IT WAS A FAIRLY SHORT – SOMETIMES BRILLIANT, OCCASIONALLY MAUDLIN – CAREER. LIT-POP FIVE-PIECE LLOYD COLE AND THE COMMOTIONS FORMED IN 1982 AND SPLIT IN ’89, WITH JUST THREE UK TOP TWENTY STUDIO ALBUMS AND NINE HIT SINGLES TO THEIR NAME. A NEW SIX DISC DELUXE EDITION BOX SET, TO BE RELEASED ON 29TH JUNE, COMPILES ALMOST ALL OF THE BAND’S CATALOGUE WITH A PLETHORA OF PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED MATERIAL.
COLLECTED RECORDINGS 1983 – 1989 features seminal 1983 debut album RATTLESNAKES alongside the more commercially successful EASY PIECES (1985) and brooding 1987 swansong MAINSTREAM. With the inclusion of a disc of b-sides, another of demos and rarities, a DVD featuring the quintet’s promo videos and BBC TV appearances and a 48-page hardback book by journalist and broadcaster Pete Paphides, the box set provides a thorough – almost definitive – guide to one of the most confident and interesting groups of the 1980s.
Born in Derbyshire, and studying English and Philosophy at Glasgow University, Lloyd Cole met keyboard player Blair Cowan and guitarist Neil Clark (later drummer Stephen Irvine and bassist Lawrence Donegan, previously members of The Bluebells). On the verge of issuing independent single DOWN AT THE MISSION (first official release on this box set and sounding drastically different to everything around it) The Commotions signed to Polydor in 1984. Verbose first single proper PERFECT SKIN (with “She’s got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin / And she’s sexually enlightened by COSMOPOLITAN” a rather uncommon expression of an idealised aesthetic) was an immediate – perhaps surprise – hit.
With a tight sound (some would say uptight) where not a note would be wasted – roughly translatable as POSITIVELY FOURTH STREET filtered through The Byrds, Leonard Cohen, The Velvet Underground and Television – Lloyd Cole And The Commotions offered a peculiarly sophisticated take on erudite pop songwriting in the post-new wave era. Intricate guitar lines and clever lyricism marked out both bands, but if a handy cliche for The Smiths was that a rain-sodden Morrissey walked back street alleys with an unlikely fancy for Oscar Wilde, then for The Commotions it might have been that Cole was tucked up in Undergraduate basement digs with an espresso, cigarettes and Sunday afternoon study pile. In a 1995 interview with Richard and Judy Finnigan, of all people, he suggested that early on in the band’s life he was “particularly keen for people to know how many books I’d read and films I’d seen”. Candid footage from the time (not included here but available on a previously released concert DVD) shows Cole walking through a train station with that most rock ‘n’ roll of accessories – a briefcase. Flawless debut RATTLESNAKES journalled a wilfully bohemian life lived in the halls of academia, and in the coolest bars off campus. More specifically a love life lived there, and littered with references to classic 20th-century writers, hip silver screen figures and pop icons (the title track’s “She looks like Eva Marie Saint in ON THE WATERFRONT / She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance” and the mentions for both Norman Mailer and Arthur Lee during ARE YOU READY TO BE HEARTBROKEN?).
Though often pretentious – and increasingly aware of it – Cole’s cutting wit and penchant for a memorable melody ran deep in everything subsequently released, including singles FOREST FIRE (a slow-burning epic), BRAND NEW FRIEND (broadsheet reader soul), LOST WEEKEND (Iggy Pop’s THE PASSENGER as received in the hash / coffee bars of Amsterdam), and MY BAG (fame-drug-city beat poetry). Second album EASY PIECES (seemingly much more accomplished – but with broadly lesser material than RATTLESNAKES) and the final effort MAINSTREAM (dark, often self-scrutinising) achieved higher chart positions than The Commotions’ 1984 debut – but neither are recalled with quite as much fondness. Says Cole: “1984 was our year. Everything seemed easy. Everything went wonderfully. After that being Lloyd Cole And The Commotions became increasingly difficult. But I’m really glad we made the music we did. I can’t imagine a band I’d rather have been the singer in”.
Housed in a deluxe clamshell box COLLECTED RECORDINGS 1983 – 1989 features RATTLESNAKES remastered from the original tapes at Abbey Road Studios, regarded by the original band members as by far the best sounding version available. EASY PIECES has also been remastered from the best available source tapes to create the definitive version. The first disc of rarities includes fourteen studio b-sides, two live curios and previously unreleased versions of BRAND NEW FRIEND and FROM GRACE. The second rarities disc includes six never-before-heard tracks (EAT MY WORDS, OLD WANTS NEVER GETS, ANOTHER DRY DAY, OLD HATS, POONS and YOU WIN) alongside demos of PATIENCE, 29, HEY RUSTY and singles FOREST FIRE, PERFECT SKIN and JENNIFER SHE SAID. It also includes unissued debut single DOWN AT THE MISSION and its b-side ARE YOU READY TO BE HEARTBROKEN? plus previously unreleased versions of EVERYONE’S COMPLAINING and MR MALCONTENT produced by Chris Thomas (Sex Pistols) and previously unreleased versions of JENNIFER SHE SAID and HEY RUSTY produced by Stewart Copeland (The Police). The DVD features ten videos (nine singles and MAINSTREAM’s title track) plus performances from TOP OF THE POPS, WHISTLE TEST and WOGAN. Pete Paphides’ book tells the unvarnished story of the group based on interviews with Cole, Clark, Cowan, Irvine and Donegan, plus the band’s manager Derek MacKillop, Polydor A&R man Malcolm Dunbar and producers Paul Hardiman and Alan Winstanley. It also features previously unpublished photos.