It would not have surprised if Lloyd Cole – he of the ever present stubble, the sad eyes and the half smile – had sat down with a bottle of vin ordinaire and a packet of Gauloises when he walked onto the Footbridge Theatre stage.Dressed in white shirt and black trousers, flecks of grey in his hair (but really looking not much older than when he was first here 20 years ago) there’s something of the droll French raconteur and worldly philosopher-in-song about him.

He helped the image along with an opening song written some 50 years ago in France during the German occupation that features the line “and we’ll come from the shadows”.

Partly sung in French, it had that mix of romanticism and intellect that characterises French chanson and Cole’s own career.

The song was taken up by the American-resident, British-born Cole this year as a quiet gesture of defiance of the anti-French hysteria in the US prior to the second Gulf war. But it was also a perfectly weighted opening to the evening: a setting of the tone for a show that offers nothing more than Cole, an acoustic guitar and a glass of what may have been whisky.

Barely speaking for some time, wryly smiling at the occasional comment from the room (a room thankfully where, unlike his 2000 show at the Basement, everyone could see and sit in comfort) he began in a subdued but quietly intense manner.

Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken, the title track from this year’s wonderful album Music In A Foreign Language and My Other Life were ruminative, deeper than mellow and served to focus attention on Cole’s deceptively casual singing style.

What appears to be not much more than a step up from talking at times has an attractive tone, a resonance that holds you to the kind of lyrics too rarely found in popular music. But just when it seemed the night was to be a candlelit evening of intimacy – “I may perk up later,” Cole said at one point before, with another wry smile, adding “but then again I may not” – he began to shift gears gradually but consistently.

There was a Roy Orbison rhythm in one song, a gentle sway in No More Love Songs and some jaunty moments that had Cole standing and tapping away.

And then, just before ending the night with Forest Fire, Cole threw in one of those lines you know you could never get away with delivering but his characters somehow do: “You look so good when you’re depressed . I love you best undressed”.

How very French.

Publication: Sydney Morning Herald

Publication date: 15/12/03