As the Leyton Buzzards famously didn’t quite say, ‘‘84 was a very fine year’.
I was learning to drive and I bought my first car, a mini pick-up (considered by some to be one of the finest two-seater sports cars ever produced in Britain) from a farmer in Northumberland for the princely sum of £600. No matter how many times I vacuumed and cleaned the interior it was a decent bet that it would again be mysteriously full of straw the next time I drove it. I’ve no idea where all that straw came from. Like most basic vans and pick-ups at the time it could be purchased new with only one seat – which explains why the passenger seat added at a later date by a former owner was brown and the driver’s seat was black.
I also bought my first serious stereo system of Marantz ‘separates’ and my collection of records and tapes (for those were the only two options when buying music in 1984) was growing in direct proportion to the kind of disposable income that you only ever experience in that window of opportunity that stretches from your first real wage (1982 in my case) to the point at which you move into your first house (1987).
One of the albums that burst onto the scene in 1984, clocking in at just over half an hour as many of the albums did back then, was ‘Rattlesnakes’, the debut album by Lloyd Cole and The Commotions.
In 1982, 1983 and 1984 you’d have been forgiven for thinking that all music in the future would be played (quite possibly by robots) on synthesizers. Then slowly, but surely, in much the same way as the return to normality at the end of ‘War of the worlds’, guitars and thoughtful songwriting started to stage a comeback. For me, Billy Bragg, Prefab Sprout, The Smiths and Lloyd Cole and The Commotions were the standard-bearers for this new dawn. Billy, Paddy and Stephen (and their assorted band mates) have remained turntable, tape-deck and CD drive favourites ever since. For some inexplicable reason Lloyd hasn’t. I feel a bit guilty about that. Sorry Lloyd, Stephen, Neil, Lawrence and Blair.
‘Rattlesnakes’ is an album full of people you’d love to spend time with, places you’d love to visit and cars you’d love to drive. Lyrically it’s the polar opposite of the last clunkily written tape to be featured here (Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’) – in some places it’s almost too clever for its own good, but with the lyrics wisely not included on the insert you’re always likely to find something just slightly different every time you listen.
The best tracks still give an extremely good account of themselves – ‘Are you ready to be heartbroken’ (later covered by Sandie Shaw and referenced by Camera Obscura) still sounds wonderfully fresh. As do ‘Forest fire’ and ‘2cv’. My favourite though still remains ‘Four flights up’. Any song that opens with the line ‘I was woken up at 4am by your screams and anguished cries’ and goes on to mention Grace Kelly and Truman Capote has got to be worth another listen.
Label – Polydor
Year – 1984
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