It’s amazing how far an impressive-sounding name can get you these days, but it takes substance to stay at the top. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions seem destined to remain the SDP of New Wave pop rock. The refreshing promise of their first album Rattlesnakes has matured into an innocuous mish-mash of styles, heavily reminiscent of Simple Minds, Dire Straits and occasionally The Smiths.

So why do they continue to appeal? The answer must lie in the packaging. For it is Lloyd Cole’s extraordinary voice which first set this band apart from a hundred other hopefuls. He has that same broken, aching quality as Morrissey, a palatable angst which sells well at the “Reluctant Yuppie” end of the market. It was certainly all Lloyd and no commotion at Wembley Arena on Sunday night. His band pumped their way adequately through a two-hour set of album material taken from Rattlesnakes and their latest offering Mainstream. Of the latter, the lyrical “From The Hip” and the lively “In My Bag” were well done. But in the end old-timers like “Perfect Skin,” “On The Waterfront” and the eeri encore “Forest Fire” were left to provide welcome relief to a set of otherwise indentikit numbers. The band themselves were most noticeable for their less-than-low profile, casual menswear image. Even Blair Cowan, keyboardist and co-founder of the band with Cole in 1984, wilted into the background after a brief solo at the start of the show. He looked bored and uninterested throughout, which is perhaps because he is leaving the band this year.

All this, of course, makes the maverick Cole all the more watchable. Dressed like a slightly madcap academic in an Oxfam 1950s suit, striped red shirt and scruffy desert boots, he flaps his wrists, kinks his knees and postures his way around the stage. The look was completed when he took a pair of John Lennon spectacles from his pocket, placed them carefully on his nose, and leaned forward to peer at the front row of the audience. That was about as near as the evening came to an audience-performer frisson. Cole himself muttered the problem into his microphone: “We’re not used to playing anywhere bigger than The Marquee.” The classic crowd-raiser “Do You Feel Alright?” came out confusingly as “Are you really uncomfortable?” this kind of timidity may be endearing in a smaller venue, but in a wind-tunnel like Wembley Arena it takes a little more gusto to get an audience up and on their feet. Which is, after all, what most of them have paid for.

Publication: Financial Times (London)

Publication date: 19/04/88