Certain Songs #944: Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – “Perfect Skin”

Album: Rattlesnakes
Year: 1984

Perhaps the definitive college rock album of the mid-1980s, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions’ Rattlesnakes was an absolute utter favorite in my burgeoning social circle in 1985. While some folks found the obliqueness of R.E.M.’s frontman too distancing and the whinging of The Smiths’ frontman a too annoying, then Lloyd Cole’s songs about his various romantic entanglements other young smart people hit the mark time after time after time.

And Neil Clark’s insanely catchy jangly guitar hooks didn’t hurt either.

Clark kills it throughout “Perfect Skin,” starting with his twisty winding riff underneath Lloyd’s Dylanesque scene-setting:

I choose my friends only far too well
I’m up on the pavement, they’re all down in the cellar
With their government grants and my I.Q.
They brought me down to size, academia blues

And right after that verse, Clark tosses in a counterpoint lick that’s climbing up the stairs to a basement flat and even catchier than what he opened the song with. By this time, you’re completely hooked, as Cole — his trademark vocal hiccups right in place — tosses out verses and choruses about a near-mythical girl that all the other girls want to be and all the cis het boys want to be with.

I mean he could have gotten away with calling it “Visions of Louise.”

Louise is the girl with the perfect skin
She says turn on the light, otherwise it can’t be seen
She’s got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin
And she’s sexually enlightened by Cosmopolitan and
When she smiles my way
My eyes go out in vain
For her perfect skin
Yeah that’s perfect skin

“Cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin” is such a great line it doesn’t even matter that