Lloyd Cole first came to prominence as the frontman and main creative force behind Lloyd Cole and The Commotions , who were the darlings of the UK college circuit for a few years in the 80s. After 3 albums with The Commotions , Cole decamped to New York to seek fame and fortune, made a couple of wildly uneven, seriously overproduced solo albums (with the exception of 1995s excellent Love Story ), and literally disappeared while he tried to extricate himself from contractual difficulties. For several years now, Cole has been touring the world, just him and his guitar, playing stripped down versions of both his material with the Commotions, and his earlier solo work, and a selection of new tunes. It’s no surprise then, that the songs on Music in a Foreign Language reflect this with hushed arrangements and muted accompaniments.

Lyrically, Cole remains his usual misanthropic self, and the album positively oozes a weariness with the travails of “grown-up life.” The track listing alone dishes up happy little treats such as “No More Love songs,” “People They Ain’t No Good” (yes, it’s a Nick Cave cover), and “Today I’m Not So Sure.” On the title track, he intones “ I am cold, distant / increasingly resistant to your smile / this I don’t deny” over some delicately plucked guitar.

Cole has had many detractors over the years, particularly for what people see as overly “precious” lyrics, and a few songs on Music in a Foreign Language do fall into that trap. “My Other Life” sounds like a script outline for CSI , while “Cutting Out,” a song about the challenges of trying to combine a life on the road with that of a husband and father takes a great opening couplet “Lying between your progeny / and your Visa card statement,” and ruins it through overuse of awkward phrasings like “facsimile,” and “electronic mail transmissions” – Lloyd, its fax and email, ok! Also, “ Brazil ” has to be one of the weaker songs he has ever recorded.

However, Cole has not lost his knack for laying down a hell of a melody on songs like “Late Night, Early Town ” and a reworked version of an older track “No More Love Songs.” “Today I’m Not So Sure” is a simple, gorgeous song, another tale of second thoughts and regrets “Didn’t I promise always to / shelter and protect you / didn’t I answer yes, I do / well today, I’m not so sure”, and “Shelf Life” closes the album on a high note.

Music in a Foreign Language is unlikely to win over that many new fans for Lloyd Cole, but should satisfy the already converted.

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Publication date: 01/01/04