…Don’t get weird on us, babe. Lloyd Cole has dumped those phoney pool-room postures and reverted to angsty, artistic type. Barbara Ellen finds him happy to be pretentious, slapping down The Charlatans and still striving for the perfect song.
“In lots of ways, it’s just like any other job…but you’re still the guy who goes on TV, you’re still the guy who makes the records. Does that still thrill me? Damn right it does!”
Lloyd Cole is telling me about pop stardom. A less patient, more sensitive type than myself would have laughed out loud by now, or at least ‘congratulated’ him on his good memory. In many ways it would be easy and satisfying to take Cole aside and tell him gently but fimly that nobody – least of all the 4-REAL NME readership – gives a New Kid’s cod-piece about Lloyd Cole anymore, but the following things stop me: I’m a snivelling, grovelling coward and Lloyd Cole is just the type to have a staunch, protective fan-base that may or not be armed.
He’s a neurotic smoker. A massive creative plus. Never trust a pop star who doesn’t court early death.
And finally! I could be wrong (It’s happened before). Cole’s forthcoming album ‘Don’t Get Weird On Me, Babe’ (half orchestral) and current single ‘She’s A Girl And I’m A Man’ could enrich the lives of music lovers everywhere. At least three tracks off the album – ‘Butterfly’, ‘The One You Never Had’ and ‘Weeping Wine’ – are superbly crafted, crucial thoroughbred pop songs.
Now Lloyd Cole is laughing off his new image. NME readers will remember that this is the man who moved to New York and crushed the Big Apple so close to his chest our disbelief turned to puree. Did you believe in Lloyd Cole the poker-playing, pool-playing bruiser? The pop-poet turned mean-mutha whose main buzz was cracking open a can of Bud and smoking Lucky Strikes with the guys? Let’s hope not. He didn’t.
(LC)”Nothing I do in New York is macho – though poker is the one male-bonding thing I do.”
(BE)”Do you prefer the company of men?”
(LC)”Not at all. I have more women friends than men friends. Women are just generally better people full stop.”
(BE)”Why, because you can have sex with them and they listen more?”
(LC)”No, they’re just emotionally superior. A lot of men are just jerks. Even the good ones.”
(BE)”Have you ever been frightened of women?”
(LC)”Yes, when I was about 17. It was a sexual thing. A time when there’s lot of onus on males to come up with something physically. I was very pessimistic about what people thought of me, whether they liked me. One of the reasons you get into a band is to get people to like you.”
Though Cole drolly maintains that “90 per cent of people get into the music business to get as rich as possible, as quickly as possible and screw as many women as they can in the process”, it’s easy to side-step the cynical bluster and spot the shy Pop Freshman beneath. Addled for life by that early, much documented hero worship of Bolan (“Marc” to his friends and Lloyd) and his later politely ruthless desire to “be better than everybody else” at a period in pop history, when he and The Commotions were slugging it out in a good-natured, mutually respectful scrum with the likes of The Smiths and Aztec Camera, Lloyd Cole was always the consummate, alternately believable and ridiculous pop star.
Talking to him now, it’s hard to dismiss him as a miserable gut. In photographs Lloyd Cole resembles a ball of wet, grey dough rolled on a barber’s floor. In person he’s the Crown Prince of Cherubic Consumption. Likewise that trademark smile-cum-scowl does not look nearly as ghastly in real life.
Many have disliked Cole over the years – some to the point of apoplexy – but few have doubted the commotion of his commitment, the twitch of creativity that gave dignity to the smile/scowl. It’s still there now, nestling alongside Cole’s eternal gut certainty that – one day – Creative Good will prevail and chase the bland devils off the face of Planet Chart.
As far as the current musical climate goes, Cole rates James, Ride and Happy Mondays and remains coyly undistressed by the dread realisation that his particular style of songwriting is currently out of vogue. When the Day Of Judgement comes, Cole wants to be there in the front line with his slaved-over lyrics and ambitious meticulous tunes. Pretentious? Lloyd? He hopes so.
(LC)”The word pretentious is often used in connection with bad music, but if I’m called pretentious I’m quite happy. The whole idea of pretentiousness is being the pretender to some kind of throne and – damn right – I want that throne.”
(EB)”Have you got to the point where you’re interpreting insults as compliments?”
(LC)”Subconsciously perhaps…” Cole fidgets restlessly: “I don’t want to be in an ordinary group. Too much music is ordinary. Look at The Charlatans! I’m sorry but The Charlatans are extremely ordinary. The make The Stone Roses sound quite good, which is one hell of an achievement.”
(BE)”Some would argue that they’re just the ticket to offset pomposity, that their ‘ordinariness’ is an integral part of their appeal.”
(LC)”It’s a sad world if that’s true. That’s basically legitimizing Jeffrey Archer as a novelist.”
(BE)”The same people would dismiss you as a bitter old fool.”
(LC)”Yeah, I can see that, but I’ve always been like this. I’ve always told people what I think. Perhaps I will be dismissed as a boring old fart but I don’t think I’ve made a boring old fart record. I just think The Charlatans are rubbish. I’m not even trying to give them advice. The only advice I’d ever have given them is – don’t get involved in music in the first place.”
(BE)”Taking it as said that you’re not threatened by their musical ability, are you threatened by their current prominence?”
(LC)”Not really. Bands like that come along every year and I think ‘Oh yeah, that’s what the kids want these days, they’re not going to be interested in me anymore’ but they always are. I worry constantly that people are going to run away from me but they don’t.”
‘Don’t Get Weird’ is Lloyd Cole’s fifth album. Ideally, he’d like to make eight but, as the man himself somewhat obscurely points out, he’s been around “almost as long as The Beatles” already and soon it may be time to bow out. Cole’s new ambition is to leave behind a “body of work that cannot be ignored” which will include “one song that will be so great it will be the context in which everything else is judged”.
The song, he thinks, could be ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken’ but he’s not sure, which could lead to some unseemly Hanging On By The Fingernails later on in the day. There’s no creature on God’s earth more tenacious than a musician who feels he can give more.
(BE)”Are you afraid to let go?”
(LC)”No, what terrifies me more is being 35 and still wanting it and having no other options. I’m already planning for alternative employment, producing maybe.”
(BE)”Isn’t that a sign of defeat?”
(LC)”No, nothing could be worse than becoming what David Bowie is now. This really sad old man who’s continually doing worse versions of what he used to do. I find the idea of quitting at a certain point much more romantic.”
While I won’t be amongst those to push Lloyd off the hill before he’s over it, it’s nice to think that if the worst happens Cole will have few regrets. As the man himself says: “I consider myself very lucky. My dream happened.”
LLOYD’S TEN BEST BORROWED IMAGES
1. MARLON BRANDO in Streetcar Named Desire (First solo album, 1990)
2. JACK KEROUAC (“Perfect Skin”, 1984)
3. BRANDO in The Wild One (“Jennifer She Said”, 1988)
4. BRANDO in On The Waterfront (“Rattlesnakes”, 1984)
5. LOU REED (1990 tour with Robert Quine on guitar)
6. JEFFREY BERNARD (“Easy Pieces” LP, 1985)
7. D H LAWRENCE (“Mainstream” LP, 1988)
8. TONY CURTIS in The Sweet Smell Of Success (“Brand New Friend”, 1985)
9. TANITA TIKARAM (old joke)
10. GLEN CAMPBELL (Correct at time of going to press.)
Publication: New Musical Express
Publication date: 31/08/91