Even when he was singing about supermodels with perfect skin circa 1984, Lloyd Cole always sounded like a man standing by the door with a notebook. These days he’s happily ensconced in New England, as opposed to Old Blighty, and sings lines like, “Just another bunch of would-be desperadoes/Failing to pace themselves against the grain.” Age hasn’t withered Cole’s cynicism at the music business modus operandi, it’s just given him a more world-weary sense of distance and disbelief.
Significantly, Cole replaced his Commotions with a band called the Negatives?very New York?and adopted a darker persona, one that’s happier to linger in those shadows again. If we put aside the Negatives’ 1999 disc, and a demos and rarities set from 2001 called Etc, this is actually Lloyd’s first solo record in eight years.
Mid-life crises seem to have been dealt with, however, replaced by mid-life wisdom. Much as he loves Lou Reed’s Berlin, echoing its moods several times during songs like “Today I’m Not So Sure”, “Cutting Out” and “My Other Life”, Cole’s too self-analytical to sink into self-pity. A career hypochondriac, he still deals with his malaise by using the aspirin of melody and lyric in the title track.
Refreshingly downbeat, like the criminally unknown Christian Gibbs, Cole has decided to pursue his troubadour folk and country-ish direction here. Guitars are plangent, while lap-steel, muted strings and pianos filter through, and even the songs about faux modern pop, drug abuse and wasted love don’t veer into dreary melancholy.
A cover of Nick Cave’s “People Ain’t No Good” simply fits in rather than standing out, mainly because Music In A Foreign Language doesn’t require a dictionary. It’s a modest proposal from someone who never wanted to be on-message.