Singing for grown-ups in 3D
Lloyd Cole tells Robert Sandall why ‘cool’ bores him, and his favourite club is a putter
When Lloyd Cole says that a lot of the things he enjoys “don’t sit very well with youth culture,” you can see his point. Today’s outfit of sweater, slacks and clumpy brown shoes look as if they have been borrowed from his dad.
‘The quintessentially cool rock people I’ve met have always seemed so fragile, I feel sorry for them’
We’ve met to discuss 45-year-old Cole’s discreetly excellent new album, Antidepressant, a title that was chosen, he insists, “because some of my best friends in New York are constantly medicated, and also because people can take it in different ways, it’s ambiguous”.
That seems fair enough; but is it not also likely to put off the junior section of the pop audience, whose preferred drugs are not usually prescribed and whose dark moods tend to be treated with cider and suchlike?
“I’m just not interested in what 18-year-olds consider cool,” Cole says firmly. “The quintessentially cool rock people I’ve met have always seemed so fragile, I feel sorry for them.”
Into this category he places Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of the Clash, along with Pete Doherty. Arctic Monkeys he dismisses as “the most disappointing thing I’ve heard since the Stone Roses. Wit is the meat of their songwriting rather than the salt.” He’s glad his son likes them, he says, “but it would be wrong of me to listen to them”.
advertisementIt would be hard to imagine a better place to rubbish youth taste, and talk to Cole about his 14th collection of catchy-clever, grown-up songs, than Roehampton Golf Course. A regular player with a handicap of five, Cole has decided to commence a day of promotional activity with a swift nine holes.
As we drive off at the first, he explains that the sport he calls “my only hobby” has taught him a lot. The character needed to negotiate your way out of the rough is the same, he finds, as that required to improvise patter on stage when you’re touring solo, as he has been, on and off, for most of the 21st century.
As he maintains a steady par through to the long and winding sixth hole, it turns out that Cole knows as much about the history of golf-course design via an online discussion group as he does about obscure krautrock bands.
These days, his social life revolves around fellow members of the local club at Easthampton, West Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and two sons. His American buddies “have nothing to do with the arts. They’re closer to blue collar than white collar and they couldn’t give a shit what I do for a living.” Disdaining the folderol of stardom, these are the sort of people Cole has hung out with ever since he moved to New York after the Commotions split up in 1988.
Golf has actually loomed large in his life for most of the past 45 years. Cole’s parents managed golf clubs all over the UK. Buxton in Derbyshire was where he grew up before the family re-located to the Home Counties and then moved to Scotland. It was while Lloyd was studying English and Philosophy at nearby Glasgow University in the early 1980s that the band he had formed with a bunch of fellow students took off.
Around the time that he should have been finishing an honours degree, Cole released a modern classic with the Commotions the album Rattlesnakes (1984) and was being feted all over Europe as Scotland’s answer to Lou Reed.
The new album tackles a range of middle-aged concerns from neo-con economics (Young Idealists) to how chat-up procedures alter as you get older (Woman in a Bar) and ends with a track called Rolodex Incident. The title track a jokey number recounting the insecurities of a boy who works in Starbucks was partly suggested by the death of his friend and sometime collaborator, the guitarist Robert Quine, who developed a lethal fondness for mixing anti-depressants and booze.
One of the few adult activities that Cole hasn’t worked into any of his lyrics is now ending with a tricky putt on the ninth. “I never felt that golf was something that should be sung about,” he says, sinking an impressive five-yarder.
Cole describes the theme of the new album as an attempt “to represent little lives, because little lives are often struggling nowadays”. Cole’s not so little life has been quite a struggle since 1996, when he was dropped by his label. Though he has continued to release albums of undiminished quality 2003’s Music in a Foreign Language being a prime example he has mainly supported himself through live solo work, such as the tour of Germany he undertook earlier this year.
The one thing Cole says he always tries to avoid, in music as in life, is banner-waving. “I try not to deal with universals, I like to sing about microcosms. I don’t like the idea that a song has to have a message or a purpose. If I have a point it is that the same people can do very good things and very bad things. But I’m not judgmental about that. We’re all three-dimensional.”
With this, a very 3D Lloyd Cole heads for the clubhouse.
Publication date: 07/10/06