After a decade spent issuing mostly acoustic singer/songwriter offerings, Lloyd Cole returns to rock & roll proper with Standards. This 11-song set was crowd-funded and recorded in Los Angeles, New York, and Massachusetts. Cole enlists the help of old friends in his rhythm section: bassist Matthew Sweet, drummer Fred Maher, and former Commotions' keyboardist Blair Cowan, and features appearances by Joan "As Police Woman" Wasserman and her guitarist son Will. Though he'd once sworn off electric rock, Cole changed his mind, and has re-embraced the rootsy, hooky pop/rock he made decades ago. His songwriting signature -- wry humor -- is firmly entrenched here, as are his dark love songs, but they've been refined -- not tempered -- by the ensuing years. Interestingly, Standards (itself an ironic title since there aren't any) opens with a cover of John Hartford's "California Earthquake," written for Mama Cass Elliot. Crunchy drums, pounding piano, and electric power chords intro his delivery. Compared to anything he's done in a decade, this is positively thunderous. It's followed by the highlight "Women's Studies," which owes small debts musically to Bob Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie" and the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers." The lyrics, however, are pure Cole. He juxtaposes various images from his memory yet refuses to enshrine them: " ...If Josef K was from Edinburgh/And Fast Product from Prague/That could have been kind of funny/Or maybe not that funny at all." One can also hear Dylan in his delivery of the bubbling "Period Piece" and the elegiac rock of "Diminished Ex." Yet wrapped in that trademark sparkling guitar sound and punchy yet sparse drums (as well as occasional keyboards that range from a cagey synth to a stabbing organ), they are unmistakably his own. Few can write breakup tunes as well as Cole, evidenced here by "Blue Like Mars," which cuts loose with a stinging lead guitar break, and "Myrtle and Rose," which contains the line: "...the longer you were gone, the less the longing...." One can unmistakably hear a kind of tribute to Television's "Marquee Moon" in the doubled guitars riff and interplay on the killer "Opposite Day." "It's Late" is a lithe rocker that crosses his Negatives' sound with neo-psych sounds and the longing spirits of Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers. His humor permeates the breezy "Kids Today" (and hits the same height of irony as some of Mose Allison's better tunes) yet demonstrates how well he understands the ironies involved in the aging process. The production here is crisp and clean, but sometimes moves afield, revealing layers under the melodies. That said, there is no noodling here. Standards finds Cole at a place of razor-sharp renewal. He uses the past unapologetically yet vitally, and delivers a record fans will find both irresistibly familiar and firmly of this moment in his career.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek