All things considered, it is fortunate that Lloyd Cole and the Commotions chose to rhyme read Norman Mailer with get a new tailor on the song Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken? This silly nugget of assonance is the central trope for which the band is remembered: it is their principal recommendation to posterity. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions? muses the disinterested music lover 20 years after the groups debut album, Rattlesnakes. Werent they the ones who rhymed Norman Mailer with tailor?
On such whimsical foundations is mild, long-term fondness built, in much the same way that Joe Dolce occupies a place in many hearts solely because his single Shaddup You Face prevented Ultravox getting to No 1 with the deeply rubbish Vienna.
Coles daft author/clothing rhyme stuck in the collective mind and set him slightly ahead of the pack, to the extent that he and the Commotions could fill the Barrowland for this once-more-with-feeling reunion. Coles now-obscure contemporaries such as the Thrashing Doves or Diesel Park West must be kicking themselves they didnt think to pair a renowned US novelist with a sartorially connected noun first: Truman Capote and chapeau, say.
Two thousand people dont shell out £25 a go just to hear five greying blokes rhyme Mailer with tailor, though. They do so because no band captures and evokes the nostalgia of university days quite like Lloyd and the Commotions. Their songs abounded with literary reference and winsome wordplay and the ambience of rented rooms adorned with Leonard Cohen posters. It was music to initial your milk cartons to, fast and peppy enough to soundtrack the late-night plagiarising of someone elses Larkin essay.
Most of all, it was terribly, terribly polite. Comparing the Commotions to any noisy, hairy, rock band is like comparing Pam Ayres to Dylan Thomas. Though at the time their music sounded fresh and lively, like a synthesis of Lou Reed and Gram Parsons, the years have neutered it to the point where it now sounds as prim and upright as a divinity fresher collecting for charity and just as punchably smug.
This wouldnt be so bad if the group, now scattered across the globe in a variety of second-act careers, acknowledged such, but this reformation has been posited on the 20th anniversary of the Rattlesnakes album and the bands accompanying, rather immodest belief that Rattlesnakes marked a pinnacle in rock history.
Rattlesnakes was a great, great album, writes bassist Lawrence Donegan in the sleeve notes to the new remastered edition. As a music fan, it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
While not stooping to the observation that the band are now of such an age that the back of their necks is one of the few areas where there is hair to stand up, it must be said that this is an overstatement of a high order. Rattlesnakes was quite a good album. The two that followed it, before the band imploded, were quite good too, but less so. And that was the extent of it.
Every track on Rattlesnakes, though, bar one, is played. A seasoning of the other hits Lost Weekend, Brand New Friend, My Bag, Cut Me Down were thrown in too. Though he is something of a raconteur in his solo shows, Cole kept the chat to a minimum, because tradition dictates that proper groups dont speak to the audience. The playing was faultless, replicating the recorded arrangements to a precise degree.
Ultimately, though, it could never be more than Friends Reunited with drums, weirdly pointless and innately maudlin. The band dont plan to stay together after this reunion or record again. They didnt even particularly want to reform in the first place, apparently.
They didnt rework, augment, refresh or revivify their classic material. They just turned up, played mildly charming songs from long ago, no doubt showed each other snaps of their conservatories, then vanished. It was all quite perplexing, really.
Publication: The Times (London)
Publication date: 17/10/04