Still causing a commotion
Lloyd Cole is back – with attitude intact. By Dan Cairns
Hes a rum chap, Lloyd Cole. He can come out with statements so arrogant, they make your jaw drop. But then hell conclude them with his strange, emphysematous, almost mirthless laugh, and crack a dry, self-deflating aside. If hes prickly, he is also refreshingly non-fluent in the language of platitudes.
More than 20 years on from Rattlesnakes, his breakthrough hit with his former band, the Commotions, this avowedly literate songwriter is back with a lovely new album, Antidepressant. Hes not expecting it to set the charts alight. I did a questionnaire once, he says, and one of the things they asked me was, Are you cool? Well, I think the jurys been out for 20 years on that one.
Cole has paid a price for Rattlesnakes. Its almost as if an angry little pack of malign taste pixies went out one night and fly-posted the sleeping songwriter with the words pretentious, moi? all because he dared to mention Simone de Beauvoir and Norman Mailer in his songs. Its our loss: his sales peak was in 1985, and eight excellent solo albums since then have barely registered. But it has also been his. When the band broke up, Cole moved to New York, investing in an expensive apartment and recording studio. But lack of record sales nipped at his heels financially, and he and his wife relocated to New England. That must have been hard, I suggest.
Oh, terrifying, he answers. But we had to get some perspective on what my career might be that it might be something very small. We couldnt keep hoping the next album would have a hit on it.
These days, when hes not doing the school run or indulging in his other passion, golf, Cole works at a studio/office a few miles from his home. On the new song Travelling Light, he rails at first against this small-town domesticity If not for scheming constellations in the night… I would be travelling light before finding solace in it by the end. I am the leader of this small ensemble, he sings, and we will pack this little station wagon tight.
You can imagine what my wife thought, he laughs. She said, Youve written another of those f***ing songs where you say, Im so surprised to be happy. But, I mean, Ive got a house in a small town in western Massachusetts. I do gardening. Its not what I had in mind when I was 27. He pauses, frowning. But Im a lot better at gardening. I wasnt very good at being a rocknroll singer, lets face it.
As for his place in the musical scheme of things, hes at once typically self-effacing and cocksure. A few of them will be remembered, he says. The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, the Byrds, maybe. But anybody below that level is not going to be.
Then, referring to a writers need always to carry a notebook, he drops Joan Didions name into the conversation. Every now and then, Im just astounded by how beautifully she has said something. You know, I wish I could say things like that. But I look at some of my work and think, I am saying things like that. Another pause. And Ill look at other songs and think, Gosh, thats a mess.
For all those with a lapsed Cole habit, Antidepressant is a fine reintroduction. The strings, the acoustic-guitar intricacy, the croaked vocals are all there. So, too, are those phrases that either stop you in your tracks or set you off on a trail: could there be a more Lloyd Cole line than A pretty girl at the wheel of a German car? He has his golf handicap, his secateurs, the traces, still, of chips on his shoulders. But what he also has, and has never lost, is the heart and soul (and notebook) of a true troubadour. Go on, buy the album then he can pay someone to prune the roses. Judging by his new record, hes got more important things to do.
Antidepressant is out now on Sanctuary; Lloyd Coles British tour begins in Bristol on Friday
Publication: UK Times
Publication date: 15/10/06