Lloyd Cole’s seventh official solo album, Music in a Foreign Language, is his most intimate and low-key yet. He retains Dave Derby from the Negatives and calls in former Commotion Neil Clark to play guitar, but mostly the album has the feel of a solo record. Drawing on the same musical palette that his “lost” album Etc. does (acoustic guitars, restrained drums, and subtle instrumentation), this record succeeds in a way that most of his over-produced previous albums fail to do. This is also the first record on which Cole seems resigned to be an adult balladeer; there are no rock tunes to be found. His voice is as deep and rich as ever, and the lack of huge rock drums and loud guitars allows him to forgo the oversinging trap he sometimes falls into. Tracks like “Late Night, Early Town” and “Today I’m Not So Sure” are beautiful, autumnal tracks that soar with sadness. Cole manages to strip down his sound without falling into the trap that many artists do, that of stripping too much away and becoming boring. There are enough bits of sonic imagination to keep the listener awake and admiring Cole’s gentle touch: the strings on “My Other Life,” the rippling guitars of “Cutting Out,” the gauzy pedal steel of “No More Love Songs,” the sweet ba-ba background vocals and bossa nova beat of “Brazil.” His cutting, literate lyrics also keep the listener from becoming complacent; melancholy and bitter, the album sounds like it was written postbreakup and prerecovery. The cover of Nick Cave’s “People Just Ain’t No Good” certainly points toward some lingering bitterness on Cole’s part. Too bad for him, but it makes for good listening for everyone else. Cole is growing old gracefully, much like Roddy Frame or Stephen Duffy. 1980s nostalgia is fun, but some of the guys who were there ended up making some of the best records of their lives in the early 2000s, and Music in a Foreign Language is just that, one of Cole’s best.

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Publication: All Music Guide

Publication date: 31/12/03