The steady slowing down of the heart: a guide to the records of Lloyd Cole
Our featured artist of the month and Author of Moodswing’s track of the year Lloyd Cole.
In this section we will take a trawl through Cole’s back catalogue from the self assured Rattlesnakes right up to this years critically lauded Broken Record. Cole has undergone Label changes, press indifference, and his own self depreciating tendencies through the years, but the stubborn muse remains loyal and whether he likes it or not there is a good possibility, in terms of Lyrics and melody, that Cole is the Dylan/Cohen for a certain generation of listeners. I once heard him playing in St.Albans, genuinely in awe of the song he had just covered (Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat) , ask how on earth any one would be so dumb as to put that song in their set and expect to follow it, the rest of the concert stayed with me forever and how ever much respect I have for Cohen, in times of need, just after opening the red wine or scotch, it’s Cole I turn to.
Enjoy then, this ‘through the past wryly’ look at one of the world’s most often overlooked and uniquely talented songwriters.
The stand out tracks that are listed are not in anyway indicative of sales or popularity.
Rattlesnakes (polydor 1984)
In a landscape of new romantics, early dance, diluted soul and airhead lyrics sprang an unexpected alien record that wore it’s tracks on it’s moody front sleeve, like a throwback to 60’s cover art. Inside sat five pensive and serious young men starring out from behind a fish bowl, and those of us romantic enough to be seduced by the iconography and evocative lyrics where smitten, some of us for life. Commotion Lawrence Donegan, in the summer of 2004 (rattlesnakes 20th anniversary) weighed in with “Rattlesnakes deserves to be mentioned, along with the Pixies and The Smiths, as music that made the 80’s bearable.” and he is exactly right. Anyone in need of an antidote from the dire politics, early yuppies, hairspray, dayglo and general primary coloured sugar coated shite that was the eighties, took refuge in these bands. These were the people who saved our lives, as Morrisey put it, they were our “Rubber Ring”. If you were that unfashionable to still read ‘beat’ writers, smoke french cigarettes, enjoy a dark suit, understand a reference to On the Waterfront or could conjure the picture of a ‘beat up Grace Kelly car’ then this was your band.
Stand out numbers:
Beautiful,Swampy, angst ridden brooding and precocious. This song was in want of a Hammond B3 apparently, but it wouldn’t fit through the studio door! A Korg sufficed. In the context of its time-this was a gutsy offering.
I remember the feeling that shot up the back of my neck when the commotions reformed to play this in Hammersmith to mark 20th anniversary of the album and I wouldn’t swap it for the world. How this record didn’t send them stella I can never understand. “When Love was your great disappointment” possibly the mission statement for subsequent Commotions albums. Cole was inspired by Joan Didion’s ‘Book of common prayer’ for his character assassination of a hopeless femme fatale.
Forest Fire (Cole)
Dangerous, caution to the wind, lovelorn lyrics, that for me, always bring to mind the beach shack burning scene from Betty Blue. This song contains the most understated and amazing use of feedback I have ever heard, Neil Clark is like a sonic architect. Metal Machine Music can fuck right off!
The perfect antidote for the 1980’s – stripped back, Musically sparse, woody acoustics with a lyric that every literature student of the time would adopt as their own self pitying manifesto, “and heaven knows I could sympathise”. Written on Cole’s first ever plane flight, one would like to imagine on the reverse of a cigarette packet or ‘paper bag was on my knee’ . “We were simply losing everything underneath the cruelest London sun” . A lyric even Ray Davies would be Jealous of.
