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Lloyd Cole lets it all hang out on latest album, tour

Steven Sonoras
Special to The Detroit News

There's no mistaking that Lloyd Cole sounds rejuvenated on his latest album "Standards," which came out in the U.S. last fall. After spending the last decade quietly releasing sparse acoustic albums, the former Commotions front man has rediscovered his voice and reinvigorated his sound. The new LP invokes his past, but it's rooted firmly in the present.

"I'm not worried about age appropriate music anymore," Cole, 54, says. "The reason I didn't make rock and roll music for a while in the early 2000s was a reaction against my relationship with the record companies and constantly having to make albums and put together bands to play live. It became like an assembly line after a while. I retreated into solo acoustic material because of that."

Cole may have found relief from major label bureaucracy and the nightmarish logistics of touring with ever-changing personnel, but he says the indie route led him into an artistic corner.

"I found myself with five solo albums and I'm looking at my sixth album and not knowing how to make something different, and finding myself trying to sound like anything so long as it was not Lloyd Cole," he says.

"Standards" is a dynamic return to form for the English singer-songwriter. The album finds Cole dusting off the jangly guitars and pulsing rhythm section of the records that propelled his urbane, ultra-literate lyrics to great critical success in the '80s and '90s, most famously with his debut record "Rattlesnakes."

"Initially it was the songs," Cole says of the impetus for going electric again. "There were two or three songs to start with that I was writing that they just seemed that there was no other way that made sense to record them. I think I'd sort of given up on making any more quote-unquote 'loud rock music,' but I thought the songs were good enough."

Cole enlisted a cast of old collaborators, including former Commotions and members of his '90s solo band, to flesh out his new batch of proper rock songs. He says he wanted to make a record with a small band and a unified sound, like his favorite records from his own collection.

"Most great rock and roll records have a very limited palette of sounds," Cole says. "The records I grew up loving were very, very limited. If you listen to 'Electric Warrior' by T. Rex, it's basically drums, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and Flo and Eddie singing backing vocals. What that gives you is a real feeling of one record, of continuity."

Cole says another motive for the new album's spartan recording process was a desire to stay away from modern digital recording techniques, which he says can potentially cramp an artist's style.

"It's very easy to get sucked in by the technology into going, 'Oh, I could have this on that song, and this on that song,' until eventually your album's got no character," Cole says. "There's a substantial amount of what we do as people who make music, which is wanting to continue a tradition, and wanting to have the impact with the music we make that the people who came before us whose music we valued had on us."

Cole performs solo on his current tour, but what his sets may lack in sonic scope is more than compensated for by his renewed sense of exuberance as a writer and performer.

"I think I have a natural sort of flamboyance with the English language, and I'm good at it," Cole says. "And I think over the last 15 to 20 years I've been repressing that and focusing on understatement and conciseness, and I just sort of let it hang out on this record. Frankly, it surprised me as much as anyone else."

Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Lloyd Cole

8 p.m. Thursday

The Ark

316 S. Main,

Ann Arbor

$25

(734) 761-1800

theark.org