Lloyd Cole made his name with the Commotions on 1984’s classic debut Rattlesnakes, a perfect synergy of jangly guitars and pretentious literary references. After a more commercial follow-up Easy Pieces, they returned with 1987’s ‘difficult third album’, the presumably ironically titled Mainstream. It turned out to be his last with the Commotions.
The late 1980s was a bad time for music production, and the first track on this album My Bag (my bad) reinforces this. The song isn’t particularly poor but musically it’s all choppy guitars, drum machines and staccato vocals. Lloyd does a nice line in stream of consciousness lyrics though. This is followed up with 3 slower, gentle tracks which survive Lloyd Cole’s somewhat forced vocal delivery. These are helped by less reliance on forced literary references than previous material. From the Hip is a kind of gentle musing, but 29 is more substantial, with the subject being that of impending thirtiedom. The music builds to a nice mope-along plod of a song (in a good way).
The last of these 3, the title track is a little more scathing (“all you have to do is crawl”) and the guitar work is quite Lou Reed-ish. Following track Jennifer She Said is a great American style rock song, all twangy guitars and Elvis style vocals, and it works well.
Unfortunately from there the album takes a turn for the worse. Mister Malcontent is their attempt to do U2 with a big rock song and a kind of predictable chord progression, while Sean Penn Blues is better, another stream of consciousness type track. The rest veers from faux-jazz (Big Snake) to another ‘big’ U2-ish anthem (Hey Rusty) before petering out with These Days, a kind of electronic ballad.
It was time for reinvention and Lloyd’s solo career would do just that…