The temptation with Lloyd Cole is to peg him as some odd cross of Bob Dylan (poet in a folkie’s electrified body) and Bryan Ferry (bon vivant tenorino who sees all the world as a lounge). Cole’s the guy who tossed off the line, “Don’t tell me all your secrets when it’s hard enough to love you knowing nothing,” way back in 1984 on his first album, Rattlesnakes, when he was still with the Commotions. Now on his fourth solo album, Love Story, he asks, “Where did I go wrong?/Ask all my drunken friends,” in a tune cheerily called “Love Ruins Everything.”
That temptation tempts less once you talk to Cole. Despite claiming during a recent telephone interview, “I sort of wish I was Leonard Cohen,” he can then go on to say, “Now I’m more interested in being Paul Simon. Not to do his music, but because he doesn’t sound like anybody else.” Cole himself doesn’t, given his ability to mine sources as disparate as, oh, Dylan and Ferry. Who feels threatened by that acoustic guitar toting roue? Who thinks that phrase-turning souse is pretentious? The pose comes off slightly smarmy but charming even for that Cole is Eurotrash with a heart.
Not a mushy heart, either. Despite the album’s title, he says, “I’m not so much of an Erich Segal fan. I like cliches; something that has been so used is more flexible. I don’t like people to think my songs only have one meaning. A title is just a label; it would be good to call it ‘a collection of twelve songs,’ but that just sounds pretentious. Besides, it looks good on the CD the number of letters in the title and in my name balance out four-five, five-four.”
Cole’s careful counting carries over to his songwriting, too. Given fans treasure his well-turned wit, it is intriguing to hear he never writes his lyrics first. “The music has to define the meter,” he says. “A lot of time is spent making sure the lyrics are part of the music. It’s what Lou Reed isn’t doing these days his lyrics don’t scan anymore.” He continued, “Songs almost have a life of their own. I thought ‘I Didn’t Know that You Cared’ would be a fairly amusing song and it turned out quite different. I hope people aren’t snickering when it’s on.”
Love Story isn’t exactly a snicker-inducing disc. There’s one unhappy song so straightforward it’s called “Unhappy Song.” Then there’s the one so full of gallows (but for “gallows” read “pub”) humor it begins, “The more I learn the less I know/Can you make my straight absolute?” But so many of the tunes ring so sprightly, it’s hard to avoid a pity-party sing-along at first-and-a-half listen. All those nearly generic titles ”Baby,””Be There,””Let’s Get Lost” might be a hint Cole wants to croon standards.
Cole describes his music as using “more of a pop aesthetic” and more of a writer’s aesthetic, too. “When I started writing songs,” he offered, “I was more influenced by prose writers.”
Such influences explain how he can create a first person fiction he can use “I” and lie. For example, cigarettes may be sublime, but Cole has quit. Why? “I have a three-year-old son who copies everything I do.” He’s quick to add, however, “If I live to be 65, I’ll start smoking again. I like it.”
Still, not smoking has kept away his recurring bouts of tonsillitis, good news given the TLA show is the tour’s penultimate stop. Cole will be backed by a full band including long-time cohort and ex-Commotion Neil Clark on guitar and ex-Golden Palomino Amanda Kramer on keyboards. Alas, guitar god Robert Quine (Vodoids, Lou Reed), while proving on Love Story that he can play purty as well as punky, doesn’t tour.
That said, all seems right for a killer Cole show. Just remember to applaud if you go. It seems a recent two night stint at the Roxy in LA re-proved the old saw that Californians are just too laid back. “Those people see so many shows,” Cole laments, “they forget it’s nice to clap after a song, even if they like you.” Clap. Maybe we’ll see Cole’s trademark frown grown into the strongest easy smile.
Nov.30 at the TLA, 334 South St., 8 p.m. Special guest Ivy. 922-1011.
Publication: Philadelphia City Paper
Publication date: 30/11/95