Easy Pieces (polydor 1985)
A change of producers heralded a slightly more radio friendly sound with a view to scoring some chart success in the singles market. The band were stuck between deciding whether they wanted to be The Talking Heads or The Rolling Stones. The record sold fairly well but some Rattlesnakes fans felt somewhat cheated. All in all the Lyrics and the intention were the same and whether or not this album is dragged down by production choices is not a measure of the songwriting skills displayed here. Pulling the inner sleeve from the outer and seeing the lyrics displayed as one long passage beginning with “2 Easy Pieces produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley goes like this..” was audacious enough and then to have each song unfold like an Osbourne or Albee play “She left you in 1958 when the thought of another fifteen years was more than she could face” or “I’m just tired and she’s just way past caring so we drink Spanish wine and tell lies” had me addicted and yearning for every new release. Brand New Friend, Cut Me Down and Lost Weekend provided some great singles here, but the album’s true worth is hidden amongst the non single release tracks.
If Raymond Carver wrote songs …. there isn’t a great deal more to say. The drums that open this L.P and The Smith’s Queen is dead L.P from the following year have an interesting relationship, as if to signify the coming of a new musical order. This also sees Cole having a pop at american T.V Evangelists long before Bono had developed a Zoo T.V chip on his shoulder.
Pretty Gone (Clark/cole)
“Won’t you put on your dress and come down to magazine avenue” still can’t get this refrain out of my head for weeks when I re listen to this album. I know that this is a shallow reason to include this track- but hey -try it and see for yourself. I showed the lyrics of this song to my English teacher at the time and she told me it was pretentious piffle, I felt a little defensive and did my best to slate Emily Dickinson in the essay she had set. I would like to apologise to Emily but I still listen to this a lot more than I read her. I am not sure what that makes me. I still love the idea of the girl with a ‘head full of my cigarettes wrapped up in needle cord and coincidence.’
Perfect Blue (Cole)
I first came to this song as the B-side of my first Lloyd Cole purchase- 7″ of Jennifer she said. I believe the version on the B side is a different take or mix, but it made Easy Pieces my second L.P purchase after Mainstream, which makes my whole Commotions experience a bit backwards really. The anti Midas touch lyric here had me captivated “Whatever I touch turns blue” I was a sucker for anything black, blue or noirish. The dreamy atmospherics on this record still have the ability to transport me out of any situation, quite useful in the age of the ipod.
Mainstream (polydor 1987)
The last album with the Commotions. This record has been a firm favourite with me since I bought it and sits within my top 5 albums of all time. The Commotions went their separate ways after the end of a relationship Cole was involved in and his decision to move to the states. Their swan song didn’t sell well although it was critically acclaimed and, in my opinion, the best British album that was released that year. The black packaging was matched by dark, introspective and brave songs. This is an album that lyrically sees Cole bare his soul for the first time without relying too much on the need to impress with imagery and posture. From the Hip, 29 and Mainstream are possibly Cole’s first confessionals and although they hide behind a thin veil of cool attitude there is something too genuine and heartfelt in the delivery of these songs for them to be just character pieces. Elsewhere the urgent rehab/addict pulse of My Bag has always been the 80’s answer to Dylan’s subterranean homesick blues to my mind, with its cluttered enjambment and its pseudo Ginsberg rhymes, all we needed was a video with the ‘idiot board’ cue cards. Jennifer she said was my first Lloyd Cole encounter. I was fifteen years old and like my many people of my generation I came to this via its video first, which seemed to be playing almost everyday on what was a very early version of British cable T.V . A song about a tattooed rebuffed lover with 50’s biker iconography in the mix, smart suits and a nod toVelvet Underground songs (Lisa says, Stephanie says) was all I needed to adopt this band as my own. Unbeknown to me at the time I was a little late in the game and would not get to see them perform as the Commotions until I was way past 29. Being young and impressionable over the next few years Lloyd Cole would, via his lyrics, introduce me to Simone de Beauviour, Elia Kazan, My Beautiful Launderette, The films of Sean Penn! the works of Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Greta Garbo and an interest in country music, this coupled with Morrisey’s guidance – Keith waterhouse, Keats and Yeats, Oscar Wilde, James Dean and odd Micheal Caine films, would only serve to baffle parents, teachers and girlfriends alike; what more could I ask for, Oh yeah, an album that would grow with me and reveal more and more at each step of my life, offering sanctuary in some of the hardest times. It’s a testament to this album that almost everyone I have met that owns it rates it amongst their favourite records, maybe that’s just coincidence with the people I pick and choose to be friends with or maybe this is a much overlooked masterpiece of its time.
