Today’s issue: Does Lloyd Cole, a well-regarded singer-songwriter from Scotland and a sensitive, brooding wordsmith and pop craftsman, secretly hate women?
“We have had people calling radio stations saying I’m a misogynist pig,” admits the softspoken Cole, on the phone earlier this week. “Which is quite amusing.”
Case for the prosecution: Cole’s catchy single “She’s a Girl and I’m a Man,” in which the refrain runs “She’s the stupidest girl I’ve ever seen/Don’t care what or where I’ve been/But she’s got a right to be – with all that’s wrong with me.”
For the defense: The song is sung from another character’s point of view, not Cole’s, and the guy ends up castigating himself much more than he does his girlfriend.
“He starts off a wise guy,” says Cole of the character. “I guess he maybe thinks he’s a bit smarter than he really is. And he gradually learns throughout the song. I like to make fun of men, the mannish things, like our inability to expose our emotions.”
Prosecutor: But Cole uses the word “girl,” not “woman.”
Defense: “Woman is two syllables,” says Cole, noting the importance of rhyme schemes, and the timelessness of the word girl in a rock ‘n’ roll context.
Verdict: This writer finds the defendant not guilty.
Lloyd Cole, 30, first came to fame in the mid-’80s as the leader of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, a band he, guitarist Neil Clark and keyboardist Blair Cowan formed out of art school. In the UK, they hit it big right out of the box, their debut LP, “Rattlesnakes” entering the charts at No. 13. There were two more albums – C and the C’s enjoyed substantial success in Europe, cult success in the United States – and then Cole parted ways with the band in late 1988. Somewhat ironically, Clark and Cowan are back with Cole, playing with him at Berklee Performance Center tonight. So, especially as Cowan wrote many of Cole’s recent melodies, is there really any difference?
“Well, musically, I work in quite a similar way,” says Cole, who relocated to New York three years ago. “But it’s easier in the respect that if somebody comes up with an idea they they like and I don’t . . . I don’t have to worry about upsetting them because it’s a given before we start that it’s my record and I’m not going to put anything on it that I don’t like. That makes it easier. My life is simple. And if you want to say, ‘Well, my career is going well, but I think I just might quit now,’ you don’t have to worry about damaging other people’s livlihoods.”
Cole is that rare commodity: A rocker who follows his own muse and he seems completely candid during an interview. Cole’s latest album, a pop gem called “Don’t Get Weird On Me, Babe” (it’s a Raymond Carver line), has one rocking side and one side dominated by string arrangments. Cole knows strings can create problems for rock fans; he knows they have a tarnished reputation in contemporary pop; he used them anyway. “People think Barry Manilow or something and this is not necessarily the case at all,” Cole says of strings, adding that he admires the work of Jimmy Webb, Leonard Cohen and Roy Orbison. “I think eight cellos is a lot more threatening than guitars with feedback.”
Cole is a writer who works on his words, but he grants that the importance of words can be overplayed. “My songs are usually little scenarios,” he says. “If you can imply a story, it can be very successful. But I think if you try and tell it, you can get tied up. There isn’t room for a short story in a song. You listen to Billy Joel and you know he thinks he’s a good songwriter and he just makes himself look more ridiculous as a consequence. You take somebody like Madonna, her early singles, and the words are not that important. They function like an instrument. And I think that is a good way to tell what a classic pop song is.”
Publication: The Boston Globe
Publication date: 20/12/91