After Lloyd Cole split with his band the Commotions, he fulfilled his dream to move to New York City, where he hooked up with a new team of musicians and launched his solo career. It was a bumpy ride, full of highlights, disappointments, and ultimately a string of really good records, both released and unreleased at the time. Lloyd Cole in New York: Collected Recordings 1988-1996 contains the four albums he released during this timeframe (1990's Lloyd Cole, 1991's Don't Get Weird on Me Babe, 1993's Bad Vibes, 1995's Love Story); an album recorded in 1996 and never released (though all of the songs turned up later on Etc. or The Negatives); and -- most excitingly for Cole collectors -- a disc with 20 demos, many never heard before by anyone other than the musicians involved. It's fascinating to trace Cole's winding path, and reading the compelling essay throws new light on many of the recordings, as those involved aren't shy about telling some tough truths.
Musically, the collection jumps from the slick rock & roll of Lloyd Cole with its angular Robert Quine guitar solos to Don't Get Weird, with one side of orchestrally scored songs and one with some of his catchiest pop songs showing some artistic vision. The leap from that rich sound to the very modern, sometime cheesy synthesized sound of Bad Vibes was a disappointment for Cole fans at the time, and remains one years later. As the next album proved very clearly, Cole is at his best when surrounded by woody warmth and guitar jangle. Sporting some of his most relaxed and peaceful songs yet, Love Story even took Cole back into the singles chart with the lilting "Like Lovers Do." It wasn't enough of a hit to keep the execs from shutting down Cole's next album, though. Titled Smile If You Want To here, the 1996 sessions were of a piece with those from Love Story, with Cole sounding assured and writing some of his best songs yet. It's a pity it was shelved at the time, but having all the songs together in one place makes for one of his strongest albums and the best part of the box set.
The collected demos are the other huge selling point of the set. Recorded between 1989 and 1994, many of the songs didn't make the cut at the time, but it's hard to tell why. Mixed in with versions of songs that did make it onto albums, and his cover of Nick Cave's "The Ship Song," there are quite a few hidden gems. Some tracks have Lloyd trying things he didn't really explore further, like the jaunty pop-with-synths of "The English Weather," while some of them, like the Roy Orbison-sounding "Cold Empty Room," are just really good songs. It's a fine capper to a truly deluxe set that does justice to Cole's early solo career and makes it easy to rediscover the gentle genius of a sometimes overlooked singer/songwriter.