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[whitespace] After The Fall

Lloyd Cole isn't as famous as he should be--but that's not a bad thing

By Gina Arnold

THERE OUGHT to be only two types of bands in the world: the type I think you--i.e., perfect strangers--should listen to, and the type that neither you nor I should even pay attention to. That's how it should be, but in fact there's a third type in between those easy-to-spot goodies and baddies. That is the type of band that I personally love, but that I suspect you might find dull and boring.

Lloyd Cole belongs in that category. Cole is a 40-year-old English singer/ songwriter whose brilliant first LP, Rattlesnakes, was a sensation in 1984, up there on all the Top 10 lists along with records by R.E.M., Prince and the Replacements. Cole continued to record for Capitol for the next 10 years or so, but his career went absolutely nowhere. By 1994, he had been demoted to an indie label, and finally ... well, his latest LP, The Negatives (his first in six years) is practically available only the Internet.

In short, he is no Nirvana, whose work speaks for itself, or even a PJ Harvey, whom some misguided critics still don't get. And yet I would never rail against the public for not embracing my favorite singer to their bosom--indeed, I can almost understand their reluctance to do so.

His songs are quirky and ultraliterate, his voice is odd and he has a dry, British manner that baffles most Americans. I don't mean to sound as if I'm wishing commercial ruin on Cole, but I feel almost more satisfied with his standing in the world now than I did when he was a struggling "rock star," and never so much as when I saw him perform last week at Foley's Inn in San Francisco.

Foley's is a gorgeous new venue run by the brilliant ladies at Slim's. Located in the basement of an Irish pub at Union Square, it consists of a tiny bar, a stage and a few chairs in a subterranean room that used to be a speakeasy. The place is the size of a pea, so Slim's uses it for solo acoustic acts with rather rabid followings. A few months ago, I saw Mark Lanegan perform there, Rodney Crowell played earlier in the month, and now, Lloyd, minus his band, was appearing in front of some 150 patrons, crammed knee to knee.

Many were drunk and noisy, particularly during the opening act, but there was one thing they all had in common: every single one loved Lloyd as I do. Not one whit less--and not more, either, God bless, because if there's one thing I cannot stand it's people whose love is so virulent that they have to stand up and shout embarrassing personal remarks to their heroes.

But the Lloyd Cole crowd was, simply put, perfect: neither too reverent nor too rowdy. Their (our) love swelled up out of them (us). We sang along softly, like a bloody echo, to songs like "No Blue Skies," "September Song," "Forest Fire" and "Undressed."

We knew all the covers by Dylan and Leonard Cohen. We got all the jokes, however obscure, because we all had the same record collection and the same sense of humor. We knew all his songs by heart, and from all parts of his career, too--people weren't just yelling for "Perfect Skin" (his first and only semihit). In fact, the climax came when he sang "She's a Girl and I'm a Man," and everyone in the room sang the missing band parts. (The song comes from an LP, Don't Get Weird on Me Babe, that was almost never released in the United States.)

In short, the vibe was such that Lloyd may as well have been playing in one's own living room, to one's own set of friends. And isn't that what one most desires from a rock concert: an intimate experience, to be shared only with the deserving who love the songs like you do?

That's what Lloyd's show was like, and that why the collapse of the record industry has rebounded so very well for fans. We are in hog heaven--thanks in part to the Internet, which makes it easy to order obscure CDs and imports, and in part to clubs like Slim's, which have taken to catering to cult acts like Lloyd Cole.

Of course, the sad thing is that people like Cole have no desire to be cult acts. They'd like to be playing the Warfield or even Shoreline. Instead, I noticed on Lloyd's website that he's taken to auctioning off his own belongings--guitars, shirts, golf clubs and some first edition books--on Ebay.

The Negatives is actually a somewhat autobiographical comment on his fall from commercial grace--if fall it can be called, when his work just gets better and better. One song he performed at Foley's, "Easy Town," is about playing to empty clubs, and it was particularly funny. The audience chortled away, and after it was done, Lloyd said, "But it's funny and sad too, isn't it? It's not just funny?"

We all dutifully said, "Yes," in unison, but I don't know. It's sure not sad to me that I got to see that show in that manner--and that wouldn't have happened if Cole had made it big. Maybe Lloyd Cole should be the answer to a trick question: When can negative can be positive, too?

Dissing Bridget

THE NEW MOVIE Bridget Jones's Diary is getting universally good reviews, but I didn't like the predictability of its plot or the type of pratfall--generally involving Bridget's oh-so-hilarious butt--which was meant to double as her charm. The thing I really disliked about it, however, was the soundtrack.

From the very start, when Bridget is seen melodramatically lip-synching to Celine Dion's version of Eric Carmen's "All by Myself," you can tell you're in Ally McBeal territory: bad e-z-listening rock song after b.e.z.l.r. song interrupts the action, with the patronizing intention of telling us exactly what's going on--and it doesn't even help that Bridget herself calls her choice in music "sad."

When Bridget first asserts herself at work, the soundtrack plays "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." If a man flies out a window, the soundtrack plays "It's Raining Men." I found the music both distracting and bad, but I gathered from the crowd's reaction that mine was not a universal opinion.

Despite having been a bestselling novel, Bridget Jones's Diary is one of many movies out today that seem like they were written around the soundtrack instead of vice-versa, and I think that's a crummy development in cinema.

While I'm ranting, can we talk about the use of rock songs in advertisements? The worst one for me is the Faces' "Ooh La La," which can currently be heard on an SUV ad. (I refuse to say the name of the car in question, because it would only give them free publicity.) I've loved that song for 20 years, and now it's been ruined for me forever in 30 seconds flat.

No one else seems to care about this issue anymore--indeed, a recent article in The New York Times Magazine saw the otherwise hoity-toity Apples in Stereo defending themselves for selling their song to a commercial on the extremely weak ground that their baby needs a new pair of shoes--but it still irks hell out of me.

If you know of an ad that has completely spoiled a rock song for you, write and tell me, and I'll compile a list of the most heinous offenses. Maybe together we can start a campaign to shame bands into keeping their songs to themselves.

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From the April 26-May 2, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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