Friday, October 24, 2014

Lloyd Cole: “Standards” (2013/2014) CD Review

Lloyd Cole is known for leading the band The Commotions in the 1980s, and since then for an excellent solo career. His newest album, Standards, was released in Europe in 2013 and now has gotten a U.S. release, thanks to Omnivore Recordings. All but one are originals, and this album features some extraordinary songwriting. If you appreciate good songwriting and creative approaches to music, you’ll dig this album. It mixes rock, pop and folk to really good effect. Plus, Lloyd Cole is joined by some talented musicians, like Matthew Sweet, Fred Maher, Blair Cowan and Joan Wasser.

Lloyd Cole kicks off Standards with the album’s only cover, a rock rendition of John Hartford’s “California Earthquake.”  It’s interesting that someone who is known these days for his acoustic performances would start an album with a rock version of what is essentially a folk song. But it’s a really good rendition of a song about the fault line in California. “Atlantis will rise/Sunset Boulevard will fall/Where the beach used to be there will be nothing at all.” I really love Lloyd Cole’s vocals. His voice is not a typical rock voice, and so it really grabs you over that steady rock rhythm. “They tell me the fault line runs right through here/So that maybe, that maybe what’s going to happen is going to happen to me/That’s the way it appears.”

He follows that with “Women’s Studies,” one of my favorites. It reminds me a bit of Lou Reed, in the vocal rhythm of the verses, plus the odd humor of lines like “Drinking tea and taking unpaid leave from my women’s studies.” The chorus has the bright feel of the best of classic pop, the backing vocals adding to that feel. But the lyrics are anything but usual (“To complete my education I had to wake up in your bathtub”).

“Myrtle And Rose” is my personal favorite track. It’s sweeter, mellower, with a passionate feel. It’s gorgeous and sad, a product of seriously good songwriting. It feels like a short story, the situation and characters so vividly portrayed. Check out these lines: “And I would come to you but you'd be nowhere to be found/So I would turn to her for she was always, always there/Lost will be the souls of the wanton and the weak/And in the morning she'd be lying next to me/And I would want for more/And she would give me more.” And I love this line: “The longer you were gone, the less the longing” – a line that bears repeating, and so he does repeat it. This is such a fantastic and moving song, one of the best I’ve heard this year.

“No Truck” is another highlight, feeling more like a country folk tune of the sixties or seventies. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I have seen the high road and the low/I found no satisfaction/I have seen the mountains sweep down to the sea/I heard the music/It's not moving me.” I also really like the guitar part during the brief instrumental section.

“Opposites Day” is a fun rock/pop tune that has a playful sense, with lines like “I know you look a lot like me/We are/We really are a sight to see.” Then after the lines, “Fall in love with me/Fall in love with you,” he adds “Okay,” and it’s that “Okay” that makes me love this tune. And then the second time around, after those lines, it sounds like he adds “Uh-oh.”

“Silver Lake” is a delicious, mellow song with some excellent lyrics. Lloyd Cole can really create a vivid portrait of a moment in a relationship. The song opens, “Put on some make up and dry your eyes/We'll go to the racetrack and drink some wine/No, I don't love you the way that I should/Baby, I can't leave you like this.” But the two lines that really strike me are “I don’t have a second heart to break” and “I can't stay/But I can't leave you like this.” The songwriting on this album is truly remarkable. These are songs that are going to stay with me, particularly this track and “Myrtle And Rose.”

CD Track List

  1. California Earthquake
  2. Women’s Studies
  3. Period Piece
  4. Myrtle And Rose
  5. No Truck
  6. Blue Like Mars
  7. Opposites Day
  8. Silver Lake
  9. It’s Late
  10. Kids Today
  11. Diminished Ex 

Standards was released on October 14, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings.

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