With the simple act of shaving, Lloyd Cole effortlessly reclaimed his title last Thursday night at the Paradise as the best-looking fella in rock music.

The serial-killer stubble he sports on the cover of his latest album, “Lloyd Cole,” gave way to a boyishly charming mug.

Things got off to a fine start with an unexpected, uninhibited cover of the Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” Indeed, Cole’s three covers (the other two were the Presley standard “Little Sister” and Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me”) were among the most enjoyable moments of a generally predictable 1 1/2-hour set.

The musicians backing Cole had a different approach then Cole’s old group, the Commotions. Where the Commotions played it tight but restrained, Thursday night’s band just wanted to throw the songs onto the floor and kick the daylights out of them 90 percent of the time. This worked on some material, especially the harder-edged offerings from “Lloyd Cole,” but the band’s muscle quickly grew wearisome. Old Cole songs, such as “Brand New Friend” and especially “Rattlesnakes” were damaged beyond repair, while the originally soporific “Big Snake” was rescued briefly and then returned to mediocrity by the drums-and-guitar onslaught.

“Onslaught” is a relative term; these guys weren’t Dinosaur Jr. or anything. But with Cole’s songs, sheer power doesn’t make sense. The best of his compositions rock in a folksier way, sensitive to his ambitious literary conceits.

The three-guitar lineup included a silent, balding Robert Quine, the veteran Richard Hell/Lou Reed sideman. Quine’s leads were understated and effective, with the occasional stremlined chaos of his Voidoid days.

The band was poised on closing the evening in fine form, playing Dylan’s ironic “She Belongs to Me” followed by his own Dylanesque romp, “Four Flights Up.” The songs had a jaunty, upbeat feel to them, and better yet, the lyrics and music came together in a way that made sense. But with the final number, “Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?”, the band’s worst sins were in full display. Needlessly heavy drums and overbearing guitars marred what was once a wordy, smart number.

Cole stated between songs that Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home” was “better than any of my records.”

Cole writes some of the most intelligent – nay, some of the best – pop songs around; his new album is proof of his continued prowess. But in concert, Cole seems to be burying his past endeavors a little too eagerly. There’s something to be said about playing hard, but Lloyd Cole might not be the one to say it.

Publication: The Boston Globe

Publication date: 27/06/1990