles talents as well as any other record does in his long career. From the country lilt of Rhinestones to the slow, silky vibe of The Flipside, he shines throughout the set. Heres hoping Lloyd Cole continues to ride out middle age on his own stylish terms.
Publication date: 07/12/10