There are two reasons I have decided to write this article. Firstly, it takes me back to a time long ago, when I was much younger, I was a student, a time I thoroughly enjoyed in life, and this was one of the albums that was part of the soundtrack of that part of my life. It was a record it seemed, everyone listened to, it was truly a student bedsit classic. Every self respecting student had a copy, and played it morning, noon and night. So much so, that it almost became part of your DNA. Each song on the album, became like an old friend, so familiar it was. During the intervening years, every time I listen to it, I am transported back, to those chaotic, tumultuous and hedonistic times. Back then anything seemed possible, life stretched in front of you, you felt invincible and almost immortal. Sadly, these times are long gone. Each of the participants, or should that be guilty parties, as some of the things we got up to, make me cringe, and think what on earth was I thinking of, have grown up. Some have not, or have chosen not to, and still spurn responsibility, and the boredom of normal life with a vengeance. The second reason was that, in an article by Bloomsday, I mentioned that two members of Bloomsday had been members of this band. The band is Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, and the album is Rattlesnakes.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions formed in 1982, while Lloyd Cole was studying at the University of Glasgow. The group signed a record deal with Polydor Records, and released their debut single Perfect Skin in the spring of 1984. The single sold well, reaching number twenty-six in the UK charts. The follow up, Forest Fire, did not fare so well, only reaching a disappointing forty-one in the UK charts. Later in 1984, their debut album Rattlesnakes was released. Rattlesnakes was a huge success, and reached number thirteen in the UK album charts, selling in over one-hundred thousand copies. The group received a gold disc for Rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes features some lovely string arrangements by Anne Dudley. Producer Paul Hardiman deserves huge credit for his work on Rattlesnakes, as he was responsible for bringing out the best in the band. This album was easily, the highpoint in the bands short-lived career. He and he alone, managed to capture the true sound of the band. I have always wondered, if he had produced their second album, if it would have been a better album, and would the band’s career have been very different.

For the second album Easy Pieces, a new producer was brought in. Many people believe that this was something that their record label insisted on. That is not clear, and only the participants to that discussion know the truth. Easy Pieces was produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. The album was released in November 1985. Although the album was much more commercially successful, many people who had loved Rattlesnakes, believed that Easy Pieces was a pale shadow of Rattlesnakes. I always liked Easy Pieces, but much preferred the classic Rattlesnakes, and always believe this to be the bands magnum opus. However, Easy Pieces would enter the UK album charts at number five, and sold over one-hundred thousand copies within a month. Two successful singles were taken from the album. Brand New Friend reached number nineteen and Lost Weekend reached number seventeen. These would be the only UK top twenty hits the group would ever have.

In 1989, the band would release their final album. The new album would see another new producer for the album. Ian Stanley, who previously had been a keyboard player and songwriter with Tears For Fears, was given the job of producing the album. Mainstream was released in September 1987 and reached number nine in the UK album charts. Like their two previous albums, the album sold over one-hundred thousand copies and was certified gold. A track from the album Jennifer She Said, was released as a single. This single only reached a disappointing number thirty-one in the UK charts.

Two years after their previous album Mainstream, the group decided to split up. To commemorate the bands short and successful career, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions 1984-1989 was released. This was career retrospective, or best of. It sold well, so well, the group received their fourth gold disc.

After the band split up, Lloyd Cole embarked on a solo career. Neil Clark would continue to work with Lloyd Cole on his solo albums. He appears on the majority of Cole’s albums, and has been a regular fixture in Cole’s touring band. Blair Cowan also played on Cole’s first two solo albums.

Having given you a brief history of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ career, I will now tell you why Rattlesnakes is such a great album. The album opens with Perfect Skin. It is great way to open the album, in fact, it is a great way to start any album. Guitars sit at the forefront of the mix, they jangle and Lloyd Cole sings some intelligent and witty lyrics. Cole’s voice is strong, confident and betrays none of his Derbyshire roots. There is a tight arrangement on this track. Paul Hardiman has really done a good job producing this track. Perfect Skin is a track that shows great maturity, shows a band with huge potential. 

Speedboat has a much different sound than Perfect Skin. Whereas Perfect Skin is a bright, breezy and uptempo song, Speedboat finds Lloyd Cole sing some thoughtful and articulate lyrics. Lloyd Cole was famous for being a wordsmith par excellence, on Speedboat that is most definitely the case. There are no meaningless rhyming couplets here, just intelligent lyrics with a strong narrative. This was a rarity back in the 1980s’. Quality pop music was in short supply. Pop music had hit rock bottom, with some terrible artists and bands producing some dreadful throwaway music, that deserved to end up in the nearest landfill site. That was why Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, and later, The Smiths, shone like a beacon through a misty landscape, that was 1980s’ pop music. Tracks like Speedboat and Perfect Skin, cemented Lloyd Cole’s reputation as someone who could write outstanding, cerebral songs.

The title track Rattlesnakes sees the tempo increase, but the quality remain constant. Rattlesnakes is a song about a frustratingly bewitching woman called Jodie. Jodie seems to be a woman who is contrary, easily bored and someone who finds it hard to love. She seems to be a woman with a past, one that torments and saddens her. Maybe her demeanor is all just, a front, and instead of the confident you woman, she is as insecure as everyone else. When many people listen to this song, you get so carried away by the song’s tempo, that they fail to concentrate on the lyrics. That is a shame, because they are some of the finest lyrics Lloyd Cole has ever written. 

