The ICA World Cup is over and the result of the final will be revealed tomorrow.
One consequence of that is that I now have the time to return Sundays to their purpose of being the day for a regular and in-depth series, which for the most part has been all the 45s of a particular singer or band. But for the next instalment, I’m going to do down a slightly different road….
I’ve always hankered after doing a Lloyd Cole solo ICA but I’ve had real problems getting such a work down to just ten songs, especially as he has released such a rich variety of different sounding material over the years. I’m therefore going to feature him, not on a single-by-single basis, but on a year-by-year basis (as best I can as there have been some quiet spells where there were no releases). I do hope you enjoy it and stick with it over the coming months.
It would be fair to say that Lloyd Cole is best known for his output with The Commotions – three very successful albums between 1984 and 1987, all of which earned gold discs for sales numbers, and nine singles, none of which, to my surprise, got any higher than #17 in the charts.
The band, after a hiatus when there were all sorts of rumours, announced their break up in 1989, with Polydor Records in the UK and Capitol Records in the USA signing the frontman to a solo contract. There really were high hopes that he would become a major star under his own steam.
The debut material was written and recorded in New York. The singer revealed, in late 1989, that the sound would be a radical departure from that of the Commotions, although he did let on that keyboardist Blair Cowan was someone he was still working alongside but that much of the newer rock-type guitar sound would be the work of Robert Quine, regarded by many as one of the unsung heroes of American guitar music in the 70s and 80s, working alongside Lou Reed, Brian Eno, Richard Hell and Tom Waits among many others. The other main musicians were Fred Maher (who was another NYC musician who had worked with Lou Reed) and a highly thought of but relatively unknown bass player named Matthew Sweet.
The first Lloyd Cole solo song was a 45 released in January 1990:-
There was no mistaking who the vocalist was, but the slower almost AOR pace of the song was a bit of a shock to those of us who danced round the indie discos to the previous singles. It sold in reasonable numbers, reaching #42 but that was probably a disappointment to the label bosses who were putting a fair bit of money into promoting the artist as a solo performer.
The album, entitled Lloyd Cole, came out a month later. The sleeve, featuring a heavily bearded and long-haired frontman, was an instant giveaway that this was not going to be an indie-pop album. Reviews were decent, although just about everyone commented on how laid-back yet harder-edged it was compared to the band material; there were also references to the fact that he continued to be a very fine observational lyricist who would strike a chord with his audience, particularly those who had been with him since the early days and were now appreciating what life had to offer outside the student bubble. It reached #11 in the charts and did, like his band albums, get certified gold.
Its thirteen songs stretched out to over 53 minutes and while there were none that stood out as obvious chart singles, there were some that became instant favourites among fans and remain part of the live repertoire almost 30 years on:-
There were in fact three singles released from the album, all of which came with a variety of b-sides that never made it to the album, two of which were as close to Commotions numbers as anything from that period:-
The former, as so many of the great band songs had done, namechecks a celebrity, in this instance Jodie Foster, while the latter with its obvious drug references, could be a rock relation to My Bag.