Lloyd Cole & the Commotions,
(Capitol, 1989)

In recent years, Lloyd Cole's made quite a name for himself as a literate, folksy singer-songwriter, with several acclaimed albums under his belt. But I'd say his best work was done more than a decade ago, with his first band, the Commotions.

The Scottish songwriter has always been pretentious -- in the best possible way. His early albums with the Commotions set the tone for his wry lyricism, as he drops names and turns phrases in a Dylanesque frenzy of highbrow wordplay.

Before disbanding in 1989, the Commotions released three albums of jangly, soulful folk-rock -- 1984's brilliant Rattlesnakes, the less-interesting (but still impressive) Easy Pieces and the quieter final effort, Mainstream. Though some of these records are now out of print, highlights have been compiled on a CD collection called, simply, 1984-1989. It's a worthwhile investment, including four tracks from each of the band's three albums, with a couple of single B-sides thrown in.

And it's a pretty good representation of what the group was all about. Cole's lyrics are top-notch as always, just pompous enough to reveal his roots as a philosophy major, but not so abstract as to alienate the listener.

He drops all the right names, goofing on Norman Mailer and Simone de Beauvoir with equal wry abandon. And his delivery is priceless -- his warm, university-lad voice breaks with wounded affectation in just the right places.

Through it all the Commotions rumble along behind him, veering with ease from thrumming folk-rock to soulful cabaret.

The highlights of this collection are many. "Rattlesnakes,'' though, is likely the best song Cole's ever written. It's got a fantastic interplay between a twangy guitar line and a sumptuous string arrangement, propelled by a chugging rock beat and Cole's brilliant vocals -- and this is just one of a dozen good songs on the album.

If there's a complaint to be made about 1984-1989, it's with the decision to include four songs from each album. I'd sooner see more from Rattlesnakes. But even so, it's hard to grouse about a collection this strong.

[ by Paddy O'Furniture ]

Buy 1984-1989 at CDNow.