Stand out tracks? Just buy the fucking thing, were you listening?
Lloyd Cole (polydor 1990)
A move to New York and new hair seemed quite extreme at the time. This album also reunited Cole with Rattlesnakes producer Paul Hardiman and uses Guitarist Robert Quine (Lou Reed, Brian Eno, Tom Waits, Richard Hell) and also Lou Reed’s Drummer Fred Maher. Ex-Commotions Blair Cowan also featured on many tracks and shared songwriting credits. The first glimpse I had of this album was on a BBC 2 documentary music/arts show, whose name escapes me, Cole was interviewed in jeans, black turtleneck and sporting new long hair . This new NYC dirty glamour image was almost a pre-cursor to the grunge movement that was looming just around the corner and a taste of Sweetheart from a mixing desk offered a hint of danger and abandon that seem to come from a liberation from the band and the UK, Cole had been handed the keys to the sweetshop and had an all night lock in. I remember seeing images from ‘Sky’ magazine at the time, featuring Cole in pool halls, Diners and wearing a deerstalker on the cold streets of NYC. This all seemed like the perfect progression to me at the time and I was confused when the L.P didn’t set the rest of the world alight as it had done in my imagination.
The songs that marked the way forward:
What do you know about love?
After the formulaic Don’t look back this came as a slap in the face, dirty ass rock and roll as John Cale may have put it. Whatever Cole’s opinion of this nowadays, and I have a feeling he tries to denounce some of this bravado, its always good to have a balance and the lame fuck around -two fingers in the air -feel of this record still works for me- I was 17 so it might just be sentimental, but hey its my party.
I used to love this track, until Rob fucking Lowe ruined it for me. Still nice Gimme Shelter Gospel screaming at the end.
I had read somewhere that one of the reasons that Cole upped sticks and left the UK and the Commotions was because a relationship had turned sour in London. This song in my mind at the time was his reply to that and a song that helped me through a very juvenile break up at the time. “I got your letter baby the one that said you’ve been loving me too long maybe we should kick in the head, right on.” this combined with one of the dirtiest guitar riffs of the year was surely cause for celebration.
One of Cole’s finest compositions and a record that has been criminally overlooked. A crucible of Dylan, Young, Cohen, Big Star, Lou Reed and Cole’s own pen “You look so good when you’re depressed, better even in your current state of undress” fantastic tune with great musicians paying homage to just about all of his musical influences , but never appearing on a best of.??…fucking record companies.
Don’t get weird on me babe (Polydor 1991)
Cole’s last outing with Polydor, who had also managed to be so short sighted to have dropped Paul Weller a few years earlier, gave birth to this multi headed beast with moments of pure genius. Taking it’s name from a Raymond Carver story and possibly alienating a good deal of record buyers, this also has to be one of my favourite record jackets of all time and as such has been displayed on my wall since the time of its release. Here is a story in itself -a solitary black suited figure alone in a car park behind a bar at dusk, the strings of telegraph poles hanging behind him like he might be someones forgotten puppet, or contemplating an empty slightly distorted musical manuscript in the dusky sky, waiting to fill in the notes and words.
If I recall correctly, one side was meant to be orchestral and one side was meant to rock, like some weird Midwest Abbey Road. Paul Hardiman produces again with contributions from Fred Maher, Robert Quine, Blair Cowan and Matthew Sweet.
One of Cole’s most menacing lyrics over a taunt unhinged strings and drum backing. This song scared one of my girlfriends shitless at the time, I have Mr.Cole to thank for getting me out of that one. “All the pain that you have inside is just waiting to bloom in a darkened room, and you just flew right into the light and came alive, my little butterfly.” Suffice to say if you were female you wouldn’t want to wind up in a dark alley with the man at this stage in his career. Having said that, you are reading this, so who knows.
