CD remasters: the good, the bad and the downright ridiculous. Part 2: Rattlesnakes – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions

Previously on ‘CD remasters:  the good, the bad and the downright ridiculous’

“Irresistible aren’t they?  ‘Deluxe Editions’ of your favourite 80s albums……”

So Part 2, Rattlesnakes by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions.  Deluxe Edition released 2004.

Rattlesnakes:  1984's Farrow and Ball catalogue

Rattlesnakes: 1984’s Farrow and Ball catalogue

I was never really part of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ target demographic, having emerged from Essex with a Depeche Mode electro habit.  But like many converts, I fell for this album in 1984 for the same reasons as everyone:

  • A Perfect Skin demo was on the Department of Enjoyment NME cassette, and was deemed ‘cool’ by the cognoscenti (represented by my friend Tim, later of Winterlight fame)
  • Simply buying the album made you feel you were a deeply interesting French philosophy student, living in a tiny Parisian garret with an opium-addicted girlfriend, even if you were, say, studying Human Geography at Liverpool University
  • It had a picture of an ‘artfully distressed’ door on the cover

In fact, if I was really honest with myself, I didn’t like all of Rattlesnakes.  Sure I loved Perfect Skin, and Rattlesnakes and Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken, like everyone else.  But some of the other tracks sounded like Doors outtakes, like, say Speedboat.  And really all of side 2, until Heartbroken.

I was always suspicious of people who raved about this side – the ‘Side 2 people’ – and I still am.  As if to prove my point, Alain de Botton recently cited Four Flights Up as one of his all time favourite tracks, utterly missing the point that it is a sub-Bluebells jaunty little C&W number.  Julie Burchill famously reviewed Rattlesnakes thus:

“I have no need for a Country and Western Velvet Underground”

And yet, and yet, who can complain about any album that includes Forest Fire?  Despite the ‘heavily borrowed’ sound, and the embarrassing English Lit. A level perpetual references, Forest Fire lifts the band out of their rather parochial ‘try hard Scottish bands’ roots.  Just for a moment, they transcend their peer group, and they take the listener along.

Where are they now?  Well, let’s see.  Laurence Donegan, the bassist, is now the golf correspondent for the Guardian.  Blair Cowan, the keyboard player works for BT.  Lloyd, still tours and records rather mannered folk-rock, and plays off a 6 handicap.  It’s not exactly Sid Viscous and Nancy Spungen is it?   Lloyd Cole and the Commotions reformed for one short tour to promote this edition, in 2004, which covered parts of the country suspiciously close to good golf courses.

Mmm.  where did I leave that copy of 'L'etranger'?

Mmm. where did I leave that copy of ‘L’etranger’?

Rattlesnakes:  Deluxe Edition has a nicely remastered copy of the original album.  It has a second disc with a lot of live versions and demos.  It has extra tracks that either didn’t make the Rattlesnakes cut, or in one case, were cut from the next album, Easy Pieces, and caused Polydor to fire Hardiman as producer.

Lloyd says, in the sleeve notes, in a rather petulant way:

“We went into the studio again in 1985.  We cut four tracks, not good enough.  Paul Hardiman was axed and Langer and Winstanley were brought in to make our second record (Easy Pieces).  Not one track on that album has the vibe of this song..”

(Note – he’s quite wrong)

But whilst the additional tracks Jesus Said and Beautiful City have charm, it’s only Sweetness and You will  Never Be No Good (which has long been a CD extra track) that really should make the album cut.

And it’s about this point in the second CD that you get a sense of how being in this band could have been, to be honest, depressing.  Lloyd cannot have been an easy guy to live with.  In the very many interviews he has so carefully, actually tortuously, curated on his website, he comes over as defensive, even chippy.

“Edwyn [Collins, Orange Juice]. Oh Edwyn. I believe he’s grown up now hasn’t he? The thing about Edwyn is that he couldn’t be nasty if he tried, he’s such a big wet rag.  The reason I get this from him is because he happens to have listened to the same records that I did as a boy.  That doesn’t make him very special. I think that for a while Edwyn thought he was the only person who knew about Al Green. I do like his new single though.”  Lloyd quoted in Sounds, 1987

After Mainstream in 1987, his sudden decision to break up the band and make solo albums in New York was, really, the accident waiting to happen.  Predestined by his professed delight at making the fey ‘These Days’ on his own, at the end of Mainstream,  those three, expensively produced post Commotions albums are utterly ‘out of time’.  It was suddenly embarrassing to be a Lloyd Cole fan.  And yet journalists asking him about Smiths, Ride, Happy Mondays found him:

coyly undistressed by the dread realisation that his particular style of songwriting is currently out of vogue”  NME 1991

What Cole forgot is what made The Commotions great.  He THOUGHT, that he was a voice-of-a-generation-singer-songwriter, making coy observational chamber pieces about girlfriends. But what we LOVED them (not just him) for, were grand anthemic retro indie-pop, (albeit pretentious indie pop).  The grandesse of Rich (from Cole’s ‘hated’ Easy Pieces), the wistfulness of Hey Rusty (from Mainstream), the sheer beauty of Are You Ready.  These songs are a DIRECT result of the whole Commotion sound.  Those extraordinary drum fills from Irvine, those layered almost Cocteaux-ish guitars from Clark, and the, actually, often charming, lyricism of Cole’s Rex Harrison impressions.

Good God!  Cole forgot that there is no I in team!  Bono didn’t, Jim Kerr didn’t, but Lloyd did.

So Lloyd, as you travel the world, economy class, with your guitars strapped to your back, saving for the kids’ college fund back in Mass., consoling yourself with the odd shot at par, just take this one piece of advice from me.  PUT THE DAMN BAND BACK TOGETHER MAN – we loved you ALL.

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Posted in Criticism, Reviews Music
6 comments on “CD remasters: the good, the bad and the downright ridiculous. Part 2: Rattlesnakes – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
  1. My initial reaction is a simple No. If it weren’t the Commotions we wouldn’t have Belle & Sebastian and we wouldn’t have Camera Obscura. A retraction is expected shortly.

  2. Tony Walker says:

    I liked Charlotte Street too. Is this ok?

  3. Tim Ingham says:

    In retrospect I feel we loved them for the singles. They are the stand out tracks on this album; perfect skin, forest fire, rattlesnakes. OK so they forgot to release Heartbroken but Sandie Shaw di that so can that count? I feel the same about the following albums. Certainly, the singles are the only things I have on my media player these days.

    • ubiknation says:

      …Of course Lloyd HATES the Sandie Shaw version! I mostly agree with you (about the singles) but Rich and Hey Rusty were album tracks and they’re very loveable. Watch out for Winterlight feature in future blogosts!

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