It is fair to say that if you weren’t fortunate enough to make the connection to Lloyd Cole’s music in the mid to late 80s, – anyone remember ‘Perfect Skin; or ‘Rattlesnakes’? – you may have missed out entirely on his career, which now spans over three decades and fifteen album releases (and a few more in compilations and slash other).
As a singer songwriter, the last ten years of his career in particular, have been hallmarked by a return to a simplified acoustic approach, as he has taken greater artistic and commercial control over his music. In fact he seems to have skilfully avoided anything other than critical success, his desire to be authentic to his craft, and his long standing fan base, a kind of mantra.
Melbourne greeted him again last night for the fourth time this decade in a sold out acoustic show in the intimate surrounds of a mid suburban theatre. For over two hours, he filled the room with the sweet melancholia of the verses he has penned, ever faithful to each era which has defined his musical journey.
Usually I struggle to find others in my life that know much about Lloyd Cole, so there is something very poignant about sitting in a room with a few hundred other fans who must be as die hard as I, or they wouldn’t know to even be there. There we all were, regarding each other respectfully, as we silently mouth along with the lyrics we know so well – (it’s a little hard to break out at an acoustic gig I’ve discovered!).
His performance is heartfelt, many songs offered with a sense that he is perennially in love with them, but I suspect many of us enjoy the wry and often self-deprecating humour the peeps through mid-set just as much. As he stumbles on a lyric of a song he has sung, I imagine, thousands of times before, he breaks and says ‘if you ever saw a concert of me that was flawless, you’d be watching a tribute act.’
Now in his mid 40s that angst and melancholic disposition that provided the literary fodder for his lyrics in earlier years, has been refined to something that is more reflective and somewhat amused at the plight of middle age. He is open and real, offering personal asides such as ‘As you can see, I am in peak physical condition, about 5-6 kg heavier than I should be, which affords me sufficient self loathing to sing these songs, and padding on which to rest this guitar.’
So I don’t feel so embarrassed that during this week I found myself, like the 15 year old I was, tearing out adverts from the newspaper for Lloyd’s show. Or that I still have, tucked inside an old album cover, an interview he did with Dolly magazine, way back in the mid 80s, along side the autograph and photo I had taken with him in 2000, or the VHS tape with two of his film clips I taped from Sounds Unlimited (a Saturday morning music clip program that defined my teenage years), despite not having a VHS player for at least 15 years.
I am a lover of many genres of music but there is no other artist that has endured my admiration for more than 25 years. I guess many others would cite Dylan or Cohen as worthy, and at the risk of sounding like an 80’s hangover, many years later I do still enjoy the music of bands like The Cure or New Order. But this music still carries for me the feeling of my youth, whereas Lloyd’s music has changed and matured with me, and provides a kind of anthem which marks a passage of time.
For us fans, I imagine that is why we are ever faithful – that an insightful writer like Lloyd creates for us, a feeling of connection and being understood, in neat little three minute packages that form our own personal ‘life’ soundtracks.
And my shameless ‘Lloyd love’ seeded in me a healthy interest in ‘anguished blokes with guitars.’ Now I am a grown up, I have my own guitar bearing man, my talented partner Tex, who refuses to ever play me anything from Lloyd’s catalogue – and that’s probably a good thing!