LLOYD COLE AND THE COMMOTIONS – “Why I Love Country Music”

“We feel fine / We’re killing time / Well what’s the crime?”

One of the first pieces of music criticism I remember reading was a cold dismissal of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ Five Easy Pieces which said something like, oh he overreaches himself, writing these naive sketches of situations he can’t possibly have lived. As if the first album’s heartsick-student persona was any less unliveable for me, 15, listening! But the seed of doubt was planted and I started mistrusting the record, and mistrusting my own reasons for liking it – that I hoped I’d grow into some of these situations, that they seemed dramatic and tragic to me. If that was the reason Lloyd had written the songs, though – well, that seemed a bit of a cheat. They had been showstoppers in my heart’s secret theatre: now they were just short stories, as matt and unreflecting as the ones I picked apart in English Lit classes.

Still I liked Lloyd’s flared, quavering voice and the hooks seemed to come in packs: I sold a copy and soon bought it again, cheaper. And of course the stories all came true – the lost weekends and brand new friends and minor characters and perfect blues all rolled into my life sooner or later. They weren’t as neat or dramatic as Lloyd had made them seem, and I understood what that critic had been talking about. That by writing the songs Cole had made these people narrower-than life. That by finishing the songs with a neat turn of phrase and a chorus Cole had given these people a bit of drama, and somewhere in the unspoken distance, the chance of an ending.

Which is unrealistic, you know.

And that makes me like the songs more again. Country music works like that too. The couple in “Why I Love…” listen to country, and drink, to escape something awful and dark at the heart of what used to be their love, but also I think to deal with it. In “Faron Young”, Prefab Sprout lambasted country songs – “They offer infrared instead of sun / They offer paper spoons and bubblegum” – and years later Paddy McAloon would shamefacedly admit he was wrong. But he was only half-wrong – what the music offers is a simplification, sure, but that’s why it’s great. Country music provides a language for the couple’s – for our – pain, turns something too big to think about into a song you can sing along to.

I can never remember, though – couldn’t when I started writing this, even – whether Lloyd Cole’s song is called “Why I Love Country Music” or “Why I Hate Country Music”. I’d like it even more if it was called both.

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