Barely a lyric goes by in Lloyd Cole’s songs without a relationship collapsing in tatters: “If you love him you should leave him”, “She went away like lovers do” and – from the aptly named “Unhappy Song” – “They were married in June/She was gone before the leaves were even turning.”
As a married father with a teenage son, Cole presumably draws inspiration for these desertions elsewhere: his career perhaps, which has seen sales and fans dwindle away since his days fronting The Commotions in the 1980s. “I put out a record last year,” he told us at this solo show. “You may or may not have noticed.” No wonder it was called Antidepressant.
Despite its terrible name, Antidepressant is rather a fine album. It doesn’t demand the world sit up and take notice but it has an understated, autumnal charm, and Cole’s gift for composing literate, bittersweet pop is still very much in evidence. Even his patchy guitar-playing on stage – songs were often punctuated with an “oops” or a comic shrug of the shoulders as he strummed the wrong chord – couldn’t puncture the music’s quiet appeal.
His ropy musicianship wasn’t the only glitch. The gloominess of the lyrics was relentless (“We feel fine only when I’m sleeping,” he sighed, as yet another catastrophic relationship bit the dust) and a rare, cliché-ridden foray into perkiness, “NYC Sunshine”, confirmed my suspicion that there should be a moratorium on songs about New York.
Yet I was won over by his music’s simple, catchy melodies and smart lyrics. Why the dull maunderings of singer-songwriters such as David Gray should be feted while Cole’s vastly superior work remains overlooked is a mystery. The writer of lines such as “No longer angry/No longer young/No longer driven to distraction/Not even by Scarlett Johanssen” deserves better.
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