- - Monday, April 18, 2016

As leader of the Scottish five-piece Lloyd Cole and The Commotions, Lloyd Cole perfected a perfect blend of jangly guitars, mournful keyboards and smart lyrics that referenced historical figures both literary and popular.

Call it what you will — “art rock” or “college rock” or even “literary pop” — the music created by the man and the band in their short career was the 1980s’ most memorable and clever. And although they never had a hit, the songs remain stuck in the minds of those who were lucky enough to discover their brilliance. (Are You) Ready to Be Heartbroken,” “Lost Weekend,” “Perfect Skin,” “My Bag” and “Forrest Fire” still resonate today.

The band dissolved after the release of their third critically received album, and Mr. Cole went solo, releasing a dozen albums of well-thought-out lyrics over a shifting musical landscape of rock to symphonic pop and even electronica.

But in all those years, the one thing he has never done is look back on his career — until now. Mr. Cole is embarking on his first-ever early career-centric tour called “2016 My Retrospective Year,” which brings him to The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, Saturday. 

Question: You’ve always moved forward, even singing “Don’t Look Back” on your first solo record. So why is 2016 your “Retrospective Year”?

Answer: Universal Music released a box set last year called “Lloyd Cole and The Commotions Collected Recordings 1983-1988,” collected a bunch of never-heard-before demos and outtakes. [It came with] with a book and DVDs. It went really well. Universal sold out rather quickly. They decided they wanted to do another one of my solo records. So two boxes of retrospective in one year.

It was kind of like when The Commotions reunited for the 20th anniversary version of our album “Rattlesnakes.” I thought, “It’s now or never.” [laughs]When When I go on tour I don’t really feel like I’m necessarily promoting the latest album. But I do want people to know about these boxes.

Q: What will be on the box set, and when will it be released?

A: It draws from the four albums that came out with Universal and the fifth album that I wanted to come out that didn’t. The songs from the album all surfaced elsewhere. But the actual album as it was intended to be released never came out. Then there’s a CD of demos which are pretty interesting. It’s a look into the origins of the songs from my first solo records.

The box is scheduled for September.

Q: Are there any songs in there you haven’t played since they were originally released?

A: I was working on “Down on Mission Street,” which I haven’t played as a solo artist ever. It’s quite a difficult one. I did add “Pretty Gone” from “Easy Pieces,” which I believe is sort of a fan favorite. I also play “Mr. Malcontent” from “Mainstream.” There definitely are gonna be a few I haven’t played for a while. And there’s gonna be a few that are gonna be put to bed on this tour. This will be it. Because I’m definitely closer to the end of my career. [laughs]

Q: Is the Virginia date an acoustic show or with your band The Leopards?

A: It’s solo acoustic. The Leopards only exist in the U.K., really. Me performing with them only really came to be as a possibility when my album “Standards” came out and was well received. People said, “You made this elaborate rock record. Why aren’t you playing with a rock band?” I spent a fair amount of time on social media explaining the difference between making a rock record and having a rock band. The idea of touring with a band like that is not feasible.

Q: Are there any songs that didn’t translate to being acoustic?

A: There’s quite a few. Since 2000 my primary touring has been me solo acoustic. Over the years I have pretty much gone through my whole catalog to figure out which songs may or may not work well. The encouraging thing is most work. If the song is strong enough, then it can survive. And it can shine.

What is disappointing is when you look at a recording you made to try and translate it to acoustic, you find that the song is not that strong. And “From the Hip” from “Mainstream” is a lovely recording, but there isn’t really much of a song there.

Q: When you look back, do you have a favorite song you wrote?

A: Probably not. But I have ones that I’m more fond of: “Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken” because it was the first good song I had written.

Q: You reconvened The Commotions in 2004 for a tour. Any thought to ever doing that again?

A: No. I think we were really on the borderline of being a little too old at the time. We’re not a band like The Who or The Rolling Stones who have this massive catalog. We existed from 1983 to 1988. Just about five years, and we only made about 40 or 50 songs. They’re all young men songs. To try and play that set as an older middle-aged person was difficult.

It was fun, but another ten-plus years have passed, and I think it’s very unlikely. I think it’s really not a good idea.

Q: Apart from looking back, what else are you working on?

A: The last maybe ten or 15 years for me, I have definitely had periods where I thought I was completely finished writing songs. Then I’ll feel inclined to write some. I very proud of the last batch that I released. I’m not inclined to release another batch unless I think they can stand beside them. I’m working pretty hard on songs right now. I’ve got a core of six or eight ideas, none of which are 100-percent finished yet. My plan is I’m going to be touring with this retrospective thing, and while doing that I’ll continue working on this material in my spare time and maybe get some recording done in the gaps between the touring.

Lloyd Cole plays The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, Saturday at 7:30. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com.

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