Thursday, August 26, 2021

#15 Antidepressant - Lloyd Cole

Trying to choose between later Lloyd Cole albums for this list taught me something that should have been obvious: vinyl aids memory. All those albums I bought in the seventies and eighties? I can remember most of the tracks on many of them. I'd even have a passing chance at putting them in the right order.

Try and remember the tracks on a CD, though, and it's a challenge. Stuff I've mostly listened to on iPod rips or downloads? No chance at all. One obvious explanation is size. Album sleeves are big. It's easy to read the titles. The other reason, of course, is vinyl only plays one way and it's the same way, every time. That'll drive the track order into your brain like a nail.

So I had to bring up the listings online and look through them to see which tracks stood out. Fact is, I haven't always been listening to these things as albums, although mostly in the last few years I have, if I've listened to them at all. My shuffle phase ended five years or more back but only because I'd stopped listening to music on my commute and swapped in podcasts instead, often as not. Well, more often than not, really.

It means some of these albums I've voted for I haven't heard in a while and among those it's the older ones, or, I should say, the ones I bought longest ago, that suffer most from fading familiarity. Well, it would be, wouldn't it? 

One of the reasons Lloyd Cole still makes the cut with ease is that many of his songs, even some of the later ones, I don't need to revisit to hear clearly in my mind. There are tracks on his first three or four albums from the eighties and nineties I can sing large parts of almost unprompted. Rattlesnakes, 2CV, Sean Penn Blues, Why I Love Country Music, Hey, Rusty... And those aren't even the hits.

As an aside, Hey Rusty is the saddest song in the world. Don't get me started on why. This afternoon, writing this, I found out there's a band of the same name. Based on the tune alone I'd bet they took their name from hearing the song. They sound like they haven't gotten over it yet. I know I haven't.  

I think it's not unfair to say that Lloyd's ability to pin me to the canvas time after time has diminished a little over the years. For a time in the 20th century it seemed like he was writing my life but for a while there after the millennium turned he seemed tired, jaded even, when I wasn't, or not so much. He's never really picked all the way back up, though he always rallies. Doesn't matter. Beaten down is a good look on him. He works it well.

Every album has a few songs to stand with anything he's ever done. It's just that, once, everything he did stood up. Still, to have a batting average like his is something most songwriters would murder for. Not for his sales, though. Maybe actual bodily harm.

Antidepressant has some killers. The Young Idealists is one of my favorites among his later works although once again it's bleak, almost nihilistic in its abnegation of hope. Such a sweet sound for those cynical words. That deadening end, too.

Lloyd's always been about the words, of course. He's famously literary although I always thought anyone who laid out their idols and influences from screen and page quite so boldly probably wasn't altogether the academic manqué they'd like us to believe. It's a fan speaking, not a critic. I bought and read Renata Adler's Speedboat just because of the song of the same name on Rattlesnakes, though, so he's made his point.

Best of all is the closing track, the sublime Rolodex Incident. It has the most divine, floating accompaniment to one of his trademark despairing psycho-social confessions. I truly hope the man doesn't write from life.

One problem with a post founded on Lloyd's later work is that there are no more videos. The money's not there to make them now he's not a pop star or a rock star any more, I guess. There are plenty of clips of him doing the songs live in his self-adopted folk singer guise but Lloyd was never the most charismatic of live performers even with a band behind him and I don't think he, his beard and an acoustic guitar necessarily showcase the tunes to their best advantage.

Oh well. It's supposed to be my twenty-five favorite albums not the most exciting videos of the last quarter-century. Static images it will have to be.

All the better to concentrate on those words and melodies.

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