I still talk about Rattlesnakes, the debut album by Glaswegian education formed Lloyd Cole & The Commotions in 1984. Nothing but good can be said about Rattlesnakes, which features all of Cole's tranquil-reference lyricism from Greta Garbo in "Perfect Skin" to Arthur Lee and Norman Mailer in one of my all-time favourite songs, "Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?" The three minute finale steered Cole to a career of acoustic indie pop gigs and experimental steps in Germany. He collaborated with avant-garde musician Hans-Joachim Roedelius last year pre-dating Cole's 11th solo album, Standards.
Cole's previous solo album Broken Records was just as stripped back as solo album number one back in 1990. Living in the USA has certainly played a vital part of regenerating energy and sound into Cole's musical lifestyle, as Standards suggests. There's little Springsteen spruce in Cole's baritone vocal delivery, its more Massachusetts inspired Jonathan Richman. "Women's Studies" starts with a general American hinged rock riff. He sings: "Out here in the meadow, A Peoples History of America," referencing a book by Howard Zinn, going on to make his continual references: "I smoke a pipe, to Johnny 99, by partisan consensus." Johnny 99 being a popular Springsteen song, from Nebraska. Cole does this on every album - it heats my heart when such literacy in songs become real - "The bars were filled with lawyers." Listeners can hear a guitar riff similar to AC-DC's "It's A Long Way to the Top" - just as Cole intended.
America is on the tip of ones tongue throughout Standards. "California Earthquakes" starts the album off with some rock & roll for all ages. Simple song with a simple message of possible destruction to California, specifically Los Angeles. Cole takes the San Andreas Fault line and uses it as a danger to him rather than the city/state. Standards is not all macho, automatic driving and promise that the early tracks suggest. His soft spot is his heart, his passion, his love. Cole relocated to the USA following his marriage to an American. His work of love massively outweighs his personal visions of a mid-life crisis - "Period Place". And Standards isn't without Cole's nostalgia - "Kids Today". He sings: "Isn’t it so? We're juvenile delinquent wrecks I know, with our heavy metal comic books and our rock and roll. We wear red leatherette; we'll be burning churches next."
Cole makes reference to a past song ("How Wrong Can You Be?") in "Myrtle and Rose". He sings: "You became the women in the German car," crediting from his 2008 album Antidepressant, where he sings: "A pretty girl at the wheel of a German car." It’s not unusual to hear references throughout Cole's work; this is what makes Cole such an interesting singer-songwriter. Aided by regular comrades Matthew Sweet on bass and Fred Maher on drums, Cole crafts a surprising comeback album that surpasses expectations after his previous few stumbling solo efforts.
Standards starts strong and ends well with "Diminished Ex", a jangle pop track with all the 80s essence of a Commotions single. Cole's voice is slightly ageing, making him sound just as wise as his philosophical days in Glasgow. This album does drop considerably at the flip over - "Blue Like Mars" fails to match the beauty of the bass-led "Period Place". And "Silver Lake", although touching upon personal lyrics, never lives up to the ballad demeanour.
This isn't a simple collection of songs written by Cole after finding eureka while reviewing the latest Bob Dylan album. It's chock-full of ideas from the past mixed with rock and roll and americana of the present. "Women's Studies" sounds like a Rolling Stones A-side, while "Kids Today" makes Cole come across as a member of Arcade Fire. Standards is a fresh piece of music Cole can showcase and be deeply proud of. It's one of his best and it's come at the most important time in his career. After stepping away from the solo scene and scene in general, Cole can now start to move closer to stardom - maybe not as a Derbyshire lad, but as a Massachusetts boy.