LEAVING most of their peers at the starting line, Lloyd Cole and Edwyn Collins have had parallel careers on the Scalextric of rock. Once home-grown Glaswegian pop-star saplings fronting seminal groups, now mature songsmiths gone solo, both have voices which sound in danger of wandering off into the next galaxy, and sing caustic words over real guitars.
While Edwyn Collins rides on the success of his biggest-ever hit with A Girl Like You, Lloyd Cole may be about to follow him with Love Story, one of the most listenable albums he has ever produced. Both have gone back to their Scottish origins with songs which echo with the feel of their early-Eighties compositions. And in the wake of the Beatles-influenced vibe of the current scene, Cole and Collins’s melodic pop songs suddenly seem to fit, all over again. But while Collins has sharpened up his act with a mean Brando scowl and the lick of a bad-boy quiff, Lloyd Cole has mellowed right out and is pictured on his album cover lounging on a leather sofa through the lens of Norman (son of Albert) Watson.
Currently living in Greenwich Village, New York, with his wife and four-year-old son, Cole, like Collins, has been churning out records for years. But over the last decade both of them have had the distinction of being big in Scandinavia and France.
And small everywhere else. Love Story, however, goes back to the start.
“There’s a basic aesthetic that I’ve always liked which I put together in the early Eighties,” he admits. “And if anything it’s ironic that now I go back to a style which is not too different to the things we were doing then.” This time though, it’s comfortable armchair listening rather than an angst-ridden bedsit soundtrack.
One day, it seems, pop stars realise they’re too old to blow with the winds of the trendy and settle down comfortably into their own well-worn groove.
“I suppose it is fairly mellow,” he says. “This time I tried very hard not to have a concept. I decided to see what would happen if I wrote a lot of songs, recorded them all and did just simple arrangements instead of trying to find a new direction yet again.
I think I had been looking for new areas to work in almost out of guilt or something, sort of embarrassment.
There’s nothing wrong with Bob Dylan or Van Morrison and they’ve been making the same sort of records for 20 years. I think maybe it was a mistake to be always trying to do something new and it would have been better to be just be dead good at what you do.”
So is it, like Edwyn Collins insisted before he stormed up the hit parade and became a teeny-bop king, music for the over-thirties? And aren’t they all just plugged into re-issues anyway?
“People who have just turned 30 are realising that they don’t have to listen to Eric Clapton to hear a mellow record,” he says. “Maybe there is something in-between. I think it’s very sad when you see people my age trying to be the same as they were when they were 23.”
Cole has certainly changed since he was 23. Then, he said, his songs were closer to prose than song lyrics and he waxed on about the influence on his writing of literature. The would-be Jean-Paul Sartre of Cole’s ego has now resigned. “I think some of the very early stuff was so dense it was a little difficult to get a melody through the words,” he says. “Some of them were almost unlistenable to.
I gradually tried to write slightly purer words without hopefully losing what was my own style. I don’t really worry about my writing anymore.”
With songs which skim over love, youth, drugs and loss, Cole’s narrative style is simpler, more decipherable and less intent on making a dent in the intellect or the conscience.
“I don’t want people to think there’s a moral to the songs,” he stresses. “Most of the songs are just scenarios, situations that people are in. Sometimes it is dialogue, sometimes it’s fantastic and sometimes the words are just a joke like Let’s Get Lost.
“One of the best songs is a dulcimer-soaked ballad about a love- sick man who resorts to ‘calling my man for something to fix me straight’.” Is this song the quieter cousin of Mr. Ebenezer Good?
“For Crying Out Loud” is a very straightforward situation,” he says.
“Whether you consider that the guy not being able to sleep and taking drugs are a metaphor or realism, it’s down to you, whatever you want.”
This pick-and-mix approach may be a little annoying, yet Lloyd Cole epitomises the musician of the Nineties. The boundaries of age, lifestyle and lyrical content have all been ripped out of pop’s arena and now he poses with his son, Edward, on his lap like an advertisement for life assurance.
“I think you should be able to have your cake and eat it,” he says. “I should be able to be making records that are able to stand beside the records I admire like Bob Dylan’s and I should be able to have my kid on my lap if I want to. That’s my right as an artist, to call the shots. On my last album I was surrounded by cigarette butts and I just thought it would be quite nice to be surrounded by my kid. It’s just as dangerous. It’s challenging people’s images of what pop singers are supposed to be in just as radical a way.”
So what’s it like being a would-be pop star when you need to worry about finding a babysitter? What does he want after almost 13 years in the music business and what has he learned?
“There’s not much I still want apart from some financial security for my child’s education,” he says. “I had that about five years ago but I squandered it by investing in my own career. I think I have a couple more records in me and if I have learned anything it is that I don’t know it all. I’m still learning how to get on in the world.”
Lloyd Cole, however, still retains the same unshakeable faith in his own ability that he has had since his days as a student at Glasgow University.
Then, he presented Postcard Records, Edwyn’s label, with a copy of his demo for first refusal. Postcard allegedly chucked it out of the window – a definite no thanks. But Lloyd Cole may be easy to dismiss, he may be unfashionable and he may be ultra-mellow, but sooner or later, his songs may wriggle into the mainstream.
“It happened with Rattlesnakes: nobody bought it to start with, but people borrowed it and by the end of the year most of them had bought it themselves,” he says. “You just have to say that maybe there’s a place out there which is Lloyd Cole’s in the way that Van Morrison has his place.
And that would be nice . . . Edwyn’s doing so well. It’s fabulous, isn’t it?”
Publication: The Scotsman
Publication date: 23/10/95