Back in the •80s, Lloyd Cole and his then-band, The Commotions, seemed to continually draw comparisons to The Smiths. Wile there were some grounds for this — Cole•s literate and thoughtful lyrics certainly earned him comparison to Morrissey (though Cole was arguably more of a storyteller), and the band•s jangly, folky guitars were easily contrasted with Johnny Marr•s — the band seemed to continually live in the looming shadow of The Smiths as a result, a fate they didn•t deserve. For while The Smiths were inarguably one of the most important and influential acts of the last two decades, the music press should never have allowed them to overshadow Cole and company, who arguably deserved an equal place at the table, offering their own unique charm and a slightly sunnier (though still moody) outlook than the ever-morose Morrissey. It•s telling that some decade-and-a-half-plus later, I couldn•t begin to tell you what the last remotely interesting Morrissey solo material was, yet Cole continues to fascinate and delight. And his latest project, The Negatives, is some of his best work yet.
Not just an album title, The Negatives is also the name of Cole•s new band, a five-piece that includes such notables as Jill Sobule (of •I Kissed a Girl• fame — though her career is so much richer than that) on vocals/guitar and former Eve•s Plumb-er Michael Kotch on guitar. Sobule, in particular, is an inspired choice for a bandmate, her sweet voice matching perfectly with Cole•s familiar dulcet tones for some truly inspired harmonies. Also joining in the fun as guests are ex-Voidoid Robert Quine, who contributes guitar to a few tracks (including a stellar solo on •Man On the Verge•) and The Fountains of Wayne•s Adam Schlesinger, who chips in with some arranging work on the gorgeous •What•s Wrong With This Picture?• But what•s most important to note is that these famous names never threaten to overshadow Cole — instead, they all come together in service to Cole•s unforgettable pop hooks and beautifully lyrical story-songs.
And a wonderful collection of songs it is! There•s plenty here to appease fans of classic songs like •Perfect Skin• and •Jennifer She Said,• with tracks like •Past Imperfect• and •Impossible Girl• instantly taking up permanent residence in your skull. That•s not to say that this record is a rehash of past highlights — one need only look at the extremely poppy •What•s Wrong With This Picture?• or the rockin• •Too Much E• to see that Cole•s never afraid to try new things — but Cole•s personal vocals and engrossing lyrical stories instantly create an air of familiarity that only he can provide. Other highlights include the yearning •That Boy,• the haunting •No More Love Songs,• and the quintessentially Cole •Negative Attitude.•
In short, there•s nothing negative about The Negatives at all. This album is a gem, and I can only hope that it will afford Lloyd Cole the kind of legendary status he deserves. If nothing else, it shows that while Morrissey•s talent may have be on the wane, Cole is truly timeless, and has only improved with age. Highly recommended.