REVIEW: Lloyd Cole In New York (Collected Recordings 1988-1996)
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by Margaret Chrystall
WE were just three songs into LLOYD COLE’s look back over his 1983 to 1996 songs when he staredd out at his packed, greying Eden Court crowd and said: "You’re not getting any younger, either!"
That dry humour may have helped those of us of a certain age with the pain of realising that those days when Cole’s wry lyrics, understated melodies and cast of kooky characters soundtracked our lives aren’t years but decades ago.
But it has to be said, the songs – and Lloyd – are wearing well.
If Rattlesnakes’ heroine Jodie is still out there winning over a new generation of ears and imaginations, looking "like Eve Marie Saint in On The Waterfront" has probably ensured she’s still popular with the cool indie kids.
And blue – like the double denim he wore himself and referenced in song No More Love Songs as the preferred outfit of a brace of two-stepping good ole boys – tints so many of Lloyd’s songs.
Two songs in, Perfect Blue found the songwriter admitting "Whatever I touch turns blue" before one of those unforgettable pictures floated by in his lyrics – "I dream the ocean was in my house/I feel the surf against my skin".
As song after song rolled back the years, the miracle started to be that this master songwriter had never become even close to the famous of the greats he paid tribute to with musical quotes in his own songs. Bowie’s Heroes made an appearance in Brand New Friend. And Butterfly came with its own regretful little hat-tipping Famous Blue Raincoat snippet to "Mr Cohen - that’s for the songs" .
In the second half, a lean young man joined him for what Lloyd had already billed as "a more upbeat set".
Lloyd deadpanned: "So you can all imagine the lengths I had to go to to find a young man who could play guitar and looked like me ... if I’d been a member of the Jesus and Mary Chain."
And the added power of the second guitar added to the music – William adding a nice riff to the end of Like Lovers Do. And where the lyrics in Brand New Friend go "It’s all downhill now", William's fingers skidded graphically all the way down the fingerboard.
But the good news for the middle-aged crowd and Lloyd – who admitted that some of his younger life had been spent looking ahead to middle-age – is that maybe the worst is over. If you don’t count him having to wear specs over his contact lenses to tune the guitars.
Introducing Hey Rusty, he said: "You may recall when I was a younger man, much younger, I used to be interested in the idea of middle age.
"With songs I wrote 30 years ago I now have more sympathy for the characters in the songs than the know-it-all 26-year-old songwriter."
And once again effectively admitting that us once-cool kids didn’t have all the answers, he followed So You’d Like To Save The World? reminding us: "Mick Jagger wrote about how bad it is to get old, but he seems to be literally the only one having any fun doing it!"
And at least on the surface, Lloyd seems to have cheered up a lot, though it’s pretty certain from his story about being photographed back then for publicity shots that he wasn’t as miserable as he looked.
"Remember those photos of me in the 1980s and early 1990s?
"I’m trying to look neutral for the camera, neither happy nor sad. But I got it completely wrong. I tend to look quite stern or very angry when I’m trying to look neutral.
"A singer on Twitter recently said they thought I’d scowled at them on Top of the Pops back then, but I was probably just saying hello..."
Joking early on about any audience hopes of hearing all the songs they’d hoped he would play, Lloyd pointed out his career has "only really had two hits".
"Hopefully you will divide the two hours by the number of hits – and you’ve already had one!" he teased.
But that’s the thing about most of those songs in both sets, they’ve got lines and quirks that keep them permanently on any self-respecting more mature fan’s playlist.
Maybe we’ll never now ever get to find ourselves "wrapped up in needlecord and coincidence" as in Pretty Gone, or lose enough stodge or regain enough fire to have "cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin" as in Perfect Skin.
And as for being "sexually enlightened by Cosmopolitan" – well "aren’t we all?" added Lloyd to his famous lyric.
But unlike love, life, faith and pop music, the power of that vintage Lloyd back catalogue’s here to stay.