This album seemed to be everywhere when it was released in 1984 –the philosophical, self-absorbed background to being in your twenties in the 1980s.
Lloyd Cole was 23 when Rattlesnakes came out and had a headful of references to offload: everyone from Arthur Lee and Norman Mailer to Eva Marie Saint, Simone de Beauvoir and Truman Capote gets a mention.
Mailer earns one of the best-remembered lyrics, from the lovely closing track Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? – “Read Norman Mailer. Or get a new tailor…”
Cole was part cultural nerd, part scruffy matinee idol, dipping into his well-stocked bookcase to pull out songs that were catchy and approachable, yet satisfyingly mysterious, too.
Cole and his Commotions only stayed together for five years, before he moved to the US and followed a solo path, one he still follows – older and greyer, like the rest of us, but still looking good.
So how does Rattlesnakes sound now when pulled from the record collection? The songs still resonate, but the production is very Eighties in a way that dates the album.
There’s no mistaking the era, and while a less cluttered, more acoustic production might have aged better, this is music of its time.
There is a precocious charm to the album that wins through, and those songs with their cinematic and literary references tacked onto their sleeve still work – Perfect Skin, Rattlesnakes, Forest Fire and 2cv, Four Flights Up, Patience and that stand-out closing track.
Mind you, Rolling Stone was sniffy at the time, saying that Cole was “having trouble finding his own voice” and too much of the album sounded like Lou Reed, Tom Verlaine or Bob Dylan.
Even RS had a few kind words for Cole’s debut – “if Rattlesnakes arrives critically short of the greatness claimed for it in the British rock press, its promise is not to easily dismissed”.
I think our rock press spotted something Rolling Stone did not and have enjoyed digging this one out again. Mostly it’s the music, but partly it’s the memories, too. I went a few flight down to rediscover this one, but it was easily worth the effort.