THESE are the words 1 hear. Hippie, bore, buffoon, bore, CD, dreary, bore, golf, Lloyd, bore, blah dee bleeding blah …
It’s easy to hate Lloyd Cole, that I will grudgingly admit. He’s neither reinventing pop in the manner of Young Gods, M/A/R/R/S or Big Black nor, is he working playfully within an almost determined traditionalism like Throwing Muses, 10,000 Maniacs or R.E.M. Lloyd Cole kind of seeps, consumes, stays raggedy at the edges of a sort of square pool. He’s got it tough.
It’s rather harder to pinpoint why you should love Lloyd Cole, other than realising that the contempt for him seems to come primarily from dickheads. Perhaps the only place to start is with the words, something that Cole still feels confident to wiggle into some sort of knowing strength. The value of those little squiggly lines appears to be losing some of its importance in these heads-down-and-sod-the-power-of-the-text days. To those of us who still worm to a witty aside rather than a bludgeoning dropping off trousers, Cole is a source of some pleasure.
‘I can understand how words can annoy people,’ says Cole, “and in many ways I’ve tried to strip them down, to simplify them. I wonder about where the great songwriters have gone, I mean, even people like Morrissey seem content to peddle a sort of burlesque these days. I’ll still stand by the ideal of having a great song with one good line in it rather than four mediocre songs.
And still they stroke their chins and mutter about Cole’s new album being called ‘Mainstream’, as if a culture of margins is ALL you need. Pop’s centre circle needn’t be the site for dullness unless its inhabitant is playing for the draw. I don’t think Lloyd Cole will be satisfied with anything less than an early victory.
‘I can look back at what we’ve done in the past and I can see where we went wrong. Maybe the songs were too fussy, to involved. I’m learning to write in a way that people don’t have to pick up on everything to be able to appreciate it. Robert Graves once said a writer’s best friend is the wastepaper basket and I know what he means. It used to be an enemy, but now I’ve become more critical about my outpourings. I remember when 1 wrote ‘Perfect Skin’ I couldn’t believe for a moment that everyone wouldn’t like it. It’s the same with a lot of the songs. You look back and you think, ‘they were too contrived, too intricate’. You have to be more direct 1 think.’
Through The self-criticism, some of it justified, there’s a new-found arrogance to Cole that’s hitherto been missing. ‘Why should I be polite?” he asks almost raising his voice. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the past being too Gilbert and Georgeish about it all, blaming reticence on being well brought up by my mother, that sort of thing. I’m getting sick of it and I think that’s reflected in a 1ot of the songs.’
It’s also reflected in the live shows. Up in Edinburgh, early on in the tour, he was a mile away from the concerned dullness of the dates to promote the “Easy Pieces’. Kitted out like a Beat Samuel Becket, he wandered around the stage, unshackled himself from the serious songwriter tag and even told a couple of jokes out of Viz comic. If he had long hair, wore mascara and thought Led Zeppelin were the best band in the world he’d be lauded round these parts as the Second Coming.
‘The live shows have been a bit too static in the post, basically because we’re not pub rockers who can just get up and play anywhere. It’s quite difficult for us to actually give the illusion that we’re having fun on stage. If anything we’ve played too much. It’d be nice just to take a long break.’
Some would say that he’s already taken too much of a break. It’s been a couple of years between the increasingly stodgy looking “Easy Pieces’ and ‘Mainstream’, a gap that might seem unwise considering the wave that Cole appeared to be on the verge of surfing.
‘It’s selectivity that’s causing the gap. We did the album then just before it came out a great new song would come along and all the rest would slip further down the ladder. Everything kept on getting thrown into different perspectives, but now we’ve got an album on two levels. Half of it’s great, the rest is brilliant.’
It’s certainly a fine record, particularly the drawly beauty of ‘From The Hip’ and the peculiarly titled ‘Sean Penn Blues”. A return to the school of name dropping after only mentioning Jesus on the last LP?
‘It was about something that really happened. Apparently Sean Penn was invited along to this place to talk specifically so that people could make fun of him. It seemed such a horrible thing to do.’
The song features Robbie Coltraine doing his ‘Double 1ndemnity’ bit, but originally Cole wanted Oakey and Suzanne from The Human Leaque. Something about the deadpan.
‘There is a sense of humour to what we do. I’m surprised people don’t pick up on it as much. I hate all these things about us being humourless.’
Too often the one liners have taken too much attention away from the meat of the songs, turning what he does into something too vaudevillian. This time round he’s Moving away from that into something more consistently pleasurable. The only problem now is avoiding lapsing into musodom.
‘I don’t think we’re musos at all other than in the sense that we actually care about what we’re doing. I’ve never been particularly comfortable with that high profile celebrity thing, so it’s good to be appealing to a totally different audience. I don’t know if I’m cut out for Smash Hits.’
The Cole backlash will undoubtedly continue from these parts, although to our credit it was never exactly a frontlash to start off with. It’s hard to tell whether he can actually offer us anything, save for a little understated irony and a few nice tunes, but those who are writing him off might just be eating their hats before the Plum Duff comes round on Xmas Day.
‘We can still surprise. Don’t worry.”
Publication: Melody Maker
Publication date: 28/11/87