close your eyes
[music, albums]

X: 1984 Lloyd Cole & the Commotions - Rattlesnakes

lloyd cole and the commotions - rattlesnakes

When I set up the reader’s poll for 1984 I was almost 100% sure which album I’d pick as my fave of the Orwell year. Hatful of Hollow, the second LP of The Smiths which established them as the most important band of the mid eighties. The poll even confirmed this choice but after relistening to the other contenders I came to a different conclusion. Guitar pop it had to be but neither Morrissey/Marr nor Forster/McLennan (Go-Betweens) could match the team of singer/songwriter Lloyd Cole and guitarist Neil Clark. Rattlesnakes, the debut of Lloyd Cole & the Commotions sounds as fresh and infectious today as 20 years ago. Lloyd Cole’s erudite lyrics on achy experiences with the other sex may not attain Morrissey’s witty imaginative songs on adolescence but altogether Rattlesnakes is more of a piece than The Smiths "garage" album.

On the inside photo the four members of the Commotions and Lloyd Cole are grouped around a living room table. They all smile except him. He stands in the corner behind the others and stares straight into the camera with an emotionless serious face. Somehow he seems to be totally out of place. At the time he was 23 years old and had studied philosophy at Glasgow university. He shows his literacy in arts and letters in his songs full of allusions to books, movies and music. On Rattlesnakes he namedrops the writers Simone de Beauvoir, Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, the actresses Greta Garbo, Eva Marie Saint and Grace Kelly and the musicians Leonard Cohen and Artur Lee. It is all too much showing off but you have to forgive him immediately when you hear him sing.

Lloyd Cole has got the voice of a crooner. It is at the same time masculine and sensual, camp and soulful. His sugar-sweet tunes go straight into the heart. Neil Clark plays his stratocaster extremely fluently. It goes down as well as a Bourbon on the rocks. The ten songs on the original LP clock in at just above 35 minutes and there is not one dud. There is an instant nostalgic feel to the cosy British winter afternoon atmosphere of the music. The occasional string arrangements even add a little melodrama to the sentimental mood. Lloyd Cole is a romantic who does not take himself too seriously. I love the self-irony in lines like

It wasn’t my style to find surf in my eye
It was much more my style to get sand kicked in my eye

All in all this set of catchy acoustic pop songs is like a cooler, less kitschy version of Neil Young’s Harvest. Without the occasionally painful plainness but with much more self-confidence. It was going to stay Lloyd Cole’s masterpiece. He had two great records in the 90’s Don’t Get Weird On Me, Babe and Love Story but he never repeated the stroke of genius of his first release. There is a special 20 years anniversary edition of Rattlesnakes with a bonus disc out this year but I guess the Polydor release with the four bonus tracks and the extended version of the centerpiece Forest Fire is probably still the one to look for. Especially when you look at the price tags (about 7 against 17 euros).

The last bonus track, the upbeat You Will Never Be No Good can give you a good idea of the jangly guitar sound of the album.

Further reading:

Here is the overview of the series 40 years, 40 albums of which part X was this post.


last updated: 2/23/21 8:55 AM
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