Lloyd Cole – Standards (2014)

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Thirty years ago, Lloyd Cole arrived like a hipster-brit Dylan for an age awash with eyeliner-wearing, synth-loving dilettantes. Cole wrote lyrics that sounded like they’d emerged from dog-eared notebooks, set to music with strings — actual strings. Guitars, violins, the like. It was a burst of textured brown in a world of neon brashness.

“Blue Like Mars” plays just like that, as if he dug up an extra track from the Rattlesnakes sessions — recalling everything that made Cole a shooting star of falling literary sparks. For anyone who has spent the ensuing years looking for that moment again, that moment when the Commotions sounded like the salvation of everything that MTV had wrought, it’s an enveloping revelation.

But Standards, a crowd-funded project from last year now seeing wide release via Omnivore on October 14, 2014, isn’t just about recapitulation. No, there’s too much road behind Cole, behind all of us. And so, he sets about pushing and pulling on the legacy he’s just rebuilt.

There’s the opening “California Earthquake,” once a Mama Cass vehicle, which rocks with a reckless, fin de siecle attitude. And “Women’s Studies,” a brutally honest look back at youthful folly — the equal and opposite of every over-earnest acoustic aside he’s principally concerned himself with of late. Of course, “Myrtle and Rose” rekindles the anthemic romanticism of “Forest Fire.” Meanwhile, “Silver Lake,” a sharp-edged breakup song, finds his laconic characters from “Speedboat” somehow even more dissipated. But then there’s “Kids Today,” which betrays his advancing perspective — though, admittedly, with a familiar wink.

And, in this way, Cole finds a kind of balance between what he once was, and what he’s become. “It’s Late” skiffles along with the same jaunty verve as the title track from his 1984 debut, but “Period Piece” pointedly faces everything that lay ahead: “I am not afraid,” Cole admits with a serrated edge straight out of Blonde on Blonde, “to die.” It’s a steely-eyed honesty that Cole might not have ventured back then.

“These were,” he adds, “the best of times.” No denying that. And yet there’s still something to be made of today, and Lloyd Cole has belatedly done that. Finally, and likely with nowhere near enough fanfare, he has provided the follow up to Rattlesnakes that we’d always hoped was in there somewhere.

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