Guesswork Lloyd Cole
- 1The over Under07:06
- 2Night Sweats06:19
- 5The Afterlife04:28
- 6Moments and Whatnot04:13
- 7When I Came Down from the Mountain04:51
- 8The Loudness Wars05:21
Info for Guesswork
Some albums coalesce around a title. Lloyd Cole’s new album is one such record. Guesswork mirrors the uncertainty of the world as you enter your third act. Guesswork is consistent with a record whose protagonists seem reluctant to venture confidently beyond the moment. In terms of minutes, it’s his longest, but in terms of songs, it’s shorter than any of his previous eleven solo albums (fourteen if you count those he made with The Commotions). Guesswork is also his shortest in terms of total words sung. This might come as a surprise to those who primarily remember Lloyd for the precocious literary pop dispatches of 1984’s Rattlesnakes, the debut album which earned him an unlikely place alongside Wham! and Duran Duran in the following year’s Smash Hits/Panini sticker book. However, for other onlookers who have followed his progress in the interim – taking in the muscular urban art-rock of his solo debut X (1990), the delicate digital folk of Music In A Foreign Language (2004) and a succession of electronic albums culminating in 2015’s 1D – that may be less so.
Mostly constructed in his Massachusetts attic space, Lloyd’s first “songs” album since 2013’s universally acclaimed Standards sees him finally create a (mostly) electronic setting for his voice. “For a while,” he says, “it wasn’t clear if the project would ever come to fruition. I’ve been an electronic music fan since hearing Fripp and Eno’s No Pussyfooting when I was thirteen, Bowie’s Low and Iggy’s The Idiot at sixteen and then on to Kraftwerk… Eventually I had to make this record, but for several years mulling the idea the task seemed too much for me to take on alone. Finally I had to. And then I got help.”
Once Lloyd had formulated a sonic picture of the record he wanted to make, the arrival of each new song gradually brought that picture into focus. Although autobiographical interpretations of his songs have always been discouraged, The Over Under might resonate with “empty nesters” casting their gaze around four walls that might once have paid host to the laughter of children. It’s an unflinching slow-reveal establishing shot: a sparse study of a life released from the tension but also the structure of duty. Much of what follows seems to hang weightlessly in the vacuum vacated by the “certainty” of youth (one of two nods here to Robert Palmer’s Johnny & Mary, the other being the bassline of Violins). This is a place far beyond romantic idealism. This is a place where lovers ponder their options, turn to each other and float the notion that they “could pool together/And be half right all of the time.” A place where, on The Loudness Wars, partners seek to hammer out an accord between their failings and their feelings: “Yeah, I’m a cold fish/Nobody’s choice dish/And you’re on fire.”
At times, the experience of listening to Guesswork is akin to sitting in a sleek, state-of-the-art departure lounge, unsure of quite where you’re waiting to go. It’s a feeling that finds its purest expression amid the pensive stabs and brittle snare cracks that measure out The Afterlife’s hungover existential audit and Remains – the latter one of two songs on the record co-written by Lloyd’s old Commotions colleague Blair Cowan. Over a synergy of rapt synths and slight guitar, the song finds Lloyd riding the seemingly sudden realisation that “we’re nothing to no-one” – a rueful inversion of the sentiments parlayed on 1990’s Don’t Look Back (“When you’re nothing to no one/And you’re less to your kin…”) “When I was 27,” notes Lloyd, “The concept of the washed up older guy seemed very entertaining.”
And now? And now, he says, “I’m starting to think that old age could be a lot more fun than middle age. Because really what have we got to lose?” Certainly those sentiments are borne out by some of the brighter, poppier arrangements on Guesswork. With its neon Oberheim twinkle pushed to the fore, the unguarded intimacies of Moments & Whatnot seem to locate a blissful equidistant point between The Man Machine-vintage Kraftwerk and Robyn. Float that comparison past Lloyd Cole, and he’s anything but perturbed. “That’s great. Robyn has made probably my favourite music of the last fifteen years. I think she’s a genius; she’s almost the Prince of her generation.” Further ramping up the melodic quotient is an sublime slice of mid-life synth-pop which answers to the name of Violins. Were it not for the unmistakeable voice that hits the ground running with the lines, “The missile leaves the car/Flies through the window pane”, you might be forgiven for thinking you’d taken a left turn into the new Pet Shop Boys album. “Well, one of the glorious things about pop is that you have this wonderful uplifting noise which can actually address some fairly challenging issues and sometimes can do so quite elegantly. That’s something to aspire to.”
On the face of it, you might be forgiven for thinking that Guesswork finds Lloyd a universe away from the literate lyrical character studies scattered across his early records. The word count may have diminished, but you can attribute that to the authorial confidence that comes with the passing of time. Indeed, nestled among the still, sundazed ruminations that dominate Guesswork, is one of Lloyd’s most compelling narratives. When I Came Down From The Mountain sees its protagonist abandoning his home in the hope that he might finally cast off the weight of his sins. “How am I going to live down here?” he intones over a chorus urgently abetted by guitar work from the other ex-Commotion on the record, Neil Clark (who will also be accompanying Lloyd on his upcoming live shows).
