Through both his lauded work fronting the Commotions and his more eclectic solo efforts, Lloyd Cole established himself as one of the most articulate and acute songwriters of the post-punk era.
As a songwriter, Lloyd Cole's literate and quite British lyrical style is wed to a melodic sensibility that's graceful even when he's at his most physical. Musically, Cole's sound has steadily evolved since he made his debut with his group the Commotions on 1984's Rattlesnakes. From the refined jangle pop of that album, Cole moved into a tougher and more direct approach on his self-titled solo debut in 1990, which he balanced against lushly orchestrated pop on 1991's Don't Get Weird on Me Babe. After trying on a harder, more rock-oriented approach on 1993's Bad Vibes, he settled into a lighter yet more contemplative attack on 1995's Love Story that would dominate most of his work in the 2000s and 2010s. At the same time, Cole began creating a body of instrumental work inspired by electronic music, including the ambient textures of 2001's Plastic Wood and the Krautrock leanings of 2013's Selected Studies, Vol. 1 (a collaboration with Hans-Joachim Roedelius); with 2019's Guesswork, Cole started to fuse his lyrical style with his enthusiasm for electronic sounds.
Born January 31, 1961 in Buxton, England, Lloyd Cole formed the Commotions in 1982 while studying philosophy at the University of Glasgow. Originally a large soul band, the group eventually trimmed itself down to a quintet that included keyboardist Blair Cowan, guitarist Neil Clark, bassist Lawrence Donegan, and drummer Stephen Irvine. The uncommon quality of Cole's songwriting earned the Commotions a contract with British Polydor, and in 1984, they debuted with Rattlesnakes, a wry, heartfelt record of jangling guitar pop stuffed with references to the likes of Jules et Jim, Simone de Beauvoir, Norman Mailer, and On the Waterfront. "Perfect Skin," the shimmering first single, reached the U.K. Top 30. Produced by the hitmaking team of Alan Winstanley and Clive Langer, 1985's Easy Pieces was a slicker effort that included the singles "Lost Weekend" and "Brand New Friend," both of which earned significant airplay on alternative radio outlets.
Following the release of 1987's Mainstream, Cole disbanded the Commotions and moved to New York City to establish himself as a solo performer. There he joined forces with noted session drummer Fred Maher, who enlisted ex-Voidoid Robert Quine on guitar and an up-and-coming singer/songwriter named Matthew Sweet to play bass for Cole's eponymously titled 1990 solo debut, which continued much in the vein of his work with the Commotions. Released in 1991, Don't Get Weird on Me Babe marked a major artistic shift, as the entire second half of the album explored lush, string-sweetened cabaret music, arranged by Paul Buckmaster (known for his work with Elton John and the Rolling Stones).
Commercial success continued to elude Cole, however, and it took 1993's Bad Vibes -- a diverse effort touching upon psychedelia and electronics -- a year to find U.S. distribution. By the time of 1995's Love Story, his sound had come full circle; a return to the more minimalist, folk-rock-inspired work with the Commotions -- the LP not coincidentally marked Cole's reunion with the band's guitarist, Neil Clark. The new millennium sparked a new union for Cole, for his 2001 album The Negatives not only showcased the album's namesake, but the name of his new band. Collaborations with Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne, Ivy), Jill Sobule, and Michael Kotch (Vitamin C, Eve's Plum) were featured on the new record, as well as production credits from Stephen Street (the Smiths, Blur). Extensive touring followed. During the same year, Cole released two lower-key albums of solo material: Etc (Lost Songs, Tunes 1996-2000) and the entirely instrumental, electronic Plastic Wood.
Cole resurfaced in 2004 with the understated Music in a Foreign Language LP. Recorded largely at home, the album featured a cover of Nick Cave's "People Ain't No Good." In 2006, Anti-Depressant -- in which Cole compellingly dealt with the positive and negative aspects of aging -- was released. Broken Record followed four years later. The 2013 album Standards was co-funded by fans and featured contributions from Fred Maher and Matthew Sweet. Cole released an interesting electronic record, Selected Studies, Vol.1 in March 2013 with the Krautrock legend Hans-Joachim Roedelius. It received favorable reviews and provided another unique chapter in Cole's distinguished career. The following year, Cole curated Kollektion 02, a retrospective compilation of Roedelius' music. In 2015, Cole released 1D Electronics 2012-2014, a collection of solo modular synthesizer experiments originally recorded for his collaboration with Roedelius.
Taking a break from his burgeoning career as a synth boffin, Cole spent time working on a box set comprised of the complete recordings made with the Commotions. Collected Recordings was released in 2015, and he and his backing band the Leopards hit the road to promote it. Hardly missing a beat, Cole released another box set in 2017, In New York: Collected Recordings 1988-1996, made up of four albums, one unreleased set, and a disc of demos. Cole found a middle ground between the storytelling of his vocal albums and his growing body of electronic projects with 2019's Guesswork, a set of pop numbers performed almost entirely on synthesizers. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi