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 STUDIO ALBUMS AND NINE SINGLES TO THEIR NAME. A NEW SIX DISC DELUXE EDITION BOX SET, 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 promotional 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 at Glasgow University, Lloyd Cole formed The Commotions with 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 Leonard Cohen, The Velvet Underground, Television and a stack of old soul singles – 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. 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. The band’s 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, the hippest 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?).
Cole’s cutting wit and penchant for 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 (drug-fame-city-beat poetry). Second album EASY PIECES (seemingly much more accomplished – but with lesser material than RATTLESNAKES) and the final effort MAINSTREAM (dark, often self-scrutinising) achieved higher chart positions than the 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”.
In this fascinating extended new edition of The Mouthcast – recorded via Skype to Cole’s home in Massachusetts – he discusses RATTLESNAKES in depth, and looks back at the difficulties during the making of follow-up EASY PIECES and the band’s swansong MAINSTREAM. He reflects on the band’s success, and explains why his facility with words was akin to having “a six pack”…
Order signed copies of COLLECTED RECORDINGS direct from Lloyd Cole here
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