To the Lions (Cole)
I am working on a theory that British men abroad go crazy and are embodied by some kind of shamanic Lion muse. See Listen to the Lion by Van Morrison. This had to be included for its sheer obscurity.
She’s a girl and I’m a man (Cole/Quine)
This does rock, Cole pre-empts Grinderman by 16 years. Go tell the women we’re leaving.
Bad Vibes (Fontana 1993)
According to Cole he was trying to pin down his rock influences and make a T-Rex, Lou Reed 70’s L.P. Once again he was probably way ahead of the game and the video for So you’d like to save the world could be a contender for the oddest promo ever created, sitting somewhere between David Lynch and Vic Reeves Big Night Out – ‘It’s about this time of the night I like to slip a goat into a classic french motor’ . This is 4 U MB you made me feel Groovy.
Can’t get arrested (Cole)
Beats and boozy Bowie/Bolan delivery “you can’t get arrested but you could kiss my ass, in Hollywood” puts us somewhere between Portishead and Rock and Roll Suicide. Strange premonitions of a future Ryan Adams circa Rocknroll LP.
Love Story (Fontana 1995)
Any doubts in fan’s minds after Bad Vibes were quashed two years later with the arrival of Love story. A back cover showing the grey flecks in Cole’s hair helped to signify the move and acceptance into an older maturer sound and arguably began the phase that we are in now . Lloyd Cole looks long and hard at himself in the mirror and we all join in ! An album of mini love stories or the many different aspects of relationships, this album sold a lot better than the previous two and was helped by Radio 1 using Like Lovers Do as their song of the week on the breakfast show. The album had a variety of producers at different stages and is credited to Lloyd Cole & Friends, one of which is Stephen Street. Ex-Commotions Neil Clark also plays on this album.
Trigger Happy (cole)
The album opens with this and you just know that if what follows is as good as this, then you’re on to a winner. I saw Cole at The Union Chapel and he mentioned that this was a favourite of his wife’s, he also took great pleasure in swearing in church, very rock and roll ! A flawless tune with some sublime guitar playing. If we are talking lists, then this is up in the top 3.
“pay me no mind, I’m just a shadow on the riverbank watching my reflection go to sea”
Cole’s song of regret and a man who abandons his family trying to come to terms with his actions and the consequences. Lullaby music and a bitter sweet lyric help to deal with this well handled subject matter, proving that Cole was still a songwriter with a lot more mileage left in him.
Let’s Get Lost (Cole)
Upbeat country rocker, with amusing lyrics. Maybe not the most well crafted song on the album but it provides a little light relief and it always cheers me up.
The Negatives (xiiibis 2000)
After a lot of messing about with labels and legal matters Cole finally finds a home for his backlog of songs on french label xiiibis records. He also finds a band and makes some damn fine music.David Derby(bass) Micheal Kotch (guitar) Rafa Maciejak (drums) Jill Sobule (guitar,vocals) and Cole form the Negatives (mark 2 I believe) and have some fun playing small gigs and recording. Stephen Street mixes and Neil Clark lends a hand with some cool steel guitar playing. Also features That Boy previously only available on a polygram compilation Lloyd Cole-The Collection.
Impossible Girl (Cole)
Addictive record this, and the live version gives Cole an excuse to tell his Alice Cooper anecdote, which I am not going to spoil here, you will have to buy a ticket and find out for yourself. The strings by The Duke Quartet are a great compliment to the song.
No More Love Songs (Cole)
“Rather than company, I prefer cigarettes” a song about the hopelessness of falling in love with love, bitter, regretful and masterfully subtle. This song resurfaces on Music in a Foreign Language three years later, but this version is still the best for my money.
