Paul Mathur talks to LLOYD COLE, who is about to return from his self-imposed exile with a brace of new songs.
The pursuit of delicious articulacy is vanishing fast from our pop conjurors. Whither Roddy Frame? Green Gartside? It is apparently enough these days to sprinkle semi-conscious platitudes around an anorexic environment that values the Mike Smithism above all else. Not exactly the perfect moment for Lloyd Cole to be making a comeback.
As the driving force behind The Commotions, he brought back a roguish dignity to the craft of songwriting, that incredibly achieved almost all its most immediate goals at the very first skip, Perfect Skin. Superficially just great pop, it slipped inside the back door, the words with their tongues in somebody’s cheek even if you were never quite sure whose. The debut album, Rattlesnakes, consolidated things, launching a career that regularly wriggled at the edge of the top 10, particularly as the second album, Easy Pieces, started to drip hits. A few live dates promised a sparkly continuation. Then silence.
Two years later Lloyd Cole is preparing to release the third LP, Mainstream – his most assured work to date, but one that might suffer from the preceding lack of momentum. Dawdling stones have been known to gather moss.
“The reason it’s taken so long,’ says Cole “is that we’ve been far more selective on the record. Everything looks set to he complete, then a great new song comes along and throws everything else into a different perspective. It was important not to have any thing substandard on there.”
And has it worked?
“Well, it’s turned out to be an album with two levels. Some of the songs are great, the rest are brilliant.”
This is hardly the shyly retiring Cole that past interviews have led one to expect. You’d swear he’d been on an EST course or something.
“I think one of my problems in the past has been that I’ve been too polite, that whole Gilbert and George thing of blaming it all on being to well-brought-up by your mother. It’s about time I came out and said that I think I’m writing better than I’ve ever done before..”
Why has it happened now?
“I’ve started to listen to something Robert Graves once wrote, that a writer’s hem friend is the wastepaper basket. It used to he an enemy, but now I’ve become more critical about my outpourings. I remember when I wrote Perfect Skin I couldn’t believe for a moment that everyone wouldn’t love it. I look back on a lot of the old songs and they’re so incredibly convoluted and intricate. You have to be totally concentrating on them all the way through to appreciate them.”
Irony has never been something the pop audience have particularly succumbed to.
“There just aren’t the great writers around these days. People like Morrissey looked like they were doing the right thing, but now he appears to be satisfied with that kind of burlesque. Songs should he written well, I mean it’s always been important for us to have one great line rather than four mediocre songs.”
How many of the old songs are great?
“A few. Heartbroken, Perfect Skin, there’s a few. The new ones are going to surprise a lot of people, though – they’re much more direct”
That they most certainly are, particularly From The Hip and My Bag, where naked intent does well to avoid banality. This is Cole growing up, channelling the smart one-liners away from mere T-Shirt slogans for the well-read generation and into undeniably fine songs. I wonder what the audience will make of it?
“I don’t know really, but then I’m not certain who our audience is. We’re not the sort of band who can just get up and play in a pub, and it’s only very rarely that we can actually give the impression that we’re having fun onstage. The last thing for us to worry about is who our audience is. If anything, we played too much in the past and I’ve already told the rest of the group that I intend to take quite a long break after this album instead of just slipping into promoting it live for a year.”
Having moved down to London late last year, Cole is going about the business of re-education in the art of songwriting. He’s got his own room, a new luxury, and would llke to spend a six-hour day there like Sartre but gets frustrated staring at the blankness for five of them. There’s plenty of new ideas burgeoning, though – a lot of which will necessarily fall by the wayside in order to be later admitted into another project. There’s even a bit of cut-up stuff and a tribute to Madonna’s hubby, of which no more can be said. It doesn’t exactly sound Mainstream.
“That’s just me being difficult again!”
Publication date: 01/01/87