Lloyd Cole- Music In A Foreign Language (One Little Indian)
review by Joe del Tufo

Track Listing

1. Music In A Foreign Language
2. My Other Life
3. Late Night, Early Town
4. Cutting Out
5. No More Love Songs
6. Today I'm Not So Sure
7. My Alibi
8. People Ain't No Good
9. Brazil
10. Shelf Life

View photos from Lloyd Cole's Tin Angel 5.9.04 show.

Lloyd Cole is one of the most underappreciated artists in the business. Since his early success as Lloyd Cole and the Commotions 20 years ago, Cole has quietly released some of the most melodic and lyrically profound albums out there, and has become the Leonard Cohen for a generation too busy or self-absorbed to take notice. Cole has a distinctive, pleasant voice, and his guitar work is pleasant but not noteworthy, but more than anything he is a songwriter with the unique ability to hit the nail on the head. Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken will always be one of the greatest pop songs ever written. Relatively recent attention came to Cole when Tori Amos covered his song Rattlesnakes on her Strange Little Girls CD, but other than that he has basically been off the musical radar for some time now. His previous band-driven effort, The Negatives, with Jill Sobule (also incredibly talented, and not just for kissing that girl) and ex-Dambuilders Dave Derby, was a lighter, looser approach for Cole, a nice diversion from his introspective releases. One Little Indian has saved the day by releasing not one but three Cole CDs- the acoustic Music In A Foreign Language, a rarities collection called Etc. and an instrumental CD entitled Plastic Wood.

Music In A Foreign Language is something of a return to form, but it is also his strongest and most consistent work since Love Story.   The disc opens with the strummy, catchy title track. It's an innocuous little song on the surface, but biting lines like "forgive me if I'm less than awed by your world-weary 26-year old (face)" and the double meaning of "music in a foreign language... and even if we wanted, we can't sing along" give it the depth that we've gotten from Cole for over 20 years now. We also get a cleaner, twangier version of No More Love Songs, one of the standout tracks from his previous Negatives release. It fits the sentiment of the disc, "No more love songs... not for me." Cole's wordplay has never been so sharp and economical. On Late Night, Early Town he croons "Los Angeles...how do you sleep? You seem so full of cocaine, and self-belief."

There are numerous lyrical clues that Cole has been up to no good, or has been spending a fair bit of time fantasizing about it. This is in stark contrast to the relatively domestic themes of Love Story (all intended irony notwithstanding). On My Other Life, we have "Samples taken from underneath my fingernails, support the prosecution's case--my other life...", a track that seems to be about getting nailed for an infidelity. "I slip away into my other life, with no regret or remorse." Amen, brother. He gets in a little deeper on My Alibi-- "I went up and knocked on trouble's door and they said 'mister we've been waiting for you.'" Does anyone else write lines like these? And finally on the closing track Shelf Life, we have the painful admission "I am consumed by delusions of grandeur, I've fallen prey to the beautiful girl- I have seen romance in the obvious quarters, and I have painted myself into that world." So perhaps he's just daydreaming here, but on some level this is even more profoundly sad. On the track Brazil, Cole informs us, "I hear they have the good drugs in Brazil, maybe I'll take some, maybe I'll feel better if I do." Nuff said.

Today I'm Not So Sure is the disc's real emotional stunner. Opening with "Didn't I promise always to, shelter and protect you, didn't I answer 'yes I do'? Well, today I'm not so sure." And the truth turns uglier with the line "Caught between love, and what I meant." It's an emotional honesty we're not used to hearing, especially from a male songwriter.

Lloyd has always had great taste in cover songs- his version of Chelsea Hotel is the only one as interesting as the Cohen original- and on this disc he has chosen Nick Cave's People Ain't No Good. Trying to do a Nick Cave song is kind of like trying to play minigolf with Ernie Els- you're gonna have fun, but you're probably gonna get your ass handed to you. Cole does a decent job with the track, losing some of the starkness and severity of Cave's version, and adding an element of jangly irony with the instrumentation.

This is essentially a very toned down, late night, acoustic album. I read somewhere that much of it was recorded by Cole in his home, or home studio- and it has that element of comfort to it. There're a line on the title track that goes "Whatever pale fire I had was gone, but you don't wanna hear that in a song." Actually, it's that directness that makes Cole's songwriting so profound. If you are not already familiar with his work, this is not a bad place to start, a little plaintive and startling in places, though perhaps one of the numerous best-ofs would give better perspective. But if you're looking for brilliant songwriting, an eye that never looks at its subject head on, and a warm sadness that slowly envelops you, Music In A Foreign Language is sure to do the trick.



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