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The Negatives

music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: The Negatives

Artist: Lloyd Cole
Genre: Rock
Release Date: April 2001

Review by LarryG
3 stars out of 4

Lloyd Cole's last record, Love Story, came out in 1995. Since then, Cole left Mercury Records after they refused to release a subsequent record. The good news is that Cole used the time between records to amass and polish a great group of songs. The time in record company limbo has also sharpened Cole's focus. Cole's records in the late 80s and early 90s all had some very good songs but also had patches of vague, colorless music. The Negatives is Cole's best record since the mid-80s and maybe his best since his brilliant debut, Rattlesnakes. As always, Cole's writing and singing are understated, with a smart, literary quality. But Cole is fully engaged throughout The Negatives and the result is a very strong record. The Negatives is largely a theme record. Nearly all the songs are about how Cole was a cocky jerk, was taught a bunch of lessons and is now ready to move forward, humbled but optimistic. Cole's record company frustrations have liberated his writing, which has an underlying sense of "I'm never going to sell a ton of records so I might as well have a good time and make some good music."

Radio programmers would disagree, but The Negatives sounds to me like it's filled with singles. The songs are fully developed and easily stand up to repeat listens. A few of them are easily among the best Cole has ever done. The Negatives opens with a real stunner, Past Imperfect. Past Imperfect is a sweeping story that looks back with a sense of disbelief. Cole is torn between wanting to examine a life of mistakes and failed relationships and wanting to forget it all. As on the entire record, rich but unshowy music helps make Cole's confessions and self-examinations go down easy. Jill Sobule's guitar playing on The Negatives is a revelation. Sobule, another major label reject, gives Past Imperfect a melodic and memorable hook and a good, tight solo. Rafa Maciejak's strong drumming helps the song to build slowly from its sad, reflective start. The Negatives' other transcendental moment is the self-deprecating What's Wrong With This Picture? What's Wrong's buoyant arrangement has Fountains Of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger's light touch. A wary suitor, aware of Cole's cool, reserved persona, asks "Could you believe in anything?" and "Could you bear to be sincere for just one day?" Cole implicitly cops to the critique and seems to surprise himself when he says, without irony, that he's "feelin' alright." The music, with delicate rock guitar, Sobule's sweet harmonies and Cole's cheesy keyboard line, matches the unguarded, joyful feel of the lyrics. Almost as good is Man On The Verge, which starts unpromisingly with Cole singing a personal ad but becomes very appealing. Cole slyly announces that he's emerging from a funk, almost ready to approach a woman and tell her "hello, I love your shirt." Cole veterans Robert Quine and Neil Clark contribute good, delicate guitar work. Almost all of The Negatives is very stong. Cole is often funny, ridiculing his own career troubles on Tried To Rock, singing that he "did not fail to see that what it takes to rock is that which I have not" and making no excuses for desperate acts ("I wasn't even stoned"). Negative Attitude is a fun rocker with a good fuzzy guitar and cheeky lyrics ("you want to paint the renaissance fair, I want to try to relate to your colorful hair"). Too Much E tries a little too hard to be decadent but it has the raw, down and dirty feel of a good 80s Lou Reed rocker. Impossible Girl is kind of a throwaway but it has an appealing, easy sound. As on Rattlesnakes, strings add atmosphere without being overdone. The Negatives ends with a couple of good, straight forward ballads. That Boy is lush and sweet, with Cole asking a woman to "find some part of your aching heart" that forgives a guy who acts like a jerk but desperately loves her. Then Cole uses a vulnerable vocal for the sad, simple I'm Gone. Anyone looking for mature, enjoyable music should like The Negatives, but fans of Cole's previous work, after enduring 15 years of hit and miss records, will especially appreciate The Negatives' quality and consistency. The record is also filled with self-mocking allusions to Cole's previous work. He refers to Lost Weekend's hotel in Amsterdam on Past Imperfect; contrasts the gloomy, pretentious guy of his self-titled record No Blue Skies with What's Wrong With This Picture's "there's nothing but blue skies" and ridicules the hipsterism of his Don't Get Weird On Me, Babe on Tried To Rock ("I didn't mean to say you were just a babe").

After the tentativeness of much of Lloyd Cole's middle period, it's great that he's again performing with the compelling confidence of his first two records, albeit with a more humble, mature persona. Cole conveys the relaxed feel of someone who knows that he's making good music. I highly recommend The Negatives and its carefully constructed, likable and well played mid-tempo songs.



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