Even Serpents Shine

Twentieth anniversary edition of '80s classic expanded with live songs, sessions and rarities

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Namedrops keep falling on his head, so it’s a wonder Lloyd Cole never found time to give Pauline Kael a cameo in the pomo-boho tangles of jangle and allusion that make up this 1984 debut. Because when she nailed Citizen Kane as a “shallow masterpiece”, she could have been describing a tune like “Perfect Skin”, all “cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin”, where the moral of the song is that “there never has been one”.

Maybe it was the turtlenecks, the 2CVs and basement flats, or maybe it was just the drabbest artwork in album sleeve history, but, in their time, the Commotions never really escaped the dowdy dorm rooms of the mid-’80s. Happily, at 20 years remove, Rattlesnakes sounds fresh and funny?wittily ambitious rather than earnest or gauche. Cole’s was an old-fashioned kind of New Pop-the knock-kneed beatnikery of early Postcard buffed up for drivetime and scored for cinemascope. For a record so keen with wordy pleasures, Rattlesnakes has a rare sumptuousness: in the scorched guitar rising through “Forest Fire”, the swampy undertow of “Speedboat”, or the strings that swoop and soar alongside the Joan Didion highway of the title track.

But the heart of the record lies in Cole’s conceits. These songs know little of life beyond Penguin Modern Classics, repertory cinema and a musical Manhattan of the mind, but, like a young Tarantino, they find much fun within their fictive confines?”You came driving back to town in a beat-up Grace Kelly carl Looking like a friend of Truman Capote but looking exactly like you are”. All the world’s a sound-stage.

The additional disc of demos and rarities shows a little too much of the working at times: a cover of Television’s “Glory” and the line in “Beautiful City” remembering “Dancing round your flat/To ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat'” rather gives the game away. But if talent borrows and genius steals, then Rattlesnakes remains a delirious swagbag, ripe for reappraisal.


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