Lloyd Cole has been making records for 20 years now. That’s how long it’s been since Rattlesnakes, Cole & the Commotions’ debut album, was being refined in a Glasgow rehearsal studio. That record, a cultural studies degree with guitars and great tunes, rightly won the English (not Scottish) singer-songwriter a coveted place in the NME Top 100 albums of all time – just ahead of the Beach Boys. It still provides a familiar heartbeat for his live acoustic shows.

Two Commotions albums later, “five years non-stop with no time to review my haircut,” Lloyd wound up solo in New York. Long on hair and short of sleep, he wrote the magnificent, brooding, Lloyd Cole album – “From blancmange in his belly to ice in his veins in six short years,” according to critic Tony Parsons. He also got married and teamed up with some of NYC’s best musicians, including Lou Reed, guitarist Robert Quine, and Fred Maher.

If 1991’s Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe was a schizophrenic, Scott Walker meets Glen Campbell affair and Bad Vibes (1993) a darker set altogether as Cole experimented with sounds and producers, 1995’s Love Story was a celebratory return to form which included the surprise hit single “Like Lovers Do.”

1997 saw the birth of a new Cole-led band, the Negatives, a spirited and irreverent musical antidote to the career merry-go-round of “record and tour.” The Negatives’ eponymous album followed in 1999 and that band contributed to a boxed set in 2001, which included the magnificent Etc. album, as well as instrumental and live CDs. Fans in the US and Europe kept the faith and his acoustic shows evolved into an irresistible mix of easy vocals, deft guitar playing, and self deprecating banter: “I feel awful sitting down when you’re all standing up. But I am very, very old these days.”

Alone on the stage, Cole found himself strangely at ease, maybe for the first time. New York Times was quoted as saying, “Playing songs by Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen among his own, he tactfully demonstrated that his work could stand alongside theirs.”

Music In A Foreign Language is the glorious result of Cole honing that “folk set” around the world these past five years, continuing the covers trend with a brilliant version of Nick Cave’s beautiful “People Ain’t No Good.” Recorded straight into a Mac in his New England hideaway, the new record reveals Cole as a consummate folk guitarist – both acoustic steel and Spanish. He is also responsible for all the string arrangements and has added lap steel, piano, and bass for good measure.

Lyrically, the record revisits familiar themes of cooling passions (“Today I’m Not So Sure”), self-deception (“My Other Life”), and substance abuse (“Brazil”), but there is new territory also. These are songs with no silver lining, no redemption, but a bleakness that Cole has not expressed before. Not so much mid-life crisis as addressing mid-life ennui. Listen to what the man says: “You’re not quite ready for the rocking chair but you know the Strokes would be horrified if they saw you playing their record and you think that nobody sings for you…”

Guests include Neil Clark (the Commotions), Dave Derby (the Negatives), local songwriter Ray Mason, and Canadian chanteuse and former topless DJ Lullaby Baxter, who was flown in courtesy of Lloyd’s air miles to contribute. Punk rock and Van Morrison producer, Mick Glossop, has mixed the record in London.

Following the release of Music In A Foreign Language, One Little Indian will issue Etc on April 20th – a self proclaimed Lloyd Cole lost album – followed by the May 11th release of Cole’s ambient project, Plastic Wood.

Released on April 20th, Etc. is a collection of songs originally recorded between Lloyd Cole’s release of Love Story and The Negatives. A remarkably cohesive record, Etc. showcases Cole’s masterful songwriting as well as interpretations of Bob Dylan’s “You’re A Big Girl Now” and “Memphis,” written by actress Karen Black for Robert Altman’s 1975 motion picture Nashville.

Plastic Wood, released on May 11th, comes from a different musical perspective than the traditional singer-songwriter work of Lloyd Cole. Purely instrumental, the album is a beautiful collection of 18 ambient electronic songs. It’s remarkably subtle and delicate – and something every Lloyd Cole fan will want to hear.

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Publication date: 29/04/04