Lloyd Cole released his first solo album in 1990. It promised to be a departure, as Lloyd had moved to New York and assembled a new band containing erstwhile Lou Reed/Richard Hell guitarist Robert Quine, and also Matthew Sweet and Fred Maher. Lloyd was pictured with long hair and stubble, leading to accusations of ‘rocking out’. The truth of it is the album is not quite heavy rock by any means, but more careful evolution of his sound and music.
Opening with the blissful Don’t Look Back (obvious Dylan reference there!), Lloyd does not completely reinvent himself, but more gently evolve. Indeed the aforementioned collaborators play with great subtlety on this track, with a yearning guitar solo from Quine and sighing backing vocals as Lloyd sings about “when you’re nothing to no-one” and the onset of ageing (“life seems never-ending when you’re young”) and thirtiedom a la 29 off Commotions album Mainstream. No Blue Skies was the first single and is in a similar vein, a soaring tune full of gentle, soaring guitar fills, with Lloyd lamenting “baby you’re too well read”.
So what about the rock?! What Do You Know About Love is the second track, and is a darker, brooding rocker. There’s a lovely midsection showcasing his love of New York (“it’s raining on Bleeker Street”) and the guitar work throughout the track is quite superb. Sweetheart is the rockiest track here, sounding a lot like a Lou Reed style rocker but it works really well with Lloyd’s witty lyrics: “well I guess you've really got some kind of way with words - maybe you could be a writer.” He even sounds like he’s having fun on I Hate To See You Doing That Stuff, where the band cuts loose and sound like they’re having a great time, even Lloyd singing a line or two in French can’t sink this one.
Later Ice Cream Girl is a truly uplifting piece of music, sounding breathtakingly simple yet original, again with some exceptionally good guitar work, while Undressed is a harmonica-led, Dylanesque little ditty which Ryan Adams had clearly heard before recording Heartbreaker.
It’s an excellent collection of songs and at 13 songs perhaps a little overlong, yet it’s a good starting point for discovering Lloyd Cole’s music. It’s criminal that this album hasn’t got more recognition as its fingerprints are all over rootsy alternative music these days (anything from Ryan Adams to Villagers). Incidentally it’s his 50th birthday today which I cannot believe!