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Lloyd Cole going solo - a retrospective of his early solo albums

Lloyd Cole visits Ireland this month for a tour subtitled “The Classic Lloyd Cole Songbook 1983-1996” and for many who will attend his gigs it will be his work with the Commotions that will be the draw for them, however for me the chance to hear some of the songs from his early solo work is what has me excited for his date in Dolan’s Warehouse on August 31st. 

It was in 1991 a couple of years following the break up of Lloyd Cole & the Commotions that Cole emerged from his new home in New York with his self titled debut album (often referred to as ‘X’). In subsequent interviews he’s often referred to the period of writing the album as his most creative with his aim being the production of a non-Commotions sounding album. Allied with a retinue of hugely talented musicians including Robert Quine, Fred Maher, Matthew Sweet and former Commotion Blair Cowan (who even shares a number of writing credits on the album) Cole certainly succeeds in his ultimate aim.

He delivers an inspired and varied album with tracks such as “What Do You Know About Love”, “Sweetheart” featuring some killer edgy guitar lines from Quine, whilst Cowan’s keyboard work is exquisite especially on “Downtown”.There is still plenty of whimsical Cole on show with the likes of “It’s a Long Way Down” “Ice Cream Girl” and the down to earth everyday joy of “Undressed”.With the epic soundscapes of “No Blue Skies” and “Mercy Killing” this album really sets itself apart from previous Lloyd Cole recordings and was an excellent foundation to launch what was to be his long lasting solo career.

Less than two years later Cole was back with “Don’t Get Weird on Me Babe” along with most of the same band of musicians. However with his second solo release Cole takes a much different approach particularly on the ambitious first side of the album. Taking the courageous step of recording with a full orchestra arranged and conducted by Paul Buckmaster, the sweeping strings are inspired and add a lushness that Cole had already hinted at on “No Blues Skies” on the previous record. 

Opening with the sublime slow build of “Butterfly” and featuring the epic and acerbic “Half of Everything” it’s an album with a huge sound and plenty of heart. “Margo Waltz” is the near perfect centrepiece and might be one of the finest tracks Lloyd Cole has ever recorded.  Bizarrely it’s a track that featured in the film “There’s Something About Mary” which is quite appropriate as the first side of “Don’t Get Weird on Me Babe” is like a soundtrack in search of a movie.

Given the ambition of side one I’ve often seen side two of “Don’t Get Weird on Me Babe” as a bit of a frustration as personally I think it would have been great to see the orchestral approach maintained throughout; however that’s me being a little mealy-mouthed given that it does feature quality Cole tracks like “To The Lions” and “Tell Your Sister” along with album closer and one of the best singles of his career, “She’s a Girl and I’m a Man”.

Third album into his post-Commotions career on “Bad Vibes” (released in 1993) Cole once again took a new direction which saw him collaborating with producer/remixer Adam Peters and using electronics, synths and sound effects like never before (something he has revisited on his most recent release). Released to some rather mixed reviews (from those probably expecting more familiar Cole fare) it’s an album with some crackin’ tunes especially “Morning Has Broken” and “So You’d Like to Save the World” one of the most upbeat tracks that Cole has ever produced with it’s rousing chorus of “you might call it ultraviolet radiation, but it’s only sunlight” a clever and positive anthem is there ever was one.

Is it consistent though out, possibly not, maybe reflecting some uncertainty in Cole at the time but it’s an album worth investing in if you haven’t heard “Bad Vibes” before and well worth a revisit if you haven't listened to it in a while. Its brought to a perfect close with the low beat 8 minute sprawling opus “Can’t Get Arrested”.

And so to the fourth Lloyd Cole solo album “Love Story” and one which could be seen as both a reaction to the mixed reception that “Bad Vibes” received and a reflection of man content with family life in rural Massachusetts. It sees the electronics & drum machines of that album largely dispensed with and sees a more Commotions-like back to basics approach being taken. 

It’s an album that sees Cole delivering sweet love songs as befits an album with such a title, “Sentimental Fool” and the classic “Like Lovers Do” being stand out tracks.  Whilst songs such as“I Didn’t Know You Cared” and “Let’s Get Lost” feature the trademark Cole witticism and lyrical dexterity in all it’s glory. 

“Love Story” might lack the experimentation of the previous three albums but it sees Cole truly comfortable in his skin and embracing his natural singer-songwriter persona.

Often overlooked for his Commotions output the early solo recordings of Lloyd Cole deserve a positive reappraisal and to be discovered by those only familiar with his earlier repertoire. The upcoming Lloyd Cole shows represents an opportunity to celebrate all aspects of his excellent pre-1996 catalogue.

Lloyd Cole (playing the classic Lloyd Cole Songbook 1983-1996) visits Dolan’s Warehouse on August 31st.