An unbroken record of essential albums continues

Cole has spent the last decade in self-imposed exile; touring as a solo act, and occasionally crafting sparsely masterful, homemade digi-folk albums utilising largely just an acoustic, a laptop and Cubase for company (see 2003’s superb ‘Music in a Foreign Language’ and 2007’s equally impressive ‘Antidepressant’). However, whilst still largely acoustic, the urge has arisen to get back in the ring, assemble a band and record an album of more urgent pop material straight to tape rather than hard drive. Essentially, this is the complete opposite of his chosen path of the last few years, and it’s delivered with urgency, as if he needs to purge this music from his system. For this project he has called on former co-conspirators like drummer Fred Maher (Lou Reed, Matthew Sweet) and ex-Commotions keyboardist Blair Cowan, along With Joan (As Policewoman) Wasser and her bassist Rainy Orteca, augmented by pedal steel player Bob Hoffnar to create a tight, complimentary, and distinctly rootsy-sounding band for these songs.

Despite some of the press the album has already garnered, It would be quite incorrect to describe ‘Broken Record’ as Lloyd Cole ‘going country’, for ever since he first committed his intriguing, literate musings to vinyl back in the mid-80s there has always been a rich and blatant vein of country song writing aesthetics, and whiskey-hued heart abuse central to his oeuvre. In fact this setting is incredibly natural for him, as mandolins and steel guitar glide around these rambunctiously driving rhythms and razor sharp observational songs.
‘Why In The World’ has definite traces of Dylan in its melody, and many of the songs here have a sparkling, country-rocking propulsive drive (‘That’s Alright’, ‘Writers Retreat’, ‘Westchester County Jail’), while ‘Oh Genevieve’ and ‘Man Overboard’ are infused with accordion, and some folk flavours that are more Gaelic in persuasion.

‘If I Were a Song’ and ‘Double Happiness’ may pass without much amazement, but despite the glut of fantastic, richly melodic tunes, with Cole it’s really all about the lyrics, and the seductive rich baritone they are delivered in. His trademark sly cynicism, and deft way with a self-deprecating, highly literate aside are still very much present, powerful and correct. The album opens with the title track’s hopelessly resigned “not that I had much dignity left anyway..yesterdays lover with fall for another and I wont stand in her way..”. While ‘Westchester County Jail’ insists that “I look like a million bucks, sure I aint worth quite that much, but you get the point…” while playful steel guitar rides all over the song. Elsewhere, the mischievous country of ‘Rhinestone’s “I say X and you say Y when you know I’m not a mathematical guy…I wasn’t looking for trouble, its just a lazy eye” can’t help but raise a smile.

The mandolins and infectious bouncing rhythm of ‘Writers Retreat’ has a distinct lineage to the material that eventually came out on the ‘Etc.’ Album (which itself was made up of teases from a couple of alt-country albums his record label in the mid-90s had no faith in and wouldn’t release), including an amusing ‘Maggie Mae’ steal.

As if further evidence were required, on ‘Broken Record’ Cole further cements his reputation as a fantastically subversive pop songwriter. He is never staid, static or dull enough to be in line as a ‘national treasure’, but he is truly one of England’s finest and consistently brilliant, not to mention criminally under appreciated songwriters.

Cole has expressed with some certainty that he wont ever make a record like this again, but then also states that there’s no way he is returning to his little room with just the computer for company. Whatever his next move may eventually be is then somewhat mysterious, but one feels that while he still has albums as consistently strong as ‘Broken Record’ easily within his ability, its certain that it will be worth the wait.

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Publication: Americana UK

Publication date: 03/10/10