Lloyd Cole – Guesswork
Singer-songwriter Lloyd Cole returns with a keyboard-heavy record that doesn't hit all the right notes
Guesswork finds Lloyd Cole turning to keyboards, just as Josh Rouse did on last year’s Love in the Modern Age. At first – on the lyrically over-cooked The Over Under – you think you’re going to get swathes of keyboards as a wash, a la Roxy Music. But no: Lloyd’s going full keyboard.
Night Sweats juxtaposes the plinky-plonk of The Blue Nile alongside the kind of great howling guitar noise Cole perfected on Don’t Get Weird on Me Babe back in 1990. 'I’m a complicated motherfucker', he sings, and you can’t help but wince a little bit (as the ghost of Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken’s 'Read Norman Mailer / Or get a new tailor' casts a long, long shadow). Violins could be the Human League until Cole tries his hand at falsetto (‘I might just stop breathing / And what if I sang out of key’). How does that old expression go? A man’s reach should exceed his grasp? Violins is the very definition of that expression.
‘And after the violins / only more violins / no peace for the wicked’, so Lloyd sings and – to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut – so it goes. Remains opens with more violins – conjured on a keyboard. They are not good, and the song itself is very 3am and torchlit. A sombre reflection on young ones raising their glasses in the air without a care. Lyrically, it’s probably the most reined-in song on this admittedly short album, but what ground it gains, it loses on a keyboard solo that strives to be a trumpet. This – the striving for something different, the reaching for a different way of doing things, the sense of Icarus with his wings melting around him even as he flaps to stop himself falling – very much encapsulates the experience of listening to Guesswork.
There are times when the keyboards and lyrics gel (like they do on Moments and Whatnot, easily the best thing here) but for the most part, it feels like a pedestrian Morrissey album (without, of course, the taint of dubious politics). It’s great that he’s trying out new things, it’s just that this avenue is one-way and ends in a dead-end.
Listen to: Moments and Whatnot, The Loudness Wars