What’s wrong with this picture? (Cole)
“Smile she said, and if you want I’ll look the other way and you can go back to your five leaves left”
Cole’s down to earth self parody, which can be amusingly imagined to be a character assassination from his Partner’ perspective. Insightful , brave and very, very funny. Sometimes its OK to be happy, but we still imagine its too good to be true. Good Nick Drake metaphor also.
ETC (Xiiibis records 2000)
Etc collects Cole’s work or ‘lost songs’ between 1996-2000, so between the last two albums really. The cover shows a suit on a hanger circa Commotions era Cole and the back cover is a worn out photo taken from the compilation R.I.P that was released when the Commotions split, all of which gives this release a sense of putting ones house in order and taking stock of the past.Old Enough to Know Better only serves to emphasise this point “Fancy yourself very Gentleman’s Quarterly, what in the world would a home counties girl want with you.” once again Cole’s sneering self loathing finds a humorous outlet. The album includes a few covers one of which is a blindingly good take on Dylan’s You’re a big girl now .The album is also bookended by two instrumentals Backwoods which are beautiful little guitar sketches that stay under your skin for some time. Fool You Are also only previously available on Lloyd Cole-The Collection or as a single, appears here in an arguably better and stripped down form. On the whole a very satisfying collection, its strange that such a well rounded record can be made up of such a hotch potch of left overs and lost songs.
Old Enough To Know Better (Cole)
If you should find yourself in need of a theme tune for your mid-life crisis, then look no further. The cautionary tale of an autumnal gentleman trying to assert himself, hilarious and poignant. ” Opportunity waits in the winter for men in a moment of weakness, old enough to know better”
A man glosses over his lost lover and tries to tell himself that he is cool with everything. Cole ruthlessly highlights the cracks in male armour with cold irony.
Plastic Wood (Xiiibis records 2001)
Fully ambient instrumental album, which was a bit of a shock but if , like myself, you are a fan of the genre then Cole’s ‘tonight Matthew I’m gonna be Eno’ LP is a convincing contribution to this kind of work. My arty packaging has been spoiled by a fuck off great sticker that almost serves as a warning that this is an ‘instrumental’ album and I can’t get the bastard thing off.
Park West (cole)
Urgent pulsing electronics underpin this track that brings to my mind images of night time driving through empty city streets, blurred tail lights and shadowy figures in doorways. But that’s my picture show. Also sounds a bit like Air, which is never a bad thing.
Music in a Foreign language (2003 sanctuary records group)
Cole signs up to another new label for this release and delivers a record brimming with confidence and pulling together all the elements of the last few releases. Subtle singer/songwriter guitar work combined with electronic atmospherics, add to this some of Cole’s best lyrics and you have a the recipe for a great album. Musical contributions from Neil Clark and some ex-negatives with some dreamy backing from Lullaby Baxter. I get a sense that this is an album that Cole had been striving to make for sometime and the care over his craft is apparent on each track. Cole makes Nick Cave’s People ain’t no good his own here and it fits perfectly with the tone of the record. The packaging is also a plus, looks like a still from a European art house film and has echoes of the Mainstream cover.
Music in a Foreign Language(cole)
“What pale fire I had is gone, but you don’t want to hear that in a song.”
Contradictory, ironic, self effacing, Cole was back at the top of his game with this scathing lyric about what goes unsaid in relationships.
My Alibi (cole)
“very,very Rock and Roll” Indeed.
Antidepressant (Sanctuary 2006)
This has been the only Lloyd Cole release that I have had difficulty getting in to, initially seeing it as a pallid companion piece to the previous album. Then all the pieces fell into place for me, the penny dropped and the magic happened- I breathed a sigh of relief. I suppose, after 2004’s Commotions reunion, some of us were secretly hoping for a new record by that band, but to be honest there has been a fair amount of contributions by Clark and Cowan on this L.P and the subsequent one to allow the talents of the Commotions to shine through. Great art work by Susan Logoreci and a fantastic album title, contributions from The Negatives and Neil Clark.
