David Belcher seeks good vibes from Bad Vibes

HE’S a realist with a taste for irony is Lloyd Cole. This is most useful in the recordbiz where silliness abounds and wilful self-delusion can be fatal. Unlike most rock stars, Lloyd’s got his eyes wide open. Having recently been traded between record companies — “for Status Quo . . . so one of me is worth three ageing rockers, which seems fair” — he’s trying to weigh up the portents of his sharing a January birthdate with both Phil Collins and Johnny Rotten.

Is it possible to exist somewhere between the two, Lloyd wonders? For all our sakes, let’s hope so. Lloyd’s new LP, Bad Vibes, emerges next month on Fontana. “If this LP isn’t successful, I’m obviously nearer the end of my career in the commercial mainstream than the beginning,” he opines idly.

Check out his current single, So You’d Like to Save the World, and you’ll discover that Lloyd would like to leave the world polite memos in the form of solidly-crafted pop songs every bit as melodic as those on his first LP, Rattlesnakes, recorded in 1984 when he led the Commotions. But there’s the rub.

Your average record-buying punter would seem to reckon that Lloyd, good as he is, will never be able to top Rattlesnakes. They think they know all there is to know about the Cole muse. Lloyd’s aware of this. “Expectations after the first LP were rightfully high. Lots of different people embraced that LP, which was a lucky fluke in some ways — and you have to accept that you can have them. Those people saw where our music was going . . . while we saw it going somewhere different.

“So while it’s the LP I’m most fond of, Rattlesnakes is an albatross. I can’t complain about it — other than to say I wish I could have a version without the singing on. There’s a naivety about it. No method, no technique; that vibrato-laden wobble. I remember singing all the melodies one day to Anne Dudley — and the next day she was back with string arrangements. ‘Wow,’ I said, ‘You’ve got it exactly right.’ ”

If he didn’t know any better then, he knows more these days. “I’m doing now the same things musically that I wanted to do then with Rattlesnakes. It would be easy to jump ship . . . to form the Style Council rather than make a better Jam record, but I’ve never felt there was anything else better that I wanted to do.

“But I’m cautiously optimistic for the first time since the Mainstream LP. I think today there’s the same gap in music that there was before the Smiths came along and filled it in 1983/4 . . . rock’n’roll with a pop aesthetic.”

As the doting father of 11-month-old William Cole, Lloyd is wiser and somehow younger than he was 10 years ago, too. Errors will not be repeated. “It was a major mistake to move away from Glasgow in 1986, the only time I suffered from being famous . . . when it became difficult to move around, to go shopping. London isn’t good for music; Glasgow is.”

But despite his ongoing creative re-alignment with ex-Commotions Neil Clark and Blair Cowan, you can’t turn the clock back all the way. Having been dropped last year by his American label, Lloyd will be commuting from New York to London (rather than Byres Road) in the next year.

“I’ll be working in Britain. I don’t want to be in exile. But you have to realise that in rock’n’roll terms, you’ve a creative life of 10 years, and you owe it to yourself to stop when you wane. Or be like Donald Fagen: only put it out when you’ve enough.”

Lloyd Cole: he’s still got more than enough. Put yourself out to hear him.

Publication: The Herald (Glasgow)

Publication date: 14/09/93