‘We were, frankly, lucky. 0n the first record, we just wrote great songs non-stop for about six months. That’s not something that can be realistically maintained over a
‘I really hate shaving,‘ spits Lloyd Cole. ‘One of the things I always hated about touring with The Commotions was that vanity forced me to shave more often than I really wanted to.‘
Lately, Cole‘s face - a stubbled, lank-haired, wrecked-looking visage that makes Mickey Rourke in Barﬂy look the picture of health — has been staring out from the sleeve of his comeback single ‘No Blue Skies‘ and frightening the pop kids on Juke Box Jury. Given that the Lloyd Cole we remember, with his constantly remarked-on ‘puppy fat‘, was an inoffensive and altogether cuddly popster, the emigré Cole, posing with leather waistcoats and bottles of Heineken, seems self-consciously to be trading in ‘bedsit‘ for ‘badass‘. He certainly wouldn‘t win any Young Elvis lookalike contests now.
‘I just ended up finding that I can live with the sight of myselfunshaven these days,‘ he says. ‘I guess I‘m just lazy.’
That was one conclusion which could have been drawn from the silence since Lloyd Cole and The Commotions bowed out. Or that Cole was uncertain ofwhat to do now he‘d lost his band, even burned out, lost his bottle or considered jacking it in.
Rattlesnakes, the group‘s first album, somehow prefigured the wave that brought a slew ofslick, soulful Scottish groups into the charts, and also provided, for many, the zenith of the ‘jangly pop‘ that had been the hip student‘s preferred listening since 1981. So proudly was the band clutched to the Scottish bosom that it was usually overlooked that Cole himself hailed from Chapel-le-Frith in Derbyshire — he was made an honorary Scot with an case that would have left Zola Budd gasping.
The faithful were only slightly put out by the substandard second album Easy Pieces, but the band felt the dip in quality and, though swiftly disintegrating, pulled themselves together for the slicker and more mature swansong Mainstream, which Cole regards as their finest work. He can look back fondly but
objectively over The Commotions‘ career.
‘I think we sort of superseded the potential almost immediately, because we were, frankly, lucky. On the first record we just wrote great songs non-stop for about six months. And that‘s difficult to do, that‘s not something that can be realistically maintained over a career. Even if you look at someone who‘s great, like Prince. He writes garbage now and again. He‘ll make a great album and then he‘ll make a rotten one. We were very lucky, in that our first one happened to be a really good record, and on the second record we carried on as was, and realised the reality of songwriting.‘
The painful split was initiated, according to reports at the time. by Blair Cowan‘s aversion to touring (though he has returned to play keyboards for this tour, leaving Cole to declare, reasonably, ‘He‘s obviously a liar‘), and led to Cole‘s relocation to New York‘s Greenwich Village. With nothing particular to keep him in London, and less, one supposes, in Scotland, he decamped ‘on a whim‘ and with few expectations, but settled in so easily that he now has no current plans to return.
‘Frankly,’ he begins, a word he uses so often that one begins to grow, frankly, suspicious, ‘probably the most important thing is that I seem to have been welcomed into a sort of a veritable small, couple ofsmall communities, like a neighbourhood bar that I go to all the time. It‘s like all the regular guys who‘ve been going for years, and I‘ve made a bunch of friends that I miss when I‘m away from them.‘
One ofthe earliest and most important of the friends that he made was Fred Maher, who co-produccd and drummed on Lou Reed‘s masterful New York and then turned his talents over to a fired-up newcomer to the city about which Reed had sung so witheringly. Maher introduced Cole to bassist Matthew Sweet of'I‘he Golden Palominos and guitarist Robert Quine, a qualified lawyer who studied at the Berklee School of
Music and has fuel-injected spasms ofguitar noise into Richard Hell and (again) Lou Reed songs. The new group played a set ofcovers at CBGB‘s under the name The Bob Dylan Band, and went offto make an album.
Lloyd Cole shows the singer growing up with what usually passes for grace among pop stars in their late 20s; that is, with probably greater attention to CD-reproducible textures than songs. I‘m still listening for something to match the exhilaration
4 The List 9 — 22 February 1990