The latest album by urbane singer/songwriter Lloyd Cole wouldn’t have been possible a few short years ago, but digital technology now enables artists to create expensive-sounding records on a shoestring budget. Recording directly into a Mac and programming the subtle rhythms and lifelike strings, Cole has created a spare-yet-elegant environment for his bittersweet songs, understated vocals and deft acoustic picking. Music in a Foreign Language eludes producer- or A&R-influenced compromise—the album comes directly from Cole in precisely the form he intended. Its 10 songs, all ballads (including a thematically fitting cover of Nick Cave’s “People Ain’t No Good”), are suffused with ennui, as a hard-core romantic laments a world of ever-diminishing expectations—one in which intimate relationships are conducted by e-mail containing “sideways happy faces” (“Cutting Out”), the mini-bar and Spectravision movie menu of an L.A. hotel room are metaphors for existential isolation (“Late Night, Early Town”) and lifelong commitments come with an expiration date (“Today I’m Not So Sure”). Cole has matured into an ironist of wondrous articulateness, singing his artfully detailed songs in a world-weary voice that’s clarity and nuance recall jazz great Chet Baker.

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Publication: Paste magazine

Publication date: 19/10/04