He’s been all over this and the old blog from the very beginning. Indeed, going back to the old blog, it was a Lloyd Cole song which provided the material for the second ever post, away back on 1 October 2006. Butterfly (the Planet Ann Charlotte mix) in case you were wondering.
I’ve long wanted to do this particular ICA as the companion piece to the Lloyd Cole & The Commotions effort which was #11 in the series back in April 2015. I’ve been hesitant as there’s been so many references to the solo career both by myself and a few of the guest contributors, and in particular there was an 11-part weekly series back in 2018 looking in some depth at the solo albums. Indeed, I’m going to rely in part on what was written during that series as maybe I can’t find a better way of expressing my thoughts, allied to the fact that it will prevent me from contradicting myself!!
So, without any further ado, I am delighted to offer up, ‘Old Enough To Know Better – an ICA of Lloyd Cole’s finest solo recordings’
1. Old Enough To Know Better (Etc. 2001)
Back in 1996, Lloyd had spent much of the year in a New York studio, carving out an album full of acoustic-driven songs, with a number of old friends, including ex-Commotion Neil Clark, flying in to lend a hand. He handed in the album to his direct contacts at his then record label and all seemed well. Record company politics then took over as the upstairs bosses felt that the timing was perfect for another compilation album, this time taking the old favourites from the Commotions era and throwing in some songs from the four solo albums released between 1990 and 1995. Things got really messy and complicated. The proposed new album was shelved and indeed Collection, as the new compilation would end up being named, was delayed until 1998.
It wasn’t until 2001 when he had finally extracted himself from the major label he had been with all his days that he was able to finally get many of the songs from 1996 out there to his fans, albeit in a re-recorded fashion. Etc. was made up of fully realised songs, demos and covers, and Lloyd’s voice has rarely sounded more impressive, It’s a beautiful record, one which reflected the way he was now earning his living as a live musician, touring solo with just a couple of guitars, coming along with no support acts, splitting his sets into two halves, keeping the big hits from the band days till the second sets.
I reckon the title track of ICA 300 is the perfect scene setter for what follows.
2. Sweetheart (Lloyd Cole, 1990)
Lloyd has never hidden his love for Marc Bolan/T.Rex, covering a number of songs over the years as well as writing his own tributes, such as 4MB which was a b-side on one of his singles from 1993. He’s also suggested in a newspaper interview that Telegram Sam is his favourite single of all time. It was therefore hardly a surprise that his debut solo album, which was a conscious effort to make a rock record that would be quite different from the Commotions material, would contain at least one number leaning heavily on those riffs from the glam era.
3. Weeping Wine (Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe, 1991)
Lloyd’s second solo album is something of a lost gem. It’s a record of two very distinct sides. In the UK, the first side is packed with rich, expansive songs on which an orchestra features, unlike anything we had heard from him before, while the flip side contains guitar-led songs along the lines of what we were used to. In the USA, the record label was still desperate to make a rock star out of our hero, and so the record was flipped over there.
My preference is very much for the orchestral material but in terms of the flow of the ICA, I think it makes sense to offer the most Commotion-sounding of all his early solo material. It was released as a single here in the UK, but it flopped, getting absolutely no air play as the sort of miserable, whining sounding lyric over a tasteful guitar tune was so out of sync with all the dance music that was dominating the charts….oh and grunge!
4. The Young Idealists (Antidepressant, 2006)
As anyone who has ever been entertained at any of the solo gigs can testify, Lloyd Cole never really has been the miserable sod that the lazy journalists have portrayed him as throughout his career. In 2006, he released Antidepressant, an album in which self-deprecating humour is very much on display, none more so than on the song which opened the album.
I’nm convinced that all long time fans on hearing this for the first time will have afforded themselves a wry and knowing smile. At the time, we were in our mid 40s, fighting hard to keep the same beliefs and core values as we did in our mid 20s, but shaping them a bit from the life lessons we had learned along the way. I’d like to think, as we edge towards, or get beyond, bus pass age, we still remain true to them.
5. Women’s Studies (Standards, 2013)
Roy Wilkinson, a veteran music journalist here in the UK (and also the brother of two members of
British Sea Power), gave Standards a 4-star review in Mojo magazine, with the following opening:-
The track Women’s Studies includes references to ‘Penguin Classics’ and an unfinished witticism about Josef K and the city of Prague. It would, wouldn’t it? This is archetypal Cole, harking back to the honeyed country rock of second Commotions album Easy Pieces.
He ends the review with a one-word sentence. ‘Captivating.’
Which I think is as good a word to describe Lloyd Cole’s impact on me over the past 37 years.
1. Half Of Everything (Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe, 1991)
More than seven minutes in length, this one has the kitchen sink thrown at it. It was a toss-up between this and the other fantastic songs on the first side of this album, but this makes the cut for the ICA as, unlike Butterfly and Margo’s Waltz, it wasn’t released as a single.
2. Like Lovers Do (Stephen Street Mix) (b-side, 1996)
The third solo album, Bad Vibes, had sold poorly. It sort of forced Lloyd into a rethink and ultimately led to his next album, Love Story, having a song that took him back into the singles charts. The downside of the Top 30 success of Like Lovers Do was that it led to the label executives having that idea of a further best of, referred to in the narrative for the first track of this ICA and the subsequent problems which transpired.
Like Lovers Do was a deserved success, a radio-friendly, intelligent and upbeat piece of pop, just outside the mainstream but far from indie. A slightly different mix was made available as a b-side to Baby, the fourth single to be lifted from Love Story, and it’s that version which has been sneaked onto the ICA.
3. Music In A Foreign Language (Music In A Foreign Language, 2003)
The early part of the 21st Century had seen Lloyd get out on the road performing shows that were almost entirely acoustic with storytelling thrown in for good measure. The old songs always got the loudest cheers and applause in the live setting, but there was enough of a devotion from the fans that the new material was well received, enough for Lloyd to have a go at a really stripped down record not far removed from a home recording. The result was Music In A Foreign Language, and it has a number of very fine moments, not least the title track.
4. Undressed (Lloyd Cole, 1990)
The debut album rocks in many places, but some of my favourite moments on the record come from this whimsical quieter number, where the guitar, combined with the harmonica, reminds me in places of some of Johnny Marr‘s stuff with The Smiths. I’m sure it’s also one of Lloyd’s favourite of his songs as it’s been a constant part of his sets over the years.
5. What’s Wrong With This Picture (The Negatives, 2000)
If you recall, from the opening gambit, an album from 1996 was sitting unreleased in the record company vaults and Lloyd’s career was seemingly on hold. He was living and working in NYC and had hooked up with a band of talented local musicians with whom he was determined to write and record. Pulling in a few favours in terms of funding and studio time, some of 1999 was spent working up songs with his new group, now known as The Negatives. Some of these songs were from the 1996 album, but others were new material.
It turned out that a French-based label, XIII Bis Records, had the stomach for the legal battle over publishing and recording rights and this enable The Negatives to be released in November 2000. In this long-time fan’s view, the album proved to be one of the most unexpectedly high points of Lloyd’s entire career, sort of retrospective in many ways, but it was full of defiance to the critics who all too often had written him off, and of course those record company executives who had made recent years such a misery.
BONUS COVERS 7″
I really want to thank everyone who has contributed in any shape or form to the ICAs, either via the comments or as a guest contributor. I never dreamed it would still be going strong after 300 editions, proving to be the most popular idea/feature I’ve managed to come up with. #301 will, I’ve no doubt, be along shortly.