This was an album I always wanted to get but for various and sundry, it didn’t happen for 22 years. I quickly snapped up the first pair of Commotions albums, but to this day i’ve never heard “Mainstream.” The single I had from it failed to convince. Then the CD wasn’t around to buy for the longest time. Conversely, I again jumped on Cole’s debut album. The band on that one was practically a Lou Reed supergroup with sideman Robert Quine and Fred Maher [also of Scritti Politti fame], with stalwart Commotion Blair Cowan and a just-pre-fame Matthew Sweet on bass. Strangely enough, the same group, plus Cole also contributed to Sweet recordings at the same time. I was strongly drawn to the brilliant Raymond Carver title of this album. I though that with a title like that, how could this album miss? Nevertheless, my cheapness stayed my hand until I could find it for the “right price.”
# 14 • Lloyd Cole: Don’t Get Weird On Me, Babe US CD 
- Tell Your Sister
- Weeping Wine
- To The Lions
- Pay For It
- The One You Never Had
- She’s A Girl And I’m A Man
- There For Her
- Margo’s Waltz
- Half Of Everything
- Man Enough
- What He Doesn’t Know
I was delighted to see that this was an album of two distinct halves as the “one side”/”another side” nomenclature on the back cover made apparent. Like the best Bowie albums of the late 70s, the “sides” held distinctly different approaches. The first half was a seamless continuation of the literate pop rock with touches of Hammond organ that his eponymous debut offered. Not a million miles away from the classic Commotions template, but Quine on lead guitar lent this program a touch of the NYC urgency that typified the previous album.
“She’s A Girl And I’m A Man” is a great number that was one of the singles from this back in the day. The vibe is not a million miles away from a song like Lou Reed’s “Dirty Boulevard,” which, ironically, Quine did not play on [unlike Maher]. The lyrics seem like a misogynist Stones-type number before Cole reverses the POV on the bridge to put the song’s putdowns of a “stupid girl” in a completely different light. The punchy Quine guitars have a hint of Free’s “All Right Now” to them for some zesty rock crunch that, it must be said, offer some necessary grit.
The second half proffers a very different approach with instrumentation dominated by acoustic guitars, harmonicas, and a string orchestra. This lends the much more laid back material a distinct Van Dyke Parks vibe; one that screams of 1969. It was so striking when I first heard it I told my wife it sounds like Parks had scored the arrangements, but a glance at the CD reveals it was the handiwork of Paul Buckmaster.
Cole was no doubt waiting his entire career for this chance, but the arrangements dominate the songwriting, making this “side” of the album more about the arrangement than his lyrics, and when you’re Lloyd Cole, this is not necessarily the best modus operandi. The arrangements make me think of Harry Nielssen’s cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” The sunny harmonica was practically begging for Toots Thieslmans to show up in the studio to blow it. You can see the hazy afternoon sunlight dappling on the lake surface when listening to this half of the album. Only on the album side opener, “Butterfly” are darker hues hinted at successfully.
Even so, I can’t dismiss this out of hand, because at the end of the day I do like Van Dyke Parks. And I can’t fault Cole for trying this very different approach. It does sound good. It just deemphasizes that which I, personally, find appealing about Cole’s music; specifically his lyrical acuity. The second half of this album is all about vibe. The words fill the spaces which are defined by the arrangements. Well, it will probably never happen again. The album didn’t sell well, Capitol dropped Cole and today he’s operating on a modestly budgeted level that sees him using fan-derived pledges to fund his sessions, which it must be said, still involve Maher, Sweet and Cowan. It’s an intriguing curveball from Cole, a songwriter’s songwriter.
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