What Are Records? CD 60045, 2001
Dan Macintosh, 25 November 2001
When Lloyd Cole released "Don't Get Weird On Me Babe" in 1990, he should have spoken this blunt command directly before his own bathroom mirror, rather saying it directly to his significant other. This is because, by now, our formerly tender and poetic Dr. Jekyll had increasingly degenerated into a tough-talking and mean-spirited Mr. Hyde. Simply put: Lloyd, you had gotten all weird on us, babe.
Thankfully, "The Negatives" signals a return to a kinder and gentler Lloyd Cole. Harsh side affects from his '90s lost decade have finally begun to wear off, revealing again a soft white underbelly that was always buried down there somewhere. Somebody should have told him that just because you decide to hang out with Lou Reed cronies, like guitarist Robert Quine, it doesn't mean you're also expected to turn into a grouchy old fart like Lou. One such un-Velvety one as Reed is quite enough, thank you very much.
Many times here, Cole name-drops mellow Los Angeles when reaching for a geographic reference, instead of placing his characters on some grimy street corner of amphetamine-drenched New York. Such occurrences are signpost-sized clues of Cole's less vitriolic new direction.
More often than not, these songs begin with a combination of acoustic guitars and Cole's feather-light vocals. Cole sounds, dare I say it, happy for the most part here. Even when he admits to his own pessimism in "Negative Attitude," he still comes off darn near giddy. One paradox of contradictions, is he.
He's also looks long and hard for silver lined positives when describing his characters, such has the empathy he has for the heartbroken woman in "No More Love Songs," where she prefers cigarettes to male company, or the compassion he shows for the non-committal woman in "Impossible Girl."
Cole hasn't completely left his rock & roll jones behind, as "To Much E," (which is not, by the way, about the drug "e") zips along nicely and rattles off a Dylan-like laundry listing of how this modern world relentlessly tries to overload our senses with too much of just about everything.
Although he may still know how to rock, he clearly no longer aspires to be a rock & roller. "Tried To Rock" sounds autobiographical in its depiction of a man who just couldn't (and can't) keep up with all of rock & roll's gluttonous lifestyle trappings.
The Negatives are also Cole's band, and they give him just the bare minimum of support here. Lloyd has never had any kind of a powerhouse voice, so the less-is-better approach is always best when it comes to album production. Too many production bells and whistles would have been a distraction, and thankfully, there are very few of these on this outing. Stephen Street, who worked extensively with The Smiths, assisted Cole as a producer here, which may be one of the reasons why this album retains such a successful acoustic rock assimilation.
Oddly enough, Jill "I Kissed A Girl" Sobule is listed as one of The Negatives' guitarists and vocalists, but you'd probably never know this without first learning it from the credits. Her voice is rarely even heard in the mix. It appears she's a proponent of the Linda McCartney school of band membership.
Bottom line is that Cole no longer needs to play the weird card, because smart guys like him can make it on pure brain-power alone. Weirdness may have added appeal to David Bowie or a Bowie wannabe like Marilyn Manson's stock, but weird has never been a healthy trait in Cole.
"The Negatives" is Lloyd Cole's return to Normalville, and it's a welcome homecoming indeed for this smart boy.
songs Past Imperfect · Impossible Girl · No More Love Songs · What's Wrong With This Picture? · Man on the Verge · Negative Attitude · Vin Ordinaire · Too Much E · Tried to Rock · That Boy · I'm Gone