CD: Lloyd Cole - Guesswork The veteran singer-songwriter shows it's never too late for a change
The first thing you notice about Guesswork is the sound. Or rather, what's missing: there are none of the usual jangly guitars. No trusty Rickenbackers. Instead, the singer-songwriter offers up a palette of synthesisers and drum machines. For those who grew up listening to his Eighties' classic, Rattlesnakes, it can be a little disorientating.
Scratch beneath the surface, though, and things really aren't so different. Cole's cracked voice is still gloriously soulful and his words continue to ruminate on life's unfolding saga. Unsurprisingly now, at 58, the story has moved on. Gone are the heartaches and lost weekends. In their place, we find pithy reflections on empty nests and middle-age dread.
The lyrics paint a picture of men and women – but mainly men – who don't know what to with themselves anymore. "Do we twist, do we shout now?" asks the narrator in "The Over Under". "Night Sweats" is darker. It tells of a 'complicated motherfucker' whose mind is unravelling. And yet, it never really feels bleak. The music is just too darn pleasant.
"Violins" feels a little like Kraftwerk, and "Whatnots" could have been created by Georgio Moroder. When the mood slows down a little, as on "The Afterlife", it all morphs into a rich late-night cinematic sound. Cole recorded it in his attic studio in Massachusetts and you can just picture him surrounded by banks of Rolands and Yamahas (along with his old friends Neil Clark and Blair Cowan from the Commotions).
Guesswork isn't actually Cole's first go at using synths. But it is his first actual synthpop LP. It's surprising that he hasn't tried this sound before. The impression he gives is that, for years, he was fed up with simply being a cult artist, and thought guitars would be the best way to regain a mass audience. It's ironic then that this belated foray into electronic songcraft should contain some of the catchiest, most sophisticated pop he's ever recorded.