Still causing a commotion
Lloyd Cole is back – with attitude intact. By Dan Cairns

He’s a rum chap, Lloyd Cole. He can come out with statements so arrogant, they make your jaw drop. But then he’ll conclude them with his strange, emphysematous, almost mirthless laugh, and crack a dry, self-deflating aside. If he’s 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. He’s 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 jury’s been out for 20 years on that one.”

Cole has paid a price for Rattlesnakes. It’s 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. It’s 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 couldn’t keep hoping the next album would have a hit on it.”

These days, when he’s 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, ‘You’ve written another of those f***ing songs where you say, I’m so surprised to be happy.’ But, I mean, I’ve got a house in a small town in western Massachusetts. I do gardening. It’s not what I had in mind when I was 27.” He pauses, frowning. “But I’m a lot better at gardening. I wasn’t very good at being a rock’n’roll singer, let’s face it.”

As for his place in the musical scheme of things, he’s 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 writer’s need always to carry a notebook, he drops Joan Didion’s name into the conversation. “Every now and then, I’m 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 I’ll look at other songs and think, ‘Gosh, that’s 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, he’s got more important things to do.

Antidepressant is out now on Sanctuary; Lloyd Cole’s British tour begins in Bristol on Friday

Link to original article online

Publication: UK Times

Publication date: 15/10/06