Eighties rock icon Lloyd Cole touched down in Southampton last week on the final leg of his new acoustic tour. Ben Mitchell was at the Turner Sims Concert Hall to hear some impressive new material and a welcome dose of 80s nostalgia.

Some musicians might tell you that making a classic record is the worst thing that can happen. After that, nothing less than a brilliant album every couple of years can sate the appetite of the hungry critics.

Making a solo comeback after one of those records must surely be an even harder prospect, but Lloyd Cole showed that it could be done when he played an acoustic set in front of an appreciative Southampton crowd last week.

For the last date on his nationwide tour, the eighties star arrived at the low-key venue to showcase the new acoustic sound that has impressed crowds around the country.

It was all quite a departure from “Rattlesnakes”, his debut album with mid-eighties band Cole and the Commotions’, and recently voted into the NME Top 100 albums of all time. In those heady days, Cole and his band-mates often shared pin-up space with eighties idols The Smiths.

But tonight, Cole, now in his forties, cut a more sophisticated lone figure on stage, gliding through a high-quality set of down-tempo acoustica.

Taking tracks from his new record, “Music In A Foreign Language”, and interspersing them with old favourites, he cultivated a set shot through with bittersweet harmony and a charming sense of retrospection. Cole also revealed himself as a fine exponent of both the acoustic and steel-stringed guitar, providing the perfect soundscape to allow his familiar wistful vocals to shine through.

There was an understated beauty to be found in some of the songs he chose, not least “No More Love Songs”, both a paean to retreating love and evidence of his new hunger for song writing, unshackled by the expectations of overzealous record executives.

The surprise hit single from 1995, “Like Lover’s Do”, also made an appearance to rapturous applause, and for a moment, Cole sounded alarmingly like a clean-cut Morrissey. No shame in that, of course, but Cole must cast off reputation and legacy if he is to fully carve his own niche as a solo performer in the new Millennium. No easy task when the likes of S-Club Juniors dominate the commercial charts.

However, a little more musical variation would add more edge to Cole’s set. All too often, one sombre guitar-led track blurred into the next, the break only recognisable because of his slow-paced anecdotal interjections.

Nevertheless, Cole certainly provides a refreshing antidote to some of the more one-dimensional singer-songwriters who have taken on the unlikely mantle of Pop music’s thinkers. But is there room for him in today’s cluttered music industry?

If he can produce more of the celestial songs that peppered this set, then he is more than welcome.

Publication: BBCi

Publication date: 4/6/2003