If it weren’t for our self-imposed “free and legal” mantra here at 3hive, without a doubt Lloyd Cole would’ve been post number one, origin of the 3hive species. Why? Briefly, because the guy is my musical and literary guru. His debut album, Rattlesnakes, recorded with his band The Commotions, has miraculously survived decades of repeat listens by this finicky music fan. Its healthy shelf-life is due in part to Cole’s smart, literate lyrics, the sweet jangle of guitars, and keyboardist Blair Cowan’s keyboard magic, which included his ability, either through his playing or re-wiring, to make his first keyboard, a Korg, sound uncannily like a Hammond. Also, because Lloyd Cole and The Commotions completely avoided the New Wave, New Romantic and other sounds du jour of the 80s, the album retains a timeless quality rare for the decade.
I discovered the album in high school and when I read how Cole found inspiration for Rattlesnakes’ title track in Joan Didion’s novel, Play It As It Lays, I promptly borrowed it from the library and discovered a strain of literature that infected me more than anything I had previously read in school, or otherwise. It very well may have been the first non-required novel I’d read and ever since I’ve never stopped searching for my next good read. The highlight of my appreciation for his music and literature tips came when Cole and I shopped for books together at Sam Weller’s in Salt Lake City in conjunction with a piece I wrote for the now-defunct Grid Magazine (I should dig that up and republish it here).
Since his days with The Commotions, Cole has output a wide array of solo albums ranging from not-so-different-than-his-work-with-The-Commotions (Lloyd Cole) to lushly soaring orchestral pop (Don’t Get Weird on Me, Babe) to ambient electronic (Plastic Wood) to meandering rock (Bad Vibes) to acoustic driven, straight-ahead singer-songwriter stylings (Antidepressant). This month Cole is releasing two expansive collections. Cleaning Out the Ashtrays is a four volume collection gathering b-sides, album outtakes and “pretty much every studio recording from 1989 until 2006 which was intended for commercial release, but which did not end up on an album.” You can find the track provided here, “Coattails,” on the last of the four compilations representing the most recently recorded songs. Finally, Cole strips down his entire 25-year recording career to nothing but his soulful crooning and an acoustic guitar in Folksinger, a two volume retrospective recorded live last year and five years previous in Ireland and Germany respectively. As Cole himself puts it, “The Folksinger Series is my attempt to document what it is that I do for a living these days…folksinger…I have two guitars and a plane ticket.” And I now have a mix of ninety-seven new and familiar songs to revisit and discover and to be re-inspired by my old friend Lloyd Cole yet again.