LLOYD COLE; ROBERT FORSTER and GRANT McLENNAN. Cult singer-songwriters in a rock and roll environment. The Acadamy, 234 W. 43rd St., Manhattan; Saturday, Dec. 21.

AT THE START of this show Lloyd Cole, an Englishman who made his name fronting a Scottish band, claimed New York as “my town, my people.” Cole has been living in Manhattan for three years, and seems like a natural addition to the city’s long line of poetic singer-songwriters; certainly the rapt crowd, a distinctly untrendy mix of astute music fans and happy young couples, treated Cole as a homecoming hero.

When he first emerged in the mid 1980s, his group the Commotions shared a young rock audience with the Smiths (both acts dropped literary references into their lyrics and were backed by an infectious chorus of jangling guitars). Then he was considered a commercial entity; now Lloyd Cole personifies the cult musician, rarely denting any charts but selling enough albums to put many singles-based artists to shame.

Cole’s songs are brooding, subtle tales of cheating lovers and late-night drinking of a more intellectual nature than most pop music; in other words, they are difficult to translate live. Backed by a competent four-piece band including former Lou Reed guitarist Robert Quine, Cole proved himself to be a natural raconteur and excellent singer, his rich voice carrying a smoky grain and reaching out far beyond his instrumental backing. In his more staightfoward new songs (“To the Lions,” “Weeping Wine”), this made for easy, pleasing performances; in more complex material, like “Butterfly,” where he is backed on record by a full orchestra, it was not enough to elevate the show above the average.

Nonetheless, drawing on material from throughout his career, Cole demonstrated just how many excellent songs he has written. In 10 years, he will probably be recognized for it; for now, he seems genuinely comfortable with his position somewhere between the unknown and the mainstream.

Perhaps as a reminder of how uncelebrated genuine talent can be, Cole’s opening act was Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, both of whom released solo albums this year but are better known, if such a term can be used, as the creative force behind Australia’s The Go-Betweens. After six albums of magnificent melancholia and not a hint of commercial success, The Go-Betweens split; this acoustic pairing, which ran through some of the group’s better-known numbers and one or two from their own solo albums, showed that it was not due to musical differences. Many of the audience had arrived early to catch this performance; to paraphrase Lloyd Cole, the moral of this story is that however much of a failure you might seem, someone out there loves you.

Publication: Newsday (New York)

Publication date: 26/12/91