You may not have heard of Lloyd Cole. Indeed, he has had few solid hits, and nearly all of them were in the eighties. His reputation amongst the rock cognescenti is, however, that of an overlooked genius or an underappreciated songster. Lloyds experienced a bit of a renaissance recently, after touring Australia in 2009 and earlier this year, releasing a 4-Disc B-side box set and a new (fan funded!) album. Could his music be experiencing a renewal of the hipster interest not seen since his indie-pop heyday? With actual, real-live modern hipsters?
First, a little of a biographical introduction. Cole was born in Buxton, Derbyshire, in the upper midlands of England. The reason hes geographically grouped with Scottish groups like Orange Juice and The Blue Nile is because he went to Uni in Glasgow. There, he formed the band that would take him to the top of the pops and back. The Commotions were an ably talented bunch of musicians who turned Coles coffee-shop crooning into suave indie-pop.
With a band in tow and a head full of contemporary literature, Cole set about recording his debut album in 1984, Rattlesnakes. Ill make my point right now, so you dont miss it. If you run out and buy a Lloyd Cole album after reading this little subjective analysis, you must buy this album. Actually get rid of that wankery at the start of that sentence; you must buy this album.
As you mustve now guessed, Rattlesnakes is a dear personal treasure to me. One of the few albums that my parents both liked, it got a fair few plays in my dads house. He was the one that told me that the first track was brilliant, the second was very good, and the third the best pop song ever written.
Rattlesnakes is a striking album, but not in the most immediate way. Its cover is a photograph of a door. Yes, a door, but not just any door the grimy, musky looking door that can only belong to a run-down Glaswegian student bedsit. To tell the truth, thats what I thought Uni was going to be like (thanks to Blackboard and Uni Bureaucratics, there was a sharp learning curve ahead).
If you were to demark a gimmick of Cole, youd probably pick his lyrics. Dropping names like Leonard Cohen, Norman Mailer, Turman Capote and referencing Joan Didion, you can kind of guess that Lloyd was an Arts student. Far from being a cheesy lyrical technique, he carries it off very well, with a tongue-in-cheek cleverness that would be hard to reproduce in modern rock and pop.
The songs are a little like R.E.M if they were more insecure and less vague (were talking their first 4 albums here). Key example Speedboat. A marvellous trip through what it is to be unpopular, to live in the slow lane of youth and take notes, trusting in prudence. Thats me to a tee in highschool. Uncle Lloyd was, inevitably, a dear friend who didnt mind me quietly writing instead of being Corey Worthington.
Perfect Skin is an ode to that mythical indie girl, a woman who, with the glamour of Greta Garbo, will take your hand and show you the livelier side of life (without letting go). It also has my mums favourite lyric in it Shes got cheekbones like geometry/and eyes like sin.
Id like to draw your attention to the title track. Rattlesnakes has everything that a song needs: simple chords, pining lyrics and one of the finest string arrangements that has ever graced a pop song (Unfinished Sympathy notwithstanding). Look it up on youtube if youd like an inroad to Coles works.
Sadly, however, most people stop at the brilliance of Rattlesnakes. Go to any JB-HiFi or other record store and, more often than not, its the only trace of Lloyd Cole in stock. Truth is, Cole has released two more albums with the Commotions and nine as a solo artist (not counting compilations or live albums). Theyre all very good, and well worth checking out. Over the years hes ventured into folk, electronica, country and even ambient music (Plastic Wood). A writer of quality music and highly literary lyrics, Lloyd Cole deserves as much praise as can be garnered for the greats.
Publication date: 18/08/11