Friday, April 13, 2012

Album Review: Lloyd Cole – Cleaning Out The Ashtrays

Ostensibly a collection of B-sides, it is in fact a treasure trove for fans of Lloyd Cole, who never got around to buying the pricy CD singles.  It’s a 4 CD box set with an entertaining booklet, describing the background to all the songs.
Packages like this are essentially for nerds.  Who already have all the albums.  In the case of Lloyd Cole, this is especially so, speaking proudly as one of the nerds.  This set is neatly divided into different phases of Cole’s solo career; One More Wine Glass (1989-91), Re-make/Re-model (1992-93), Dangerous Music (1994-95) and Difficult Pieces (1996-2006).  In truth, these descriptions overstate the material somewhat, most of it fits comfortably into Lloyd Cole’s trademark sound, wry observations over cleverly played guitars.
What is evident here, is that the hitherto overlooked material here is mainly of very high quality, indeed, exceeding many of his solo albums.  The strongest material is mainly on the first (One More Wine Glass) and third (Dangerous Music) discs, with the second disc (Re-make/Re-model) containing some of the weakest, mirroring this period of his solo career.
Tracks like the almost-rocking pair of Blame Mary Jane and Weird On Me would have been among the stronger tracks on any of his solo albums, and the same could be said of the more introspective Missing and Rain On My Parade, the latter of which sees him reach for his inner Blue Nile.
Less successful are the cover versions, Lloyd Cole is one artist who really shouldn’t attempt them, he tends to neuter the songs and add little to them (Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel No 2, Bob Dylan’s Most of the Time and especially Lou Reed’s Vicious, Lloyd’s treatment is anything but).  He also dabbled in remixes, mainly on the second disc, and these are best avoided.
At 59 tracks there is much to enjoy here for fans of Lloyd Cole.  The playing throughout is largely exquisite, Cole has always surrounded himself with quality collaborators.  But above all the songwriting is almost uniformly consistent (with a few exceptions) throughout this collection).