Lloyd Cole & The Commotions -- Mainstream


As published in the Daily Collegian on October 7, 1988

Lloyd Cole is a wimp, one of those British wimps with the high cheekbones and a strange voice that always seems to be an acquired taste for males and an instant attraction for females.

Even wimpier, not only does he read a lot, he writes songs about reading a lot. On the other hand, he is far more palatable than say, The Smiths' Morrissey, probably because doesn't foist his persona and ideals on the general public. Nope. He just locks himself into a little room and writes these neat songs that stay in your brain forever.

Mainstream is the third Lloyd Cole & The Commotions album, and even though it was released at the end of last year in the U.K., it's finally just now being put out here in the Colonies. Why the delay? Basically because of the stupidity of American record companies, specifically Geffen Records, who probably wanted to break Lloyd big on these shores a la Siouxsie and the Banshees, except they didn't market him for shit and unlike Siouxsie Sioux, Lloyd doesn't have a look nor would he write the specifically dance-oriented material it seems you gotta write if you're British and you need to make it big here in these grim times.

You must remember that Geffen was the label that sued Neil Young for making "uncommercial" music, so their ideas of artistic integrity aren't exactly the purest.

So they dicked around and delayed and got into some legal battles and the upshot of it all is that Mainstream comes out now, on Capitol Records. Thing is, after all of this time, most of Lloyd's hardcore fans, having been weaned on his first two records -- Rattlesnakes and Easy Pieces -- have scoured the import bins or traveled out of town or had friends from the U.K. visit and they've already nailed a copy

So, Capitol Records, don't be suprised if Mainstream doesn't sell because most of Lloyd's cult have it (especially because the domestic version skimps on the lyric sheet), and even a great single like the lead-off track, "My Bag," won't break Top 40 or CHR or KKDJ or whatever they're calling it this week and anyways it's being marketed as a dance song even though by 80's standards it really isn't because it doesn't have sequencers and nobody will touch it, not even college radio because they've been playing the import for months and they are burnt out on it, too.

In a way, this whole situation is parallel to how Polydor Records mishandled The Jam in the late '70s/early '80s by putting out their records here six months after they were out in the U.K., so naturally, Jam fanatics being what we were then, we already had the record by the time it got here. So The Jam's domestic sales were meager, and Polydor, in a great bit of record company logic used the poor sales as an excuse for delaying the release dates of their albums. It was a vicious circle from which there was no escape. A.O.R. radio wouldn't touch them because they were "punk rock," MTV hadn't developed into enough of a Godzilla to break them even if it had played their videos on any regular basis, and they broke up just before college radio developed into a nation-wide underground.

Ironically, The Style Council, Jam lead singer Paul Weller's next project, got its initial fandom from the intense feeling Jam fans had for his former band and enough support from the developed college radio underground to have some minor success until they got just too boring for words and most people who used to love him just wrote him of as another victim of the Pete Townshend Perplex, i.e., someone who didn't die before he got old.

Right. And Lloyd Cole has this British wimp stigma to him, which is now worse than being "punk rock" ever since Billy Idol made punk safe for all of us, but maybe we all need a little wimpiness once in awhile. Besides, for all of their macho posturing and noisenoisenoise when have any of these punkheads and speedmetalists and death-rockers come up with a put-down line as nasty and devastating as "A waste of space and alcohol," and so what if he was putting himself down and not some bitch with big hair.

Simply put, as if that's possible, Mainstream is one of the best collections of songs I've heard all year. This music is just good old-fashioned guitar-based pop, and the songs feature weird things like verses and choruses and hooks. Imagine that.

The MVP is guitarist Neil Clarke, whose lead work throughout the album adds new dimension to several songs, most notably "Hey Rusty," and "From The Hip" and is always supporting on the rest. And while sometimes the production is cluttered or the singing too wimpy, the hooks spread throughout this album will keep bringing you back to it. And the words are alternately funny and poignant and while I sometimes wonder why this guy has so much trouble with women when 98% of the women I know would crawal all over him if they could, that's a minor quibble.

So if there was any justice, Mainstream would break Lloyd Cole here, but I fear that the British wimp tag is too strong to break at this point in time. But its a fine pop album, probably a great one, and its too damn bad that almost nobody will get to hear it.

--Jim Connelly

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This document HTMLized 15 August 2001
I was listening to Magnetic Fields -- 69 Love Songs