LLOYD COLE calls the decision to name his most recent album Standards "snotty."
"It's a bit like me naming an album Mainstream," says the 54-year-old British singer/songwriter, referencing the final record he made with his former backing band, the Commotions, in 1987.
The title of Cole's 2013 LP is fitting in the eyes of his fans, though, many of whom attest that the songs Cole has written throughout his 30-year career should be pop standards of our time. There's a fair case to be made to that end: His lyrics can be as wordy and witty as those of Stephin Merritt or Cole's namesake, Cole Porter ("My pursuit of sadness is not kneejerk/I don't have a second heart to break," he sings on Standards' "Silver Lake"). His music is equally catchy, led by his agile rhythm guitar and vocal work.
But while UK chart hits like "Perfect Skin" and "Brand New Friend" are familiar to music lovers in his country of origin, Cole's never really caught fire here in the States (he's been living in Massachusetts since 1999). In the past decade or so, his most high-profile moment may have been when Scottish band Camera Obscura name-dropped him in 2006's "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken."
Contrasting with the sleek sounds of New Romantics like Duran Duran in the early '80s, Cole found the same cult success as fellow tuneful Brits like Robyn Hitchcock and Billy Bragg. He made a small commercial dent with his 1991 solo effort, Don't Get Weird On Me, Babe, and its still sharp-as-nails lead single, "She's a Girl and I'm a Man," landed him late-night TV showcases and heavy rotation on alternative rock radio. The past 20-plus years, though, have seen him releasing album after album of sharply rendered pop and folk to critical acclaim and commercial indifference.
Not that any of this concerns Cole. If it did, he likely wouldn't have released two albums of modular synth instrumentals, including a collaboration with krautrock icon Hans-Joachim Roedelius. What Cole wants to keep doing is write and make what he calls "age-appropriate music."
"I've been pretty terrified and haunted pretty much all my adult life by the image of Joe Strummer getting a mohawk when it was far too late for him to have one," he says, speaking from his home studio. "That sums up everything I'm terrified about with my music. Some might say I've overcompensated as a result."
The sound of Standards hardly suggests that. Recorded in LA with the same rhythm section that drove Weird—Matthew Sweet on bass, Fred Maher on drums—the album is a raucous delight with hints of '60s country ("No Truck") and light glam ("Silver Lake") peeking through the curtain of driving guitar from Cole and his son Will. The album also includes a flurry of references to other pop songs, like lyrical nods to Stealers Wheel "Stuck in the Middle with You" and Chic's "Good Times," as well as a literary bent that calls to mind the raw prose of Charles Bukowski and John Fante.
"There's been a bit more of that on this record than there has in recent years," he says of the lyrics. "I've tried to rein myself in over the last 15 years or so because I'm naturally pretty flamboyant with language. But, really, there are references to distinct works in more or less all my work. It's my palette, I guess."