How I learned to Love Lloyd – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Rattlesnakes by Killian Laher
Lloyd Cole popped up in the mid-eighties at a time of bookish, literate guitar groups such as The Smiths and the Go-Betweens. Fronting Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, I distinctly recall the band turning up on the Wogan chat show in the eighties and tuning in, only to get a glare of disapproval from my mother as Lloyd sang “walking in the pouring rain, walking with Jesus and Jane” in Brand New Friend. Obviously, I loved this and a (not so brand new) friend taped me their Easy Pieces album. To be honest I was a little disappointed with it, I had heard Perfect Skin and Rattlesnakes but they weren’t on it. It turned out they were on the Rattlesnakes album. So I pestered my classmates until I discovered somebody who had it on tape. He literally had a tape of the songs and no song titles or details. In these pre-internet days, it wasn’t obvious from many of the songs what the titles were.
It opens with Perfect Skin. On this track, it sounded to me like Lloyd Cole was channelling (what I didn’t know at this point was) New York cool. His staccato drawl rattled off lyrics about Greta Garbo, basements and most of all ‘cheekbones like geometry’, which made me want to seek out girls that fit that description! Also contained here was the title track, with its allusions to Eva Marie Saint and Simone de Beauvoir. No idea who they were or how to find out, but it conjured up a sort of cool that appealed to me. It was, and remains a very strong album, full of fine guitar sounds and hooky songs. Some of it is almost too much, such as the self-reference in Speedboat (“Lloyd, you know wits they come three to the pound”). The initially dull Forest Fire is enlivened by Neil Clark’s scorching guitar solo, a feat he repeats later on in the album on Patience.
But the real gem of the album is Charlotte Street. It opens with an impossibly clean guitar riff that just sounds like the best thing you’ve ever heard when you hear it first. The lyrics are brilliantly pretentious (“I was looking for a rhyme for the New York Times… she said do you know how to spell audaciously – I could tell I was in luck”), it created a world that I wanted to inhabit. Probably one of the best closing songs of any album is Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken, it’s a bit like the Lloyd equivalent of the Smiths’ Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want. It’s very brief at just over three minutes, and paints a somewhat simple yet relatable picture of heartbreak “looking like a born again, living like a heretic, listening to Arthur Lee records” over gorgeous jangly guitars.
It wasn’t to everyone’s taste, having tried playing the morose Down On Mission Street at a party it was vociferously rejected as being “too moany”. This album never got the credit from the critics that bands of a similar ilk received. It wasn’t a victim of eighties production, so doesn’t sound dated, and still stands up well thirty years later. Nothing that Lloyd Cole released with or without the Commotions quite lived up to it (though some came close) but this is the perfect distillation of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions.