The prelude to Lloyd Cole’s Broken Record reads like a story worthy of the history books in itself. You see the former frontman of The Commotions turned solo artist spent a decade in self-imposed exile as a would-be folk singer. But he missed interacting with musicians and hearing his music enhanced by the contributions of others, so with Broken Record he was determined to right that.

First came funding – partially from his label – but the remaining money came from 1000 of his biggest fans who paid $45 for a deluxe version of a record that hadn’t even been recorded yet. The medium was to be old-school tape and Cole assembled an ensemble that featured players whose list of credentials included work with Lou Reed, Joan As Policeman and Crash Test Dummies, amongst others.

Cole said the process was rewarding, perplexing, fabulously enjoyable and heinously stressful while Dave Derby (production, vocals) looked on things a little more favourably by saying there was a lot of talking and listening and a healthy amount of drinking, of course! But if there were any impediments or issues while recording then you certainly cannot hear it – despite what the work’s title may allude to. Like Neil Young and Bob Dylan, Cole is proof that you can still write a good album even though decades may have passed since your quote unquote musical heyday.

Broken Record starts with the line: “Not that I had that much dignity left anyway” and sets the scene for the sincere, self-deprecating songs that follow. Other key observations found here include:
“I look like a million bucks/Sure ain’t worth that much”
“Maybe you’re right/Maybe I’m all dried up inside”

Musically, things seem as Americana as apple pie but sound specifically like they are hot off the press from Nashville. Cole is an English expatriate who has lived in the States for over a decade but has still retained the wit and sombre qualities synonymous with people heralding from the mother country. This proves an excellent contrast and foundation to the work as he can be self-deprecating without wallowing too much in self-pity. He can also deliver clever lines about heartbreak and longing but package these as carefree and thoughtful pop propelled by plenty of twang courtesy of the acoustic guitar, mandolin and banjo.

Lloyd Cole’s influence – whether actual or secondary – can be heard in the catalogues of numerous contemporary, Australian singer-songwriters. There is no doubt in my mind that Bob Evans would love to pull out the harmonica-tinged pop of “Writers Retreat!” or the jaunty and sway-inducing stuff of dance floors in “That’s Alright”. Darren Hanlon springs immediately to mind when you hear Cole’s quirkier lyrics and Josh Pyke certainly has elements of Cole as the lovelorn wordsmith permeating his work.

Lloyd Cole has notched up many years in the music biz yet on Broken Record he pulls out many aces to produce a fresh, vital and gentle-sounding record of honest literary pop. Some of it is admittedly keeping with the tried and tested formula of old but really if it ain’t broke…

Review score: 8/10

Link to original article online

Publication: AU

Publication date: 06/03/11