LLOYD COLE is sick of being a cult. He wants to go mainstream, like, er, Dire Straits. Can this be true?
“I’ve never written a song about life in rock n roll. Hopefully I’ll never write songs about rock n roll…”
I don’t think Lloyd Cole would know what rock n roll was if it came up and puked all over him. Officially, Lloyd Cole is 25 years old, but I suspect he’s lying and is in fact 125 years old. Whatever, the guy is definitely not a juvenile delinquent.
Does anyone have any dirt on Lloyd Cole? Is there a scrap of scandal with which to blackmail him? No, you never see Lloyd comatose with drink, you never see Lloyd honking up a fat line of cocaine; you don’t open The Sun or the Mirror’s pop pages and see photos of Lloyd peering down the cleavage of some underage model, or drunkenly giving Boy George a kiss; you don’t see Cole brawling outside restaurants. You don’t see him, period.
Lloyd keeps one of the lowest profiles in pop. He’s not as good at it as Kate Bush, but then he has a long was to go before he is Kate Bush: that indulged suburban genius. But Lloyd’s made a start. He disappeared, Bush-like for two years and expected us all to believe that the two years were spent writing, perfecting and recording the ‘Mainstream’ album.
The first teasing glimpse of post ’85 Cole was earlier this year on the ‘Last Resort’, Jonathan Ross’s trendy little amateur hour. Lloyd ambled on, blinking in the spotlight behind an enormous pair of reading glasses, and sang a song.
Next to the smarmy Ross, and in the context of Ross’s Club 18-30 ideas of entertainment, Cole oozed charm and sophistication. Apart from the glasses, Cole hadn’t changed a bit. He was still the sensitive soul thousands of women would like to mother to death. The song sounded dreadful, but then there wasn’t a Commotion in sight.
That Lloyd Cole is alive and not brain-damaged by his two year sojourn in pop’s wilderness is one of interest to British, Irish and Australian record buyers. Lloyd Cole & The Commotions don’t mean a light in the rest of the world.
Cole has always complained and was still complaining to me that, “I don’t want to be a cult artist. I don’t want people to talk about me In the same breath as The Mighty Lemon Drops …” .But he hasn’t done so badly out of that cult status.
If Lloyd Cole & The Commotions were just a hit machine who dried up, Polydor would have dropped them two years ago instead of letting them ‘disappear’ for two years in order to create a third album.
Polydor know, if Lloyd pretends he doesn’t, that the Lloyd Cole cult is a good investment. Today, Blighty, tomorrow, the test of the b*st*tds.
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions are hardly Iggy Pop & The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, or The Cramps. Their music is in no way offensive, if anything it’s remarkably clean.
Early in ’84, the bum-fluffed Lloyd Cole burst onto the airways with ‘Perfect Skin’. It was an above average single with a ‘6Os guitar feel which, as with The Pretenders singles, triggered a necessary nostalgia in ‘8Os record buyers bored of synthesiser-overkill.
But it was the lyrics which grabbed the attention: “She’s got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin / and she’s sexually enlightened by Cosmopolitan … “. I mean, what the heck? A bit different from the standard fare of I’m-going-to-f-you-till-your-face-turns-blue or, worse, Help-my-baby’s-left-me. Clearly, pop was dealing either with a tight tongue in cheek merchant or a genuinely sensitive soul.
The album ‘Rattlesnakes’, released in October ’84 revealed that Lloyd was indeed a sensitive soul. An artist who could combine melodic pop with the Introspection of a novelist’s imagination without ending up a prize asshole.
Of course, it had been done before, principally by Bob Dylan in his vintage ’65/6 period. But there’s only so many times you can play ‘Blonde On Blonde’ and lament the fact that Dylan didn’t get wasted in that motorcycle accident; and besides, most of the fans of ‘Rattlesnakes’ were too young to care a toss about Bob Dylan. No, ‘8Os bed-sitters had their own matinée Idol in Lloyd Cole:
“One can but try to be a songwriter, and If you’re adopted, you can’t stop them adopting you. I used to live in a bed-sit and I would probably resent it if somebody like me turned round and rejected them as a group of people…”
Lloyd Cole has to live with the millstone of ‘Rattlesnakes’ for the rest of his life. It was a precocious, literary album designed to shake pop out of its moronic complacency and return it to the heady days when what pop stars thought, wrote and recorded was nearly as significant as the deep meanderings of novelists and film directors
Lloyd littered the album with literary references: Simone de Beauvoir, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote. The cult of Lloyd, in the press anyway, became the cult of the popstar who reads! But for cultist fans it was Lloyd’s unashamed sense of romance that attracted a sense of fervent loyalty.
Now, Lloyd laughs at his cast of characters off ‘Rattlesnakes’: “It’s like most of them live in that same basement flat. It’s very romanticised. I sort of quite like the ‘Born To Run’ album, and that is ridiculously romantic. The whole thing is like, ‘climb on this motorcycle babe, we’re going to quit this town because we’re born to run’. That was the kind of romantic view about 15 years before I wrote ‘Rattlesnakes’…
But Lloyd doesn’t find anything remotely amusing about ‘Easy Pieces’, the second Lloyd Cole & The Commotions album: “It strikes me that there’s some-thing really fresh on the first album which has been dragged onto the second album, and the freshness is not there and something to replace the freshness is not there either.
