Lloyd Cole’s latest disc begins with the soft-voiced title track, “Music in a Foreign Language,” and the lines “I am cold, distant, increasingly resistant to your smile/ This I don’t deny/ You are bold, beautiful, I’m always going to be in love with you.”

Is this a relationship in conflict or one headed toward inevitable decay? Cole, 43, married with two children, says his wife heard it and asked why he didn’t just call it “Today I Hate You.”

“You can read into it what you want,” singer-songwriter-guitarist Cole says, from a Philadelphia tour stop. “I try to write simple, malleable songs. In this, I’m thinking that people have relationships that grow and they can’t possibly grow in parallel, perfectly. People evolve in different ways. For people to grow in a marriage – or what have you – is [for them] to be more or less interested in different things is normal. It’s not conveying an inevitable sense of decay.”

Cole, who once fronted a band called the Commotions, is pretty comfortable in a hushed, spare, chamber-pop sort of setting. Truth be told, the Commotions, a Glaswegian band that formed in the early 1980s and broke up in 1989, wasn’t that raucous, either. But Cole has cut away any excess, a result he attributes to touring by himself for the past five years and liking the sound and the format.

Those are concepts he brought to “Music in a Foreign Language.” “I’d never written songs to be accompanied by just one guitar,” he says, “never had that ambition. But if a song has a statement, it can be astonishing how they stand up despite my amateurish guitar playing. In concert, I may forget the words two or three times, and it really doesn’t make any difference. Actually, if I haven’t made a mistake halfway through, I get tense.”

This new, introspective music, released on Bjork’s Little Indian label, may be the most gut-wrenching music of his career. “It’s a collection of songs,” he says, “and I guess there’s a half a dozen out of the 10 where I don’t have a silver lining or the irony a lot of my songs used to have. I was a little worried about that, a little frightened. I couldn’t just say, ‘Oh, it’s just a song, just joking.’ And I very rarely use metaphors. When I sing about waking up and not knowing what happened the night before, I’m talking about waking up and not knowing what happened the night before.”

The album, Cole says, has to do with being “older and not necessarily feeling happy about where I was in my life always. And it’s not necessarily about me at all times. But a particularly bad day will enable you to write about something you haven’t written before, tap in to your emotional memory . . . being middle aged, knowing you’re not young, being married, looking after children. It’s not soul-destroying, but it’s hard work. Not many people are writing about the unromantic side of love and life, and I wanted to try and do that.” There is, truly, beauty in some of the bleakness.

“Language” has one cover song, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’s “People Ain’t No Good.” “I started singing it four years ago,” says Cole. “I wanted to make a CD that had the intimacy and smallness of the live show and that song had been a staple of the live show. I like to sing it, and I enjoy covering songs that deal with things that I don’t deal with. [Cave] likes to paint the big picture and make universal statements. My songs are generally scenarios. What I love about him in that song is what he manages to do is to say ‘I am no good.’ “

Publication: Boston Globe

Publication date: 13/05/04