Pop: Moving, but little commotion

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The Independent Culture
LLOYD COLE

DINGWALLS, LONDON

IT IS AN incessant beat. Hands clap and feet march on the spot, shoulders knock despite the deserted bar area. After a long show of audience anticipation, the stage is still empty. Lloyd Cole turns up, puts down his can of brew, picks up a harmonica and does a passable Bob Dylan rendition, struggles with some chords, forgets a line and looks suitably strained. But this was the encore. Thirty seconds earlier, he had taken a breather after a longer than usual - and almost immaculate - set.

Back in 1988, the singer/songwriter left Lloyd Cole and the Commotions after three acclaimed albums in as many years. Alongside The Smiths and The Cure, Coles's memorable one-liners and the Commotions' melodies-that- refused-to-end-with-the-chorus were the perfect combination for an off- kilter pop experience. Add scintillating subjects, believable narratives dealing with intoxicants, depression and weird relationships and these were clever and modishly ironic takes on popular culture.

Which appealed to the critics. They compared Cole to Lou Reed and the band to the Velvet Underground. The final album was the most successful in terms of reviews, yet Cole decamped to America, where he has spent the last 10 years working on a solo career. The resulting three solo albums have been largely ignored.

Which explains why he spent half of the evening at Dingwalls playing either cover versions or songs from the Commotions era. It was a long time before the triumphant encore that Cole declared the remainder of the set would be made up of his solo efforts. Hearing the two sets of songs together it is a wonder why these have not received equal amounts of praise - they certainly sound remarkably similar.

The melodies benefited from a simple, acoustic set. With only former Commotion Neil Clarke accompanying Cole, the absence of a band made the slithering of his fast-fingered chords more notable. Furthermore, the gentleness of the arrangements suited Cole's languid intonation, ensuring that his eloquent lyrics registered with greater clarity. Cole's songwriting can still be provocative; For instance the strong, neat, witty descriptions of a cycle of alcohol abuse: "I had one glass of red wine/It was self- fulfilling" ("These Days").

At worst, some of the solo songs are lazy - repetitive and cliched rather than droll. Cole is highly gifted, but this careless streak, also implied by the indolent rate at which he has released material since his defection to America, puts Lloyd Cole closer to Shane MacGowan in the songwriters' hall of fame than is perhaps comfortable for him.

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