”Talk among yourselves for a moment,” said Lloyd Cole in performance at the Hammersmith Odeon. He might have added ”while I play a few thrash metal numbers from my new album”. All artists like a change of direction, but not all their fans do.

In the days when Cole used to wear his brain on his sleeve, he was called an adolescent show-off. It would appear that he has taken the ribbing to heart. Having retained only keyboardist Blair Cowan from the Commotions the Scottish band with whom he made three very presentable, if undergraduatish albums and replaced them with a five-strong crew of more hard-edged musicians he picked up in New York (including Matthew Sweet on bass and Robert Quine on lead guitar), Cole seems determined to play the post-pimple rocker.

There is no harm done in his trying to look the part (enter stubble, shades and floppy bob), but when he tries to sound the part things go wrong (exit melodic subtlety of old).

More than once he defiantly introduced songs as ones that he liked even if no one else did (”what the hell it’s my concert”), and he avoided one of the favourites that most of the audience encored him for (‘I’m not gonna play all of ’em”), choosing instead to exit on ”Mercy Killing”, which is not much more than a dense cluster of decibels. To quote Cole against himself, he seemed to be cutting off his nose to spite his face.

If he failed to end with ”Forest Fire”, at least he opened with ”Perfect Skin”, into which he segued after a short sharp cover of Paul McCartney’s ”Why Don’t We Do It In The Road”. Pumped-up and feed-backed, it was a vociferous statement of intent.

Honourably excepting ”A Long Way Down” and ”Don’t Look Back”, two of the choicest compositions from the new album, it was Cole’s old songs which gave shape to the show ”Mainstream” and ”Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?” and even older songs by singers Cole seems to have appointed as his forebears: Presley’s ”Little Sister” and Dylan’s ”She Belongs To Me”.

Cole has declared himself keen to produce Dylan’s next album, so singing one of his songs came across not so much as an act of idolatry as an audition. On the strength of his new adult sound, one would not like to bet that he would get the job.

Publication: The Times

Publication date: 01/03/90