It is indeed gratifying to see that this album has been issued after festering for too long in the vaults of the BBC. It makes you wonder how many more hidden gems are lurking in the archives of that venerable broadcasting behemoth. Many are now being brought out of the pits, packaged and sold as archival recordings and the BBC is to be commended for doing this. Comprising recordings of three separate sessions done by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, and a BBC-sponsored live recording at the Hammersmith Palais, for the BBC done in 1984, this captures the band at the start of their career.
The performances are simple and unadorned, one might almost say stripped down, but they capture the essence of the band’s first album. A full 19 tracks await you, and this is well worth having in your collection. A second volume is also available covering much of the same ground but for the meantime I will stick with this. The cover says it all – four lads from the north line up as if punks from half a decade before. But the sound which emerges from them could not be more different. Erudite, clever and technically well-executed, this was the antithesis of punk.
I suppose if you wish you could gripe about the fact that there are several different versions of some of the tracks – “Rattlesnakes”, “Perfect Skin”, “Four Flights Up”. Some other tracks are also duplicated on the album. (In my mind there can never be enough versions of “Perfect Skin” but that is another story altogether). You could also point out that the arrangements are not that much different from the versions of these tracks which were released on the band’s first album, Rattlesnakes, but both of those issues would be to miss the point of this album. This music is tight and well-executed and it is a credit to the band that they were able to be in a live setting as good as they were in the studio. There are bands who would destroy worlds for that to be said of them.
However, this is not an album which is likely to bring new converts to the table. If you have not heard much of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions it would probably not be wise to start here. Their particular brand of erudite, light yet insanely catchy pop is best experienced first on a studio album where a proper production can capture the sound best. This is an album for those who have already experienced the magic of the band through those studio recordings, and want to hear some versions of familiar songs delivered with a slight twist. I hesitate to say it is for completeists, but I would imagine that such persons would revel in this album.
In the end, I guess it comes down to whether you like this band or not. I do, and have done since I first heard their demo tracks on a beaten up cassette tape in the middle of 1984. I regretted the passing of the band just as I felt they were reaching their peak in terms of song-writing and arrangements. I felt Lloyd Cole’s solo career never lived up to the promise of the band and that, in retrospect, he ought to have stayed with what he had. Listening to this, you can hear that youthful energy and enthusiasm and it is this which forms the basis of the true shining moments of this album.
Publication: Music Emissions
Publication date: 14/01/12