Classic Album Review: Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Rattlesnakes [1984, Geffen]

I put Lloyd Cole and the Commotions‘ Rattlesnakes album  in the same category of relatively-unheard-in-North-America U.K. 80’s  releases not dissimilar to Prefab Sprout‘s Steve McQueen. They both contain some of the most fluid and sophistopoppy songs of the decade that have held up through the test of time. Rattlesnakes achieves the distinctiveness of being very reminiscent of the mid-80’s (this is just good pop music, not new wave) while still retaining its contemporary status.

I remember very little about 1984-1985 aside from some very distant memories of my sister bringing home a classroom guinea pig that stunk up our entire house, and an uncle who spent the summers with us while he was at the University of Waterloo flipping over my mom’s station wagon. I was 4 years old, and the internet-age of music was a long way off, bringing home how radically different music channels for distribution have been revolutionized. I have no idea how easy or difficult it would’ve been to go to a record store in Toronto and pick this release up, but I would imagine that the guy running the store probably looked like Boy George.

Do the kids still know who Boy George even is??

Before I start running down the block chasing kids away with my slipper in hand, I’ll get on with the review. What makes this a classic album? More than anything else I think it’s the fact that it still plays as well as an excellent contemporary album would today. Rattlesnakes has an erudite timelessness that most college bands implicitly have due to the fact that we know so-and-so went to Harvard, Columbia, or wherever, but that few explicitly reference with academia. It oozes with substance while managing to stay warm and fuzzy, accessible (these songs may very well be considered adult contemporary by today’s standards) in a way that last week’s Roxy Music is not. We wouldn’t imagine Lloyd Cole to be an art school snob; on the contrary, I’m sure most of us would imagine him to be a nice man. He likes golf, and Wikipedia tells me he likes booking dates that are suspiciously close to golf courses (a man after my own self-serving heart), on top of which, he has been married to the same woman since 1989.

None of this really adds or detracts from the overall quality of the album (aside from highlighting the fact that Mr. Cole is now probably quite old), which I’ll get into right now:

Perfect Skin – An homage to the most underrated female organ, something that often seems forgotten in these days of Jersey Shore tanning beds (hello enlarged pores and unnatural burnt sienna crayon complexion). One thing I most appreciate about Cole’s lyricism is his ability to be specific without overwriting, “She’s got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin and she’s sexually enlightened by cosmopolitan” says it all. He gets caught up in gleaning the obscure details that make something extra descriptive; a quality that I especially prize.

Speedboat – A lot of bluesy pre-Charlatans keyboards going on here, which I suppose was prominent enough at the time. The careful addition of strings in just the right places makes this feel slick, though. Brilliant sounding chorus too. I hadn’t ever listened to this closely enough to catch what I would imagine to be this story about a couple drowning tragically.

Rattlesnakes – It always pleases me when the best song of the album is also the name of the album. I would also venture to say that Rattlesnakes is the magnum opus of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ brief 3-album career, period. I’m trying to think of a primary element that this incredible song might be missing, and I’m coming up empty. Brilliant lyrics, check. String arrangements, check. Unforgettable beginning, check. Spectrum of deep emotions, check. Reference to intellectual French Feminist and legendary actress, check. This song is just chock full of everything there might be to love about a smart *flawed* (read: real) woman, full stop. “She looks like Eve Marie Saint in On the Waterfront / She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance”.

Tori Amos’s cover of this song is also fantastic.

Down On Mission Street – The saddest ditty on the entire album, chastising a guy who sounds like a bit of a pathetic dick. Another stellar example of well-arranged strings (and not just strings for the sake of strings).

Forest Fire – Despite some choice bass work, this song is hearkening back to an 80’s easy listening song that is on the tip of my tongue, but not quite coming out (it’s late; I started this to combat insomnia but instead of have sashayed myself into that annoying limbo of being tired but not quite stopping and forcing myself to sleep).

Charlotte Street – Harmonica happiness. Kind of reminds me of The The’s This is the Day. Sweet guitar solo 2/3 of the way through.

2cv – Did Suckers creatively borrow from this song for Save Your Love for Me? Allison’s answer is: yes.

Four Flights Up – A little bit Traveling Willburys, a little bit Chris Isaak. All good. And I’ve just learned that the Cars’ Rik Ocasek produced this along with Patience and Perfect Skin, which makes me like it even more.

Patience – What Freur’s Doot Doot song wishes it could be.

Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken? – This is likely the one our regulars will be familiar with due to Scottish dour faces, Camera Obscura. As much as I enjoyed Let’s Get Out of This Country and generally don’t mind anyone creatively borrowing as long as it doesn’t border on aping, I have to note how much better this song is due to its heartfelt sincerity. Yes Lloyd, we are ready to be heartbroken. We are ready to bleed.

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Posted on by Allison in Albums, Article Series, Classic Albums, Everything, Music

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3 Responses to Classic Album Review: Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Rattlesnakes [1984, Geffen]

  1. josh

    Nice!!!

    Although Lloyd is relatively unknown to most this would have been readily available at your local Sam the Record Man or A&As back in the day on vinyl or cassette as it was released in Canada.

    They re-released a nice deluxe 2CD set of this in 2004 in Europe. I’ve been trying to get my hands on a ripped copy

  2. Allison

    It always amazes me that great music managed to at least be modest chart-toppers over there.

  3. Reed Farrington

    I was at the University of Waterloo when this album came out. The university radio station hyped this album, but I would never encounter any other student who listened to his music even though I lived on campus. I’ve been collecting Lloyd’s releases ever since. I’m glad that people are still discovering his music. His latest release, “Broken Record,” came out last month.

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