Between 1984 and 1989, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions demonstrated that the mid- 80s could accommodate more than Australian soap stars warbling over tinny production. Their intelligent guitar-pop and Cole's Morrissey-esque turn of phrase established them as an albums rather than a singles band, although their singer's prominence in their name always hinted at a future solo career.
The inevitable split with the Commotions came in 1990. Cole's ensuing solo career has seen him strip back his sound, recently to no more than guitar and computer, but 20 years on from his eponymous debut it appears that he wants some company again. Not that this album is anyone's other than his - former Commotion Blair Cowan shares the solitary co-songwriting credit - but the contributions of his band members, including Joan (As Police Woman) Wasser's wonderful vocals, bring a depth to his sound that has been recently lacking.
Living in the US has left its imprint on Cole, with touches of Dylan and Neil Young apparent across these gentle, country-flavoured songs. Slide guitar, banjo and harmonica feature heavily and he wears each well. In such a setting, wry digs at middle-class creative indulgence on Writers Retreat! ("you can write a book while falling apart") could induce audiences raised on more traditional Americana to embrace a once quintessentially English songwriter.
With the jangly daydreaming of 1984's Perfect Skin in the distant past (the closest he gets to the Commotions era is the drifting That's Alright), Cole is aware his bedsit fans now own homes, and hints with surprise at where he is in his own life: "I look like a million bucks / I ain't worth quite that much / but you get the point." The title-track cannily avoids accusations of mid-life crisis, observing "not that I had much dignity anyway".
While Broken Record fails to match the lush string-laden heights of 1991's Don't Get Weird on Me Babe, it sometimes comes close, with the conversational Why in the World? pondering "maybe I'm not built for these towns", and If I Were a Song continuing the prevailing doubt: "will you still dance if I play?"
With Cole's rich baritone still able to rescue even the weakest of tracks, Broken Record is the sound of a man rediscovering his muse - and possibly even enjoying it. It's a solid effort, adding to an already impressive back catalogue.