Down On Mission Street is a song that sees the band drop the tempo. This suits the song perfectly. It is a tale of woe, about a guy who seems to be contemplating skipping town, the reason being he has broken too many hearts. He sees to be the kind of guy for whom life is a game, not to be taken seriously, things happen, it doesn’t affect him and he moves. Moves on to his next victim. In the song Cole accuses him, asks him does he never tire of messing women around, and how can he hurt someone who helped him get back on his feet. The song is a contrast between Cole’s disapproval and the protagonist’s happy go lucky attitude. It is a song that says much about men, and sadly, men’s attitudes towards women. This is a good song, but not one that paints men in a good light.

My favorite Lloyd Cole and the Commotions track has always been the next song on the album, Forest Fire. There are so many good things that you can say about this song. i love the lyrics to the song, I think everyone has known someone who chooses to live their life in a way many people disapprove of, and many people can relate to someone who lives their life in such a way that they will burn themselves out. Sometimes, we even has a grudging respect for someone who is willing to like Icarus, fly to close the sun. They enjoy the journey, though maybe the aftermath can be a bit messy. Cole sings the lyrics beautifully, bringing the song to life, and throughout the track, the electric guitar playing is brilliant. Forest Fire is a masterpiece of a song, for me, the greatest moment, in their sadly, short career.

A song that I enjoyed Lloyd Cole and the Commotions playing was Charlotte Street. It has everything that a good pop song needs. It is full of great melodies and catchy hooks, not forgetting some wonderful bookish lyrics. The band really break out, and give a standout performance. Charlotte Street is a relationship song, one where the protagonist is remembering their meeting, how he was seduced, how the relationship was intense and lasted longer than he thought. It is a clever song, bathed in pathos. I love the bittersweet, witty lyrics, which, as always, are of the highest quality. Truly, a wonderful long.

2CV sees the band play in a very different way to other songs on the album. This is an acoustic song, one where Cole reminiscing about, a previous relationship. The relationship seems not to have been a serious, one as Cole sings “we were only wasting precious time” and he remembers his former beau mostly by the distinctive car she drove. 2CV shows another side of the band, one that they never showed very often, the quality was the same, they style of music very different.

The next track, Four Flights Up, sees a return to the more familiar style of music that Lloyd Cole and the Commotions are best known for. Guitars are at the forefront of the track, and Cole sings the song with passion, despair and almost anger. He sings about a troubled and turbulent sounding relationship. In the song he uses a clever simile about living four flights up but it feels like underground, meaning that the relationship is suffocating him. I am sure that many people will he able to empathize and sympathize with Cole’s feeling of suffocating within a relationship. This is good song, and demonstrates Cole’s intelligent use of words within songs.

Patience is the penultimate song on the album. The song is one of the quicker ones on the album. It is also one of the best one the album. Again, Cole has a sad tale to tell, and he does so well. It is a song about a relationship breaking up, and the bitterness and pettiness that one, or both parties, indulges in. Here it seems that he can’t live with her, but can’t live without her. Like many of their songs, similes and wordplay are used clever. Especially with patience, patience could mean two things within the context of the song. How you interpret the story is up to you. Regardless of that, what we have here is an excellent track.

Rattlesnakes closes with Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? The track starts with softly, an acoustic guitar and bass play, then Cole sings the vocal, aided by backing vocalists complimenting his performance. Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? is a song featuring some of Cole’s best lyrics, they are not only intelligent, but are to paint a picture. When you think back to when this album was released, this was something that was in short supply, as was decent music. Songs like Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? were a joy to behold for those that valued quality music. This track is a good way to end a fantastic album.

Whilst writing and researching this article, has been like taking a journey in a time machine, back to a time when I was younger. It made me remember people I knew, things I did, some good, some funny and some stupid. However, as the song says no regrets. One album I always associate with that time is Rattlesnakes. It was an album I loved back then, and an album I still love. Rattlesnakes is a great debut album, one full of great songs. Each song features some wonderful intelligent lyrics, and these lyrics are sung well by Lloyd Cole. The band contained good musicians, who could all play their instruments well. Every one of the band, played their part in making this album the success it was. Its testament to all of them that this album has stood the test of time so well. Should you never have heard Rattlesnakes, it is an album that is well worth buying. It certainly deserves a place in every record collection. It is one of the best pop records of the decade. If you would like to purchase another of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ albums, to accompany Rattlesnakes, their second album Easy Pieces is another great album. Both are full of wonderful music, music that like all quality music, is timeless. Standout Tracks: Perfect Skin, Forest Fire, Four Flights Up and Patience.



  1. jay

    Hi, i was just wondering if you’ve ever listened to Camera Obscura’s reply to Lloyd Cole: Hey Lloyd, I’m ready to be heartbroken. It’s a fantastic pop song and, along with the lead singer’s praise in interviews for the band, it’s what made me seek out Rattlesnakes, which is indeed a fine album.

    • Hi Jay,

      I have heard Camera Obscura’s He Lloyd, I’m ready To Be Heartbroken. When I heard their debut album, I thought Camera Obscura would have a big future ahead of them. They’ve not released any music for a few years now. Maybe there’s still time for them. Rattlesnakes was the best album Lloyd Cole released. It’s a classic album and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions were a great live band.

      Best Wishes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: