The elegant music of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions was a highlight of the alternative rock scene in the 1980s, filled with shimmering melodies and the kind of dense wordplay that made fans swoon.

“She looks like Eva Marie Saint in ‘On the Waterfront’/She says all she needs is therapy, yeah, all you need is love,” Cole sang in 1984’s “Rattlesnakes,” borrowing from one art form to enhance another as he crooned in a perfect English accent.

Cole had a high profile in Europe, but his tenuous grip on the United States failed completely with the rise of grunge in the 1990s. Arch pop prettily sung didn’t stand a chance, and Cole slowly faded from the charts, but he never really went away.

In fact, his fan base remains large and loyal enough to have financed the making of his latest album, “Broken Record.” One thousand fans pre-paid $45 for a deluxe edition of the album, which was released on a small scale last year but didn’t get an international release until recently.

So Cole is on a greatly extended album-release tour, traveling with his Small Ensemble band and visiting cities he hasn’t seen in a while.

“It’s still the same tour that started last July, so if pressed I would admit to being a bit worn out toward this record,” Cole said, laughing. “But the show that we do is not really about the record. The show is about 25 years of songs.

“We play five songs from the new album, we play five songs from ‘Rattlesnakes,’ and we play a bunch of songs from in between.”

Cole, who performs Tuesday night at Headliners Music Hall, has toured primarily as a solo acoustic act for the last decade or so. The Small Ensemble remains acoustic but adds Mark Schwaber on guitar and mandolin, and Matt Cullen on guitar and banjo.

On “Broken Record,” Schwaber and Cullen were joined by longtime Cole cohorts Fred Maher, Joan Wasser, Rainy Orteca, Dave Derby and Blair Cowan, making it Cole’s most band-oriented album since 2001’s “The Negatives.” Their presence was made possible by the $45,000 ponied up by Cole’s fans, with another $25,000 coming from Tapete Records.
“You need to sell around 100,000 records to justify spending that much, and we’ve not sold that many,” said Cole, 50, who lives in Massachusetts. “We probably shouldn’t have spent this much, but I wanted to make that record, and the fans wanted me to make the record that I wanted to make.

“As far as critical response, it’s probably been the best since I’ve turned solo, which is great. In terms of maybe furthering my career, who knows, but people are happy about it, so absolutely it was worth it.”

“Broken Record” definitely has a vibe similar to the records Cole made with the Commotions from 1984 to ’89. Despite its name, that band was largely understated in the way it wrapped itself around Cole’s pointed songs, which swerved from prickly to tender in the space of a few words (as when he sang “I believe in love, I’ll believe in anything that’s going to get me what I want,” in “Forest Fire”).

Cole’s solo career has been quiet in the States, despite records as good as 1991’s “Don’t Get Weird on Me Babe.” But he has never had to get a day job, and his 5 handicap in golf attests to significant leisure time. His catalog, Commotions included, is up to 12 studio albums and a handful of collections. That’s beyond respectable.

“One thing that’s great for me is that I sell a few records in lots of different countries,” he said. “Every year, my career goes up in one part of the world and down in another.

“In the States, I never got bigger than being on Letterman once. In the U.K., the venues I play at now are probably a quarter of the size I played in better times. Over here I’m sometimes playing the same venues. I’ve been lucky. We’re still moving along and doing OK.”

Reporter Jeffrey Lee Puckett can be reached at (502) 582-4160.

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Publication: courier-journal

Publication date: 20/06/11