This should have been a relatively easy task. After all, there are only 3 LPs and 9 singles (all of which were on a studio LP) in the career of Lloyd Cole & The Commotions meaning there were just a little over forty songs to be whipped into the shape of a ten-track imaginary vinyl album.
The problem however, was to not just find the best songs but to segue them into what I consider to be the perfect running order. The other factor being that the band and the record label were astute at identifying the singles and this compilation was in early danger of just being a collection of 45s for the most part.
In the end, I have selected not my favorite ten tracks but the ten that I feel would make up a perfect album. Here goes:-
1. My Bag
In a sense this song is very unrepresentative of the band’s output but it is such a cracking bit of music that it is impossible to ignore. The intention here is to kick things off with a ridiculously uptempo dance number where the beat is what matters rather than the lyrics.
I was actually going to start things off with the Dancing Mix of this song which extends to over six minutes in length but to be honest, and despite Lawrence Donegan making you think, via his bass playing, that you could easily be listening to something that could be from Michael Jackson in his classic era before he went all crazy on us, the mix has dated appallingly – particularly the drums – while the idea of burying the guitar during the chorus is just so wrong.
This is also aimed at keeping listeners on the dance floor, albeit we are now moving into indietracks territory and away from funk/disco. One of the band’s earliest and best-loved songs, the name-dropping of Eve Marie Saint and Simone de Beauvoir were proof that Mr Cole was a cut above the norm when it came to songwriting.
3. Brand New Friend (long version)
There were many who ridiculed Lloyd for the amount of aforementioned name dropping on the debut album and I’m convinced that the introduction of Jesus into the opening line of the first track off the second LP was him thumbing his nose or flicking the Vs at said critics. This is such a wonderful piece of pop music and it has aged as beautifully and smoothly as a classic malt whisky. This version is taken from the 12″ single release.
4. Perfect Skin
It seems strange to have this tucked away in the middle of the album. The debut single that announced the arrival of a great new band and the opening track of what turned out to be a flawless debut album. In any other circumstances this would be a stick on for Side One, Track One but as I explained above, I feel the opening of this compilation is best served by My Bag.
This really is an astounding song and the fact that the band did not seek to extend or alter it for the 12″ release of the 45 proves their belief that they obtained sublime perfection at just over three minutes (which makes it a total mystery as to why a total abomination of an extended mix was put on the 12″ of My Bag…. a single I paid 50p for in a charity shop and still felt that I’d been ripped off!!)
5. Forest Fire (extended version)
It would have been so easy for the band to insist that the 45s should all be uptempo numbers and so stand a better chance of daytime radio airings and a high placement in the charts. The decision to make the second-ever single a slow-tempo ballad with a long outro via a guitar solo was brave and which ultimately backfired as it stalled at #41.
Proof that the lyrics didn’t need name to be dropped in to make the listener sit up and go ‘wow’. I was madly in love in 1984 and Lloyd perfectly captured how I felt about the woman in question and how she felt about me. This, together with You’re The Best Thing by The Style Council, always make me think of her and wonder how her life turned out after our very messy and prolonged break-up. We never ever imagined it that way, maybe we should have paid more attention to the first song on the second side of this LP…
1. Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?
“It’s about being so in love there’s only one way to go – if you get so happy then you’re ready to be heartbroken”.
Lloyd Cole talking to the NME in 1984. Wise words that, as I said, I should have heeded.
2. Mister Malcontent
The other day when looking back at Mainstream, I described this song as the Commotions by numbers. This was not intended as an insult….indeed I was trying to achieve the exact opposite.
This is one of THE greatest ‘tracks only ever released on an LP’ of all time (see Age of Consent by New Order as another example). Friend of Rachel Worth in a comment left behind recently described the version of Mister Malcontent played on the 20th anniversary tour of Rattlesnakes as ‘storming’, a description that was 110% spot-on – bizarre that the best song on the nights turned out not to be on the LP that was being commemorated. Proof that the Commotions were an incredibly talented group of musicians and not merely a backing band for a talented wordsmith out front.
3. Big Snake
A mysterious and uneasy lyric. If taken literally then it appears to condone incest, so I’m sure this is not the case. One alternative explanation, and this would be borne out from some of the material on subsequent solo albums on which he also adopted a third-person narrative, is that this is a song about a man who has hired a prostitute to act out a fantasy. Either way it is unsettling and creepy….and in most cases would be so disturbing as to border on the unlistenable. But, the unsettling and uneasy tale gets an equally unsettling and uneasy tune topped off with a wonderful backing lyric from Tracey Thorn. It’s a million miles away from walking in the pouring rain with Jesus and Jane…..
4. Four Flights Up
Anyone who ever says Lloyd Cole is just a pretentious and po-faced song writer should be tied to a chair and made to listen to this humorous track from the debut LP. And it comes with a jaunty, sea-shanty type of tune that makes you want to dance at the indie-disco.
5. Perfect Blue (alt mix)
I’m killing myself here. The original version that closed Easy Pieces is a great bit of music. This alternative version was made available for a compilation LP that was released post-breakup and isn’t as good. But it is still a strong enough track to close off this particularly imaginary compilation.
mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – My Bag
mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Rattlesnakes
mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Brand New Friend (long version)
mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Perfect Skin
mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Forest Fire (extended version)
mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?
mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Mister Malcontent
mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Big Snake
mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Four Flights Up
mp3 : Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Perfect Blue (alt mix)
I’ll have a look at the extensive solo career over the coming weeks and months.