Lloyd Cole began his career as an intellectual pop songwriter. He has matured into an intelligent one.

This curious progression was apparent in the contrasts between Cole’s first and latest records, which dominated his 90-minute, 19-song set at Park West on Sunday evening.

Taken from “Rattlesnakes,” Cole’s 1984 debut with his band the Commotions, songs like “Perfect Skin” and “Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?” featured dense lyrics clearly influenced by Bob Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home.” Cole’s phrases spiraled around former Commotions member Neil Clark’s jangling guitar like a poet following his train of thought wherever it leads.

These moments saw Cole aspiring to the poetry-in-song of Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed, whose “Rock & Roll” and “New Age” Cole performed. The fussy melodies that accompanied Cole’s elaborate lyrics, though, gave his music a detached, inaccessible quality.

Even Cole himself felt the need to skewer his heady pursuits at times, wryly intoning, “We academics aren’t easily discouraged,” during “Speedboat,” or repeatedly proclaiming, “Maybe you’re too well-read,” in the more recent “No Blue Skies.”

With the selections from Cole’s recently released solo “Love Stories,” however, he gained immediacy by putting pared-down lyrics to elegant pop. “Be There” and “Baby” recalled paisley-period Beatles, as Amanda Kramer provided synthesized strings and simple keyboard patterns.

Cole’s bass vocals, lighter and more boyish than on his records, glided merrily through the lilting melodies of “Like Lovers Do” and “Unhappy Song,” as bassist Chris Wilson and drummer Robert Rodriguez set the music swaying.

Amid all the sweetness, Cole still made his sardonic points clear, this time in far fewer words. By sharpening the contrast between his mordant view and his gorgeous music, Cole’s love songs amplified the tension between love’s promise and its failing, achieving a poetry all its own.

New York pop newcomer Ivy mixed guitar grooves with Parisian native Dominique Durand’s breathy cooing during an eight-song, half-hour opening set. The group was pleasant but limited, varying its sound only by shifting the tempos of softly churning music.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO: Lloyd Cole performs songs from his solo album “Love Stories” on Sunday at Park West. Photo for the Tribune by James Crump.

Publication: Chicago Tribune

Publication date: 06/11/1995