To read his most recent reviews, you’d think Lloyd Cole had turned into Mozart. Or at least Nelson Riddle. Strings, orchestras . . .

“Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe” is an appropriately titled album, the fifth by the English singer-songwriter, second since he broke up the Commotions, the band that first propelled him to attention.

The first side is standard Cole, introspective rock ‘n’ roll with just a hint of bitter humor to brighten the darker moments. The other side, though, if you believe what you read, ain’t rock ‘n’ roll; it’s symphony!

“The reviews do give that impression don’t they,” says Cole. “It’s quite sad really because it wasn’t such a great change for me. I still think about violins and cellos in the same way as I think about guitars or Hammond organs, I just wanted to work with different instruments.

“But after somebody’s been making records for seven or eight years, as I have, people will always leap on the opportunity to write about something that’s not the same as always. And I suppose this isn’t what people expected from me.”

The change does not seem to have hurt. “She’s A Girl And I’m A Man,” the first single from the album, is pushing vigorously upward on the charts. MTV has been airing the video, and “Don’t Get Weird” itself has earned Cole some of the best reviews of his life.

Even better, it’s finally started people talking about something other than “Perfect Skin,” Cole & the Commotions’ first single and the yardstick by which everything since has been measured.

“What people remember about ‘Perfect Skin,’ about ‘Rattlesnakes’ (the Commotions’ first album) in general, is the sheer vibrancy of it all. There was a certain naivete which we had at that time, the exuberance of discovering we were exactly what we wanted to be and were damn good at it.

“When you first discover that, you’re very much on top of the world, and I think the new record has that same feel, particularly the rock-‘n’-roll side. To me it feels like things have come full circle, back to where ‘Rattlesnakes’ was in terms of the sound and the way the songs are arranged.”

Producer Paul Hardiman, reunited with Cole for the first time since “Rattlesnakes,” can take some of the credit for that.

So can the band. First united under Cole for last year’s “Lloyd Cole,” it featured former Lou Reed sideman Robert Quine (guitar); Fred Maher (drums); bassist Matthew Sweet – whose own solo album, “Girlfriend,” features several Cole cameos; and former Commotion Blair Cowan (keyboards). The orchestration, incidentally, was arranged by Paul Buckmaster, whose career includes stints with David Bowie and Elton John.

But if anything truly shaped “Don’t Get Weird,” it was Cole’s belief that with it he is saying goodbye to rock ‘n’ roll. “I’m 30 years old, and I think there are other areas that I could investigate. “Next time I’m out – who knows what I’ll do? Or where I’ll be?”

Publication: The Seattle Times

Publication date: 29/11/91