Sometimes some folk must feel that their greatest achievements lay ahead of them, while other times for other artists the heavy sinking feeling lies in the stomach that your greatest work is well behind you.
This is how I feel about Lloyd Cole, after listening to yet another album based on half hearted lyrical endeavour and soft country rock. Borrowed riffs and refrains from the rock anthology, or just cut and pasted from his own previous back catalogue in order to keep a sense and feel that it is him. This disappointment has gone on too long. Maybe his epitaph will have to just be Rattlesnakes.
It started not with his debut as a solo artist, but with his second album as merely himself, "Don't get weird on me babe" which seems to have set the mold for all his subsequent work (bar his adventure into electrica recently) as being soft rocky, poppy stuff trying to maybe be modest and grown up and following a thread he was content with. The country and western influences from its' pre 1970s-cheese fest are tamed by studio drums and mediocre chorus. Why bother Lloyd? Is there hope Wim Wenders will use you as an understated backing track to a new detour back to little mid west USA?
Lloyd still shines though in the blinding light of the early days of "Lloyd Cole and The Commotions" . When I last saw him live many moons ago at the Usher Hall, Edinbra, he returned to much of this body of work in an acoustic (with pick ups ) set - you could say that solo tour was his own "unplugged". His voice was often nervous, failing completely in range at crucial points he used to master, but some songs in the set were performed with a subtle wonder which recaptured the spirit from the 1980s master piece and monolith, "Rattlesnakes".
The band then were forged in the dark alleyways and delapitadated studios of the west end and Argyll areas of Glasgow, Scotland. They chose a unique underground americana image and theme as a back drop for the music on Rattlesnakes, which fed upon the three preceeding decades of american rock, blues and country music. As an alternative rock band, this put them slightly at odds with the antipathy amongst youth towards the US in those Reagan years, , but as fortune would have it the style was enough for them to bypass any wilderness years on an independent label "also ran" list, when they were signed to Polydor for the release of said monolith and masterpiece "Rattlesnakes" in 1984.
Rattlesnakes still is a colossus, head and shoulders above much of 1980s jingle indie, and an album which echoes its uniqueness down the years. The new comers quietly walked on stage with a sideways glance, all smouldering angst and threw alternative rock a sucker punch with their flashing genius. There it stands, Rattlesnakes, stark in much of its use of rythm guitar and steel edged riffs, with often cynical song writing with lyrics which twisted from hopeless romantic endulgence to bitter memories.
Lloyd and band took americana as a theme not from NYC, or SF but from the run down small towns, the tired, the bitter, the angry, the apathetic of the underbelly of the US. The beats. The unseen beaten. That is what his sultry look portayed, a lost son from the mid west wilderness of the soul. He grasped that US feel from a pretence of eternal 1950s vapours and made it cool. His americana was James Deanesque, the anti hero, all passions spent age 21, a rebel with only love as a cause.
Later on this foray into Americana must have inspired Scotland's next venture into Americana, "Texas" into a steel guitar fuelled success bigger than the Commotions but at the cost of commerciality, lower artistic credibilty and Charlene Spitteri being on everything but roller-skates as she was rolled out cross media by the fame-machine.
It was only many years later that I discovered that Lloyd Cole drew much of his lyrical inspiration from the student life as a philosophy undergrad' at Glasgow Uni' in the early eighties. He transposed his uber middle class experiences there, often the minutiae of failed love affaires, into a beat-american gestalt which was more than a facade, it was the soul of the band. Later that decade I walked in his very shoes, working-hard-for-my-union-card by doing promo work towards the covetted QM student union Palais Pass. Access all bands, free for some fly postering. Watch out for Miles Cooney. Footnote: Excludes Motorhead's infamous summer ear bleeder.
He wrote more over of the romance of the time, and the romances no doubt of his life while at the 'varsity. In both their debut and surprising follow. In the early eighties there was both modern romance and post punk leathers, which gave a "free love, so fucking what" cycnicism from the proto existential consumenrist generation those times spawned. Love was explosive, only to be left with smoke blown in your face and eyes turned away. If the truth be told "all we ever shared was a taste in clothes" could be a romantic mantra for the leather clad post punk. Free Love became your right of choice for both sides, while also your right to cut it all off as a gesture of your own free will. Lives and motivations separated especially at the end of academic years, which must have been about 1982-83 for Cole himself. Love as a wrapper you wore to the art school concerts, just to throw away when you were bored by the contents being human.
Although "Rattlesnakes" must be taken in reverance, it was not the one-vinyl-press wonder you may infer, or Wiki critic scribblers may have 'documented' for the biased annals of the electric interweb. It was followed up by the softer, jangly and more playful "Easy Pieces" which gave us more from Lloyds loves and travels in particular as a young man in his formative years of first independence. It even endowed his discography with the indie danceable "Lost Weekend" which I must have swayed my shoulders and hips to while flirting with a flower-print mini dress clad indie-chick or two way back when....where did it all go wrong?
The rot did not being at all with Cole's venture into a Solo career. I guess I could speculate or google on why the Commotions fell away, but suffice to say Lloyd had a lot left in him he wanted to get out alone, and he did that in his first album. It was a sultry, life weary Cole who came with a dark, heavy yet eminently listenable ablbum which was as creative in melody and lyrics as the previous body of work while perhaps being harder hitting alternative rock in sound and intention.
After "Lloyd Cole" with the daubed X, another must-own CD of the time, he then as mentioned wavered over to a more C&W, pop rock album "Weird on Me..." which could have stood alone as a venture into a softer sound and style, and indeed is far from being a terrible concoction by any means. However he has persisted there after with album upon album of B sides, with his voice wavering or not being engineered into anything more than "Lloyd Cole gets old, slowly but surely".
Perhaps the problem lies in his own modesty and the self confessed fragilities which have blighted his life. Maybe he would like to forget his 'pretenious' 1980s as many a 'proper grown up' looks back upon that twenty-something me of high living and irresponsibility. I would have at a guess that in fact it was because Polydor signed them, and made main stream, prime time slick videos with them, and put them on the circuit that actually like Kurt Cobain, the meteoric projection into fame was too much. Better then to have smouldered away some more years as the original line up, struggeling and doing minor town hall gigs as an indy label band through to a mainstream success in the 90s maybe as a matured product with a marketable, authentic back catalogue.
Lloyd, you can choose to gather some inspirational people around you, be they musicians or be they urban street dwellers, or small country town eccentrics, and set off in a new direction, or you can carry on with this long moan of a catalogue of errors, of sounds-just-like-me-like-i-should-sound B sides and make some A sides, even if it takes you ten years. Tour minor venues with a band. Play rock and roll, but remember your indy roots. We will always love and remember you for Rattlesnakes and your first solo album, but please let there be more. Sulking and play acting are back on demand, all part of the show, let it go on.