‘The Young Idealists’, track one on Lloyd Cole’s 2006 album Antidepressant, is indicative of everything that is good about this record.
It’s a gem, an intimate, acoustically-strummed number with a wry lyric where the narrator reflects on how age mellows us and convictions are forgotten or diluted over time. There’s a typical deft economy with Cole’s choice of words and surely everyone of a certain age can relate to some of these lines, like the opening couplet: “I know I said I favoured peaceful resolution / But that was when we were the young idealists”. The twist in this tale is that although the young idealists of the song buy into the “neocon economic dream”, the “markets fall” and they look back and think the idea of a “wholesale revolution” wasn’t so silly after all and what’s so wrong with fighting for a “future we can breathe in”?
Just prior to this reissue, Cole told of how 2006 was “probably the low point” of his career and it’s impossible not to reflect back and consider how things played out for the singer-songwriter. In 1984, with the Commotions, Cole delivered Rattlesnakes, a near-perfect album and ever since, he has been trying, presumably, to repeat that achievement, battling against all sorts of foes, including producers who may not have been right for the job, record companies who at times didn’t even want to release the albums and the ‘general public’, who lost interest and went off and bought records by Blur and Oasis, instead of his.
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After his tenure at Polydor drew to an unhappy close in the late ’90s, Cole’s transition to the new millennium was somewhat fragmented as he apparently enjoyed having the freedom to do as he pleased. So he issued various records on different independent labels, had a brief period in a new band (The Negatives), messed around with instrumental ambient electronica and played a lot of golf. The 2004 tour reunion with The Commotions aside, to anyone who wasn’t a big Lloyd Cole fan, he’d all but disappeared.
Cut to 2006, and Cole was in something of a no man’s land, in terms of connecting with a wider audience. There was no social media for him to directly converse with fans and sell his wares (last year LC created a successful Patreon channel which has helped him through lockdown) but neither was there the marketing and financial clout of a major label. All he could do was get his head down and carry on making the best records he could as cheaply as possible – hence Antidepressant was recorded in his home studio, and largely self-performed with some help from a few old friends (including ex-Commotion Neil Clark). In Lloyd’s own words: “The strings come from sampled recordings, as do most of the drums and the entire thing was mostly programmed, rather than played. 75 percent of the sound is me in a room, for almost a year, with a computer and some microphones and a guitar”.
It would be lazy to position Antidepressant as some kind of ‘lost’, hidden gem of an album, because the reality is, that while some are better than others, Cole has probably never made a bad record in his life and certainly for the last 25 years or so, any number of them could be categorised as ‘lost’ (or indeed ‘gems’).
But back to the album in question… ’Woman in a Bar’ is perky piano-led number with a filmic stream-of-conscious vocabulary and the theme of getting older continues, with pithy lines like “No longer angry, No longer young, No longer driven to distraction, Not even by Scarlett Johansson”.
‘NYC Sunshine’ emits positive rays with plenty of crisp acoustic guitars, but again, we find the protagonist in this song comfortable in his own skin as he admits: “I won’t mind if you think that I’m lazy, I won’t care if you find me insincere, Because it’s the best that I can do”.
The title track of the album has that toe-tapping rocky groove prevalent on some of the first solo album (think, ‘I Hate To See You Baby Doing That Stuff’) and it’s a great to hear the electric guitars come out – a welcome shift in tone. Somehow the repeated use of the word ‘medication’ in this song just feels very ‘Lloyd Cole’, even if the reference to ‘Six Feet Under’ dates the song as much as the mention of Dallas dates ABBA’s ‘The Day Before You Came’.
The Dylan-esque ‘Everysong’ is probably as average as Antidepressant gets. ’How Wrong Can You Be?’ is curious and beguiling and Cole tackles Moby Grape’s ‘I Am Willing’ with a light, almost ambient touch.
‘Slip Away’ is fine, but it’s another languid, mellow number so it’s a relief to see things pick up with the Sun Records-style Country rhythm of ‘Travelling Light’ which blows a cool breeze of restrained guitar figures and vocal harmonies in the face of the listener.
Antidepressant saves one of the best for last with the wonderfully titled ‘Rolodex Incident’. A seductive, extended intro sees slinky piano cut a path through guitars and drums with electronic beats pulsing low in the mix, in the background. There’s not traditional song structure on offer, no chorus, not even a particularly strong vocal melody, and yet… the music; those four short verses; that hint of loss and intrigue… they just draw you in.
It’s a satisfying end to what is a very good record, although the harsh reality was that back in 2006, this album always had its work cut out for it to stretch beyond the bounds of the hardcore Lloyd Cole audience. And that’s where the new reissue comes into play. Antidepressant gets another chance, or rather flip that; the wider audience gets another chance to discover and enjoy the album!
The reissue offers some rewards to fans and collectors, the most significant being that the album is issued on vinyl for the very first time (even if there was never any analogue master tape to cut from). Also, Susan Logoreci’s artwork looks fantastic on the larger format (especially with the inner gatefold) and the CD isn’t a slapdash cheap jewel case affair either – it apes the vinyl gatefold, even having a (printed) protective inner sleeve for the disc. Given that Cole is a superb lyricist I’d love to have seen the words to the songs reproduced.
Both formats offer one solitary bonus track in the form of ‘Coattails’. It’s appended to the album on the CD but comes as a bonus seven-inch single (one-sided) with the vinyl edition. It’s worthy of inclusion and appears to share some musical DNA with ‘Get Can’t Arrested’ from 1993’s Bad Vibes; indeed that song’s title is actually referenced in the opening lines of ‘Coattails’. There’s a similar autobiographical vibe (no pun intended) at play here, especially as Lloyd sings the lines “Got out of the city / everyone agreed / that the life that you were living / wasn’t healthy” more than likely a reference to him leaving behind his ‘New York years’.
There’s undoubtedly a weary vibe of frustration and maybe even disappointment flowing through the veins of Antidepressant. The man who wrote ‘Perfect Skin’ and ‘Forest Fire’ had turned 45 while he was recording the album and so was looking down the barrel of his half-century while playing tiny venues to crowds of two or three hundred. There must have been some serious soul-searching going on. But don’t let that put you off. A young idealist would say that we suffer for our art and one hopes that Antidepressant was precisely the kind of self-medication Lloyd Cole needed at the time. This repeat prescription comes highly recommended.
The Antidepressant reissue is out now on via Edel/Ear Music.
Please note that some of those vinyl prices on the SDE widget are not correct (it’s £25 in the UK, for example). Slight technical glitch which is being addressed! Thanks.
1 The Young Idealists
2 Woman In A Bar
3 NYC Sunshine
5 I Didn’t See It Coming
6 How Wrong Can You Be?
8 I Am Not Willing
9 Slip Away
10 Traveling Light
11 Rolodex Incident
Bonus track on CD and on seven-inch with vinyl