In 1984 I was nineteen years old and heavily into American rock. Springsteen and Mellencamp (still Cougar then) were the artists whose LPs were wearing out the needle on my record deck.
Yes, I said LPs. This is a tale that starts in ancient times before shiny metal discs and long before music downloads. When PC referred to a police constable and in the office where I worked the only windows were the ones you spent the day staring through while you daydreamed of a less mundane existence, one filled with fast cars, beautiful girls, and endless highways.
So a Scottish pop group playing songs with references to the likes of Norman Mailer and Leonard Cohen wasnt something Id usually buy. Yet there was something about Lloyd Coles laid back, bordering-on-morose delivery that appealed to me almost from the minute I heard “Perfect Skin,” the first single from his debut album with the Commotions. I picked up the album on the strength of that single, and the fact that I was intrigued by the title. Rattlesnakes sounded more like something my American rock idols would put out; after all, there werent any rattlers in Glasgow.
That disc is still one of my all time favourites and while many of the references went over my head at the time (“she looks like Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront”) his ability to deliver a lyric that could cut with rapier sharpness didnt (“must you tell me all your secrets when it’s hard enough to love you knowing nothing”). Catchy upbeat pop music with literate lyrics and a downbeat delivery was now the order of the day on my phonograph.
Lloyd Cole and the Commotions followed Rattlesnakes with two more albums (Easy Pieces and Mainstream) before calling it a day. They were both good albums but they lacked the spark of that first magnificent opus. So Lloyd headed for the USA and a solo career.
Lloyd Cole, his solo debut, was an altogether rockier affair with obvious Lou Reed influences. It was also his best album since Rattlesnakes. Then came Dont Get Weird On Me, Babe. After the electric guitar sound of his first solo record, the addition of strings was a major turn-off at the time and Mr Cole and I parted company for a few years.
By the time I gave Dont Get Weird On Me, Babe another chance hed released two further albums. Something had changed in those four years and it wasnt the CD, so it must have been me. During that time Id finally left home and got a place of my own. Songs like “Weeping Wine,” and “Man Enough” are made for listening to alone, preferably on rainy winter nights with only a bottle of wine for company, and this was how we renewed our acquaintance.
I quickly picked up the albums Id missed, Bad Vibes and Love Story. These two recordings saw Coles music maturing into what has become his sound, a touch of pop, a dash of country and a helping of folk all mixed with that unique vocal. Since then only the instrumental Plastic Wood has deviated to any great degree with Etc, Music In A Foreign Language and his album with The Negatives just refining the sound.
And the latest refinement is Antidepressant, a collection of ten new songs and a cover of Moby Grapes “I Am Not Willing.” Given hes now in his forties, its fair to say a mid-life crisis would seem the order of the day for Lloyd, yet this album contains a collection of tunes that could almost be described as optimistic. Then again, perhaps it’s resignation rather than optimism.
That certainly seems the case with the album’s opener “The Young Idealists” and its central character whos realised hes not going to change the world and has settled down to suburban family life. He seems surprised and even amused by this domestic bliss.
Its a theme the album returns to on songs like “I didnt See it Coming” and “Everysong.” When Cole sings “Having been wrong so many times its hard to believe I might get it right” on “I Didn’t See it Coming”, he gives hope for a happy ending to those who identified with albums like Dont Get Weird On Me, Babe. “Eversong” may be the most lyrically and musically upbeat song hes ever written, but then you “cant cry every song.”
Hes not above mocking his public image as a poster boy for depressed introverts on the album’s title track, singing “with my medication I will be fine” like a mantra.
“Travelling Light” shows Coles country leanings and could be a huge hit if covered by someone like Tim McGraw, but it wouldnt improve on the original.
Its not all wine and roses though. “How Wrong Can You Be?” sees him treading the more familiar turf of doomed relationships. Its a great song with some beautiful acoustic guitar at the start.
Lloyd is widely acknowledged as a master songwriter but hes also a consummate musician and on this album he plays drums, keyboards, and, of course, guitar. Probably the finest compliment I can pay is to say that it sounds like there was a band in the studio recording these songs, they sound real and alive. Hes not completely alone; ex-Commotion Neil Clark plays some slide guitar and the string arrangements come from Dave Trenholm of King Radio.
The album’s finest moment is its swansong. “Rolodex Incident” starts with an almost two-minute instrumental passage, with a melody that drips with sadness before Mr Cole, the troubadour of the broken hearted once more, paints us a musical picture of lost love and regret.
This may be Lloyd’s most positive album but he ends it in downbeat fashion. Perhaps the medication was wearing off.
Publication date: 23/09/06