In 2016 Lloyd Cole is at a creative crossroads.
On the one hand, the former Commotions frontman is digging deeper into his back catalogue than ever before as he rewards fans with a retrospective tour and another forthcoming greatest hits collection. On the other, he’s been publicly airing his decades-long fascination with instrumental electronic music and synthesisers for the first time.
In January, the former path will lead him to Adelaide with a set comprised of tracks from his 1983-1996 period.
In the past, these sorts of tours are something Cole has resisted; written off as the sort of thing other artists at a similar point in their career might entertain, but not him. “I thought it might be a little weird,” he says of looking back.
“For a long time I thought what my fans valued in me was bringing out new music – they probably didn’t want to follow a guy who was an ‘oldies’ artist.”
It turns out he was quite wrong.
“I performed the first of these shows last year in Atlanta, and it was remarkably comfortable… it felt natural.”
Now the floodgates are open as he revisits long-neglected corners of his songbook.
“I’ve been hearing the calls for certain songs for years and not playing them,” he says. “One of the nice things about this tour is there are songs, fan favourites out there, that are very much young man’s songs,” he explains.
“I tended not to sing them much over the last few years. But on a tour like this, I can sing it once and it’s quite nice – it’s like we’re signing off on it. It is nice to dig a little deeper and find some song I’m fond of that I haven’t sung before or in a long time.”
This isn’t to say Cole has been entirely focussed on the hits his 24-year-old self-penned back in the mid-1980s. Last year saw the release of 1D (Electronics 2012- 2014), a new collection of material quite unlike any of his previous solo records. For a start, he doesn’t sing a note or strum a single chord, preferring to let the electronic tones of a modular synthesiser do the talking. It’s a world he’s been interested in long before he became a foppish pop star.
“I was led into electronic music by Eno and Bowie in the 1970s, and it’s just been part of my life ever since then,” he explains.
“There were times I tried to incorporate some of those ideas into my songs, but I think overall it was unsuccessful. I decided in the mid-1990s to have a sort of demarcation in the future: songs with guitars and pianos, instrumental music with synthesisers.
“I’ve only been working in hardcore electronics for the last five to six years,” he says.
Nowadays he really means business, with no keyboard controllers, overdubs and certainly none of the Ableton software relied upon by most modern laptop wizards.
“These days I have a reasonably large synthesiser in the attic, and it’s made of all kinds of modules, some are classic basic oscillators like you’d have in the Moog, some are completely different,” he explains.
“They’re almost like having different guitars.”
However disparate the end result, both fields are united by Cole’s approach: a craftsman-like devotion to creating personally fulfilling pieces of work.
“I don’t have ‘chops’ as they’d say in jazz, but I’m not really interested in having them. I’m interested in composing things; I’m interested in creating structures that make music which is pleasing to me.”
That longstanding demarcation may soon come crumbling down however, even if his fans might prefer to simply hear Perfect Skin on repeat.
“I think my electronic music’s been out there long enough to alienate most of those people,” he chuckles.
“But it’s quite a nice balance in my life at the moment, to be honest. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m confident enough with the electronics that I can incorporate it into my songs.”
Either way, once the trip down memory lane winds up this songwriting veteran knows the trick to reaching a third Best-Of compilation is to just knuckle down.
“I know enough to know that it’s never going to be easy, and it’s always a lot of work to get a good song,” he says of his next batch of tunes.
“There are no free lunches in songwriting.”
Church of the Trinity, Goodwood Road
Thursday, January 12
Friday, January 13 (sold out)