The Young Idealists (Cole)
The title for this track is the name given to Cole’s international team of voluntary helpers. Cole has built an enviable community spirit on his website and interacts with members first hand. The resources here are fantastic and the model for this weblog puts almost all other musicians websites to shame. Members help with concert merchandise sales, article translations and compile facts and stats on every aspect of Cole’s career, this a genuinely cared for website and Cole should be as proud of this as as he is of any of his other creations. Anyway, great song and a fantastic theme tune if you are a signed up member “Raging through the coffee shops and bars….. still supposing we could make a difference”
“I said I’m trying to write a novel,she said neither am I”
An optimistic look at hopelessness.
Scathing and hilarious.
Broken Record (Tapete Records 2010)
The record that we were all waiting for, Cole perfects his art and records with a band again. He even sounds as if he is enjoying it! Includes Moodswing’s track of the year That’s Alright.
For more on this album see the previous article on Lloyd Cole on these pages.
Critically this record couldn’t be doing better and deservedly so, it sits right behind Mainstream in my own list of favourites, can’t wait to see whats next.
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions
Live at the BBC vol.1(2007 Polydor/BBC)
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions
Live at the BBC vol.2 (2007 Polydor/BBC)
Live at the BBC (2007 Mercury/BBC)
The next few records are compilations of rarerities, outakes, radio sessions and live performances and are great companion pieces to the studio albums listed above.
In addition to these , there are a number of albums in Cole’s ‘Folksinger’ series, but as I do not yet own them (Guilty, as charged) I can’t really review them! Obviously I will endeavour to do this when I have aquired them. All these releases are easily available at Lloyd Cole’s online store which there is a link for at the end of this article, and is well worth a visit.
A bit of an unexpected treat these, obviously a lot of artists have radio session releases, but three in one go ! and over 5 discs.The first album covers three radio sessions from 1984 and the highlights from a gig at Hammersmith Palais of the same year. Mainly Rattlesnakes material. The second instalment has two radio sessions from 1985 showcasing work from Easy Pieces and the second disc is from The Glastonbury festival 1986.
The third L.P is from Cole’s solo period and includes a radio session from 1990 and a live recording from the Hammersmith Odeon in 1995.
These releases provide an insightful picture into a certain place and time which is handy if you missed out the first time around as I did. The photographs are fantastic and the sleeve notes accompanying each album by Cole and Clark are worth the entry price alone.
Glastonbury performance is a testament to how good the band were live and the speed driven cover of Mystery Train is a real gem.
Cleaning out the Ashtrays (2009 tapete records)
Collected b-sides and rarities 1989-2006
This remains my all time favourite birthday present. Although I already own 90% of Cole’s singles, they are mainly all on vinyl so it was nice to have them collected in one place on a slightly more convenient format.The box is broken up into four themed discs
CD1 RED WINE GLASS
CD3 DANGEROUS MUSIC
CD4 DIFFICULT PIECES
Each disc has copious notes accompanying it in the booklet, setting the scene around each period and explaining the logistics of making the recordings. Cole’s prose is as captivating as his songs, so this never gets boring and is an absolute godsend from an enthusiasts point of view. What Cole does by providing us with this information is a unique in so much as we never have to worry about a distorted press depiction of his persona, he cultivates his own mythology and does it very well with subtlety and skill.
Stand out pieces here:
Blame Mary Jane(Cole)
Brand New Baby Blues (Cole)
The Steady Slowing Down Of the Heart (Cole)
Si Tu Dois Partir (Dylan)
This is one of the most carefully put together rarities collections I think any artist has assembled, so don’t imagine this is a scraping the barrel exercise, its really a joy to own and provides a good bench mark for any other artist thinking of putting a collection of odds and sods together.
So there you have it, Moodswing’s Guide to the Records of Lloyd Cole, the finest songwriter of his generation, whatever Mark.E.Smith says.
Publication date: 11/01/11