I’ve long been baffled by The failure of Lloyd Cole to establish a commercially successful solo career.
His period when backed by The Commotions, between 1984 and 1987, saw three hit albums, all of which were fawned over, for the most part, by the music critics. The live shows were also among the ‘must-see’ category, with no venue being too large or challenging for the band, as evidenced in June 1986 when they supported Simple Minds at an outdoor gig at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow, seemingly being note-perfect throughout in front of more than 40,000 attendees.
I had always thought The Commotions had been ever-present in the singles charts, but it turns out that only five singles ever made the Top 40, and even then, the best performance wasn’t a huge hit as Lost Weekend reached only #17. So, with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps it wasn’t a racing certainty that Lloyd would be a huge star when he branched out on his own, with things made a lot tougher by the fact that he made a conscious decision to move away from the sound and look of his days with a band.
He moved to New York City to write the new material and to find the musicians he most wanted to make the record with. There was also a two-year gap between the last Commotions album and the first of the new material to factor in, so all-in-all, it was something of a gamble, but one he and his record label were very confident of pulling off.
The first solo single, No Blue Skies, was released at the end of January 1990. It stalled at #42 in the UK.
The self-titled debut album followed a month later, entering the charts at #11. This was quite encouraging as that was a similar outcome as Mainstream, the final Commotions album which had come in at #9 on its first week of release.
The problem was that over the next four weeks before a second single was taken from the album, Lloyd Cole had dropped all the way to #66, and so badly needed a sales boost via a well-received 45.
Don’t Look Back, came out in April 1990. It got no higher than #59. The album continued to plummet, dropping out of the charts after just a six-week stay, never to be seen again.
The problem was that the songs weren’t poppy enough for daytime radio, nor were they different or unusual enough for the drive time or evening shows to be really interested.
The planned third single, Downtown, was released but with next to fanfare or promotion. It didn’t chart in the UK but it did prove to be a minor hit in the USA, mainly as a result of it being included on the soundtrack to the film Bad Influence, which starred Rob Lowe and James Spader, with the promo video airing regularly on MTV, featuring clips from the movie.
Years later, Lloyd acknowledged that he got it badly wrong. He wrote this song for an album released in 2000:-
Maybe I was just too much of a fanboy back in the day to make a true judgement on things, but I really did like the singles and almost all of the debut album. I’ve given a fresh listen again in recent days – it’s a CD copy rather than a vinyl version I have – and I do think it’s aged fairly well. OK, there’s nothing as immediate as the Commotions material, but at no point does it ever get boring or unlistenable.