Completing the rollcall of long-trusted associates on this record, alongside Neil and Blair, are New York drummer, programmer and producer Fred Maher who first worked with Lloyd on X, and executive producer Chris Hughes, whose association with Lloyd stretches back to the final Commotions album Mainstream on which he worked in an “informal” capacity. For Lloyd, the involvement of Chris Hughes provided some much-needed perspective in moments which saw him uncertain whether he had jettisoned too much of what was recognisably Lloyd.
“From the first rough mix Chris was there, on Skype or Facetime reassuring me that this was a record worth making. When I was unsure which way to take a song, I’d turn to him. When it was finally finished he called, he was laughing, ‘No-one else could have made this record,’ he said, ‘It’s soaked in Lloyd-ness’. You realise over time that however much you second-guess yourself or try and pull yourself in whatever direction, it’s still you. If you have a voice, you can’t un-voice yourself.”
Lloyd Cole, vocals, guitar, keyboards, electronics
Neil Clark, guitar
Blair Cowan, piano, keyboards
Through both his lauded work fronting the Commotions and his more eclectic solo efforts, Lloyd Cole established himself as one of the most articulate and acute songwriters of the post-punk era. Born January 31, 1961, in Buxton, England, Cole formed the Commotions in 1982 while studying philosophy at the University of Glasgow. Originally a large soul band, the group eventually trimmed itself down to a quintet that included keyboardist Blair Cowan, guitarist Neil Clark, bassist Lawrence Donegan, and drummer Stephen Irvine.
The uncommon quality of Cole's songwriting earned the Commotions a contract with British Polydor, and in 1984, they debuted with Rattlesnakes, a wry, heartfelt record of jangling guitar pop stuffed with references to the likes of Jules et Jim, Simone de Beauvoir, Norman Mailer, and On the Waterfront. "Perfect Skin," the shimmering first single, reached the U.K. Top 30. Produced by the hitmaking team of Alan Winstanley and Clive Langer, 1985's Easy Pieces was a slicker effort that included the singles "Lost Weekend" and "Brand New Friend," both of which earned significant airplay on alternative radio outlets.
Following the release of 1987's Mainstream, Cole disbanded the Commotions and moved to New York City to establish himself as a solo performer. There he joined forces with noted session drummer Fred Maher, who enlisted ex-Voidoid Robert Quine on guitar and an up-and-coming singer/songwriter named Matthew Sweet to play bass for Cole's eponymously titled 1990 solo debut, which continued much in the vein of his work with the Commotions. Released in 1991, Don't Get Weird on Me, Babe marked a major artistic shift, as the entire second half of the album explored lush, string-sweetened cabaret music, arranged by Paul Buckmaster (known for his work with Elton John and the Rolling Stones).
Commercial success continued to elude Cole, however, and it took 1993's Bad Vibes -- a diverse effort touching upon psychedelia and electronics -- a year to find U.S. distribution. By the time of 1995's Love Story, his sound had come full circle; a return to the more minimalist, folk-rock-inspired work with the Commotions -- the LP not coincidentally marked Cole's reunion with the band's guitarist, Neil Clark. The new millennium sparked a new union for Cole, for his 2001 album The Negatives not only showcased the album's namesake, but the name of his new band. Collaborations with Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne, Ivy), Jill Sobule, and Michael Kotch (Vitamin C, Eve's Plum) were featured on the new record, as well as production credits from Stephen Street (the Smiths, Blur). Extensive touring followed. During the same year, Cole released two lower-key albums of solo material: Etc (Lost Songs, Tunes 1996-2000) and the entirely instrumental, electronic Plastic Wood.
Cole resurfaced in 2004 with the understated Music in a Foreign Language LP. Recorded largely at home, the album featured a cover of Nick Cave's "People Ain't No Good." In 2006, Anti-Depressant -- in which Cole compellingly dealt with the positive and negative aspects of aging -- was released. Broken Record followed four years later. The 2013 album Standards was co-funded by fans and featured contributions from Fred Maher and Matthew Sweet. Cole released an interesting electronic record, Selected Studies, Vol.1 in March 2013 with the Krautrock legend Hans-Joachim Roedelius. It received favorable reviews and provided another unique chapter in Cole's distinguished career. The following year, Cole curated Kollektion 02, a retrospective compilation of Roedelius' music. In 2015, Cole released 1D Electronics 2012-2014, a collection of solo modular synthesizer experiments originally recorded for his collaboration with Roedelius.
Taking a break from his burgeoning career as a synth boffin, Cole spent time working on a box set comprised of the complete recordings made with the Commotions. Collected Recordings was released in 2015, and he and his backing band the Leopards hit the road to promote it. Hardly missing a beat, Cole released another box set in 2017, In New York: Collected Recordings 1988-1996, made up of four albums, one unreleased set, and a disc of demos. (Jason Ankeny, AMG)
This album contains no booklet.