He and his cohorts ought not to fit into today’s pop marketplace – a noisy, gaudy, last-gasp bazaar wherein sales stratagems, product-targeting and blind brand loyalty shout very loud and add up to very little – but there our own Lloyd Cole and the Commotions are, with two moderately successful singles and a rather more successful debut LP all inside the past six months.
They ought not to fit because they don’t want to be fitted-up into something that doesn’t suit, an inappropriate off-the-peg image, say, or the eager-to-please trap of feeling in debt to one’s fans, or to the play-now-pay-later rock tradition of the tour. ‘Tours make you 1ose sleep, grow spots and make you fail to get to the laundry.’
They feel out of place jumping through the same media hoops as Duran Duran or the Thompson Twins, feel uneasy with pop’s indiscriminate bulk-buying power, and feel uncomfortable with screaming audiences and being on the cover of teen-pop mags like Oh Boy! or Patches.
Yet there Lloyd is – on the TV pop mill, in magazines, in the music press – displaying the well-kent image of himself, which is to say darkly reserved, frowning, edgy, private, wearing no uniform, a little petulant.’An interview should provide insights, redeeming features, make you feel you could like the person whose records you buy,” says Lloyd. Why should you like Lloyd Cole? What lies behind the image of this person who says he doesn’t want an image? . What lies behind Lloyd Cole is pretty much what you see upfront: he’s a singularly serious pop person, intense, well-read, and literate.
None of these qualities is particularly new to pop but they mark him out at the moment in an industry run, it seems, from boardrooms by corporate entitles bent on extinguishing each odd spark of originality and assimilating every potentially disturbing musical trend. This business has packaging down to a fine art, has the conveyor belt under control, and seems totally uninterested in content.
Lloyd Cole and the Commotions currently find themselves being processed, ‘wheeled out as cardboard ‘cut-outs’ on an ever-hungry, never-greater number of media outlets.
On TV-am Lloyd finds himself presented with the fait accompli of being a stand-up comedian telling jokes about Andrew Ridgeley’s nose from someone elses script. In the newsagent’s Lloyd finds himself confronted by his own face on the cover of an unquestioning magazine: ‘No story, just the picture.”
Lloyd Cole’s deadpan, under- whelmed – daring in a small and cheeky way – response is. ‘I can’t see us being incredibly successful” or I don’t know if I want to sell records to these (teeny-bop/Duran Duran) people’ and ‘I’m demanding not to be treated in the way that pop stars are treated.”
This desire to be out of the pop sausage machine almost before he’s in it might smack of arrogance or snobbery. Maybe it is, too, but what it more importantly bespeaks – when regarded in the light of the understated achievement of the LP, ‘Rattlesnakes’ – is the emergence of a talent who seeks respect rather than adulation, one clever sausage who sees beyond the fat and the fire.
He hasn’t yet gained as much respect for his song writing as be deserves (‘because so few pop-songs stand up to literary analysis, people think that writing one is easy”) and yet he may not entirely deserve that which he has had so far (‘there is no competition at the moment’).
When Lloyd, says that one of pop’s major appeals is its possibility both for serious expression and total stupidity – and sometimes both simultaneously – the thought occurs that Lloyd Cole and the Commotions have only just begun to skirt around doing either. Their seriousnesses are as yet small and oblique: they are as yet too aware, too self-conscious to be gloriously stupid. As yet.
For now Lloyd Cole dedicates himself to answering his fan mail, shouldering some of his responsibilities, pointing earnest young inquirers in the direction of Sartre, Joan Didion, Marc Bolan, Captain Beefheart.
For now Lloyd Cole works on new and better songs, seeking to bring the novelistic sensibility to bear on three minutes of words and music; he ponders the tenability of a role within the commerce of pop for one who believes in Art; he considers the confines of ‘image” for one who ‘is not the world’s best presented person except when 1 have to be’; he stifles a chuckle at fame’s wilder excesses at the recollection of friend Morrissey (of the Smiths) being stopped by a policeman who requested Morrissey to sign his helmet.
Soon there will be America (a short tour, selected dates, a re-mix of some Commotions’ favourites by fan Ric Ocasek of the Cars); there will be a new I.P to record for release around this time next year. Before then, in December in fact, there will be four dates in Britain (Edinburgh on December 16). New singles are planned, new songs for next week’s appearance on whistle test, dates in Glasgow.
For now there are random thoughts: ‘I don’t want people to scream, I want them to listen.’ ‘I can’t take the critical judgement of 75% of the music press seriously, I don’t particularly want to. Music journalists think that people who have been to university shouldn’t be in pop’. ‘Just because the music press are saying we’re good now doesn’t mean that we are. Their backlash is the flipside of the autographs.’
Lloyd Cole has his ears and eyes wide open and his brain working overtime with regard to his place in pop, to pop’s proper function, its correct impropriety. ‘If there’s a choice to be had, I’d rather be intelligent than unintelligent’. You should like Lloyd Cole. Drop him a line.
Publication: Glasgow Herald
Publication date: 01/01/85