“Nobody could say it was a ‘bad’ album, but it’s just that we believe we’re a wonderful group and we shouldn’t be making okay albums. It’s a bit frustrating because we wanted to have a flawless career and we don’t have it now …
But ‘Easy Pieces’ spawned two major U.K. hits, ‘Brand New Friend’ and ‘Lost Weekend’. There’s nothing wrong with the album, apart from it not shifting the units Cole and Polydor would have liked it to do and making Lloyd Cole the darling of the mainstream in ’85 instead of ’87 as all concerned now believe the case will be.
No, ‘Easy Pieces’ is an embarrassment because it typecast Lloyd as a trendy troubadour; an artist trapped by interior vision, his cast of ‘Rattlesnakes’ characters were still going strong, but they were getting down the wine and whiskey bottles faster, leaving a burnt out taste in the mouth.
If Cole is so pissed off with his cult status, if he wants to reappear at aged 25 a wise old artist determined to “embrace the mainstream” and loved for his professionalism rather than his cute idiosyncrasy (i.e. as a sensitive soul who could write a brilliant lyric like, ‘Must you tell me all your secrets / when its hard enough to love you knowing nothing…’ from ‘Four Flights Up’ off ‘Rattlesnakes’), then he must forget all the bed-sit brood who wept along to his albums while their various lovers kicked them in the teeth and the world turned a darker shade of blue, and think about some faceless market that will think Lloyd Cole’s ‘Mainstream’ album sits well alongside Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Dire Straits.
“I think mainstream is where we should be, and I think The Smiths should have been there too. Dire Straits happen to be in the mainstream, but mainstream means Francis Ford Coppola as well.
“In certain art forms you can be in the mainstream and you can be the top man and utterly respected, and that is where I would like to be”.
Such is the thinking of a man who has yet to take the American market with any degree of seriousness. If he had, he would know that in America quality hasn’t meant a bat’s fart in years. Lloyd Cole honestly believes that artistic excellence in the form of his third, two-year effort of an album, will blow him into the region of the world super star market.
Those bands like The Beatles, Queen, Genesis, and, lately, U2 and Simple Minds, who manage to carve themselves a universal niche in consumer demand – a demand that transcends age, lifestyle and thought process. A demand fed by mainstream noise. Clearly, except for The Beatles, Lloyd Cole tries a bit too hard for perfection to ever be a bona fide mainstream export.
But there’s one thing Lloyd Cole has which most mega pop stars never have and if they do it’s because they had to spend years learning it, and that’s the ability to see his private life as entirely separate from his public life.
It’s a shock I know, but the events that happen in Lloyd Cole’s sentimental angst-ridden songs have little or nothing to do with him as a person. Unlike Bob Dylan, whose song ‘Positively 4th Street’ Lloyd has obviously overdosed on, Cole’s songwriting is not born of amphetamined anger or heart-broken misogyny. Songwriting is not an extension of Lloyd’s adventurous life.
Like a novelist, Lloyd is condemned to sit in the sanctum of his room and transform other people’s chaos and searching into art. Because Lloyd Cole is a songwriter and not a novelist, what he writes means more as public property. People identify with Lloyd’s scenarios. Actually believe this guy has been down in the gutter of love with the femme fatales and walked away weaker but wiser.
“I believe that you can always tell more about somebody when they’re telling a story about somebody else than when they’re actually talking about themselves. So I think there’s a lot about my character you can judge just by the language I use. Certainly, I feel I know an awful lot about Joan Didion or Raymond Carver by the way they write. . . “. Is this guy out to lunch?
He could definitely use a course in PR techniques. If you’re a John Lydon or a Morrisey, you can utilise the arrogance of your self-esteem to become a witty raconteur, deflecting the more outrageous statements about your worth in the cess pool of the pop industry by a) savaging everybody else’s efforts b) being consistently flippant about the music industry.
Not Lloyd Cole, who in all seriousness says things like: “We have to be content with being The Beatles at best, but that’s good enough…”.
Or: “The things that I was doing which were literary in people’s eyes, I think was just the fact that I had a penchant for using proper nouns. It’s nothing more than that – and quite a few similies…”.
Pop stars think it’s their god given right to blame the journalist when they appear in print sounding like a dizzball: journalists are scum, parasites, failed groupies, and should feel privileged to sit at the feet of kings.
Lloyd Cole waved a copy of NME in the air and protested that he’d been screwed by his entry in the ‘Big Mouth’ column – he was caught slagging Morrissey, a cardinal sin.
Then Lloyd played me this third album that has taken two years of blood, sweat and sand to make. It sounds, of course, just like the other two Lloyd Cole & The Commotions albums, which will please the Lloyd Cole cult who are meant to drop dead at this point to make way for disillusioned Dire Straits fans. Lloyd Cole asked me not to write about ‘Mainstream’, he didn’t think it was fair if I went on about it and then some poor record reviewer was left with nothing to say because I in my wisdom had said it all …
Publication: New Musical Express
Publication date: 26/09/1987