Whenever Lloyd Cole releases an album (which can never be frequent enough) it is usually in stealth mode. Not that the bells and whistles of front-page advertising, TV slots, and swooning press agents wouldn’t help the cause of shifting more units – of course they would – but Cole’s place has always been more niche, than music for the masses. Besides, any media circus would belittle what Cole has always been about. For the last 20+ years (initially with the Commotions, but more recently solo, or with The Negatives) he has been producing top calibre singer-songwriter tunes that are simply too good to disturb the instant dis-karma of the ultra-disposable top 40.

Maybe you recall his ‘Rattlesnakes’ debut from 1984, the superb ‘Love Story’ 11 years later, or ‘Music In A Foreign Language’ which was his last outing in 2003. Perhaps he’s a name in the back of your mind, but the UK born, US living folkster hasn’t quite made it into your CD collection yet. If so, then it’s now time to change that, as this newie is close to perfect.

The image of “The Young Idealists” who were “trading in futures we believed in” but evolved into family life with people-mover, is a bittersweet retrospective on how it might have been. Pointed, cynical, but somehow warm – and all in two and a half minutes of gorgeously strummed rhythm. The same sort of strong images on “Woman In A Bar”. Deft sketches of real people that need no video to enhance the pictures.

For the quintessential Cole, then “NYC Sunshine” is him at his best. Lazy guitar, that leads into a wonderfully melodic chorus to catch you unawares. Musically it’s a dream, but he also shows similar contrasting observations as the equally wonderful Kirsty MacColl noticed when “Walking Down Madison” 15 years ago. Highs and lows of life and fortune, in just a few feet. Wandering the streets filled with the junkies and millionaires, and yet still finding your own solace.

His musical credibility has never been in question, especially as behind the easy tunefulness, are lyrics that prickle. The title track is a real breeze, but it’s soon apparent that it is from an assisted perspective, as “with my medication, I’ll be fine”. Yet in common with many an accomplished writer, the words are rarely so obvious to be one-sided, including enough latitude to weave in your own interpretations. “Head still spinning / looking for algorithm” is both simple and intelligent. That’s from “I Didn’t See It Coming” which also manages to be deceptively delicate in the way it packs a punch.

Although most of this CD is wonderfully subdued, “Everysong” raises the tempo without losing the mood. “Travelling Light” also kicks in a breezy Americana foot-tapper. But it’s where he drifts into moody reflection that he shines brightest. The final “Rolodex Incident” has a positively hypnotic piano line and speaks volumes, in hardly any words at all. He covers death in at least a couple of tracks, loss, and betrayal probably too, but this is an album to poignantly nag at the senses, not crush the human spirit.

An imperfect croon and detached cool disguise his natural pedigree. He has been compared to Lou Reed, and there’s Neil Young in his style too (though thankfully without the vocal squeak) but Lloyd Cole is unlikely to reach the same dizzy heights of artistic popularity. He won’t be filling the stadiums anytime soon, though maybe that’s just as well. Perhaps there’s strange contentment in his commercial obscurity, even if this album outshines most things you’ll hear this year.

Publication: Online

Publication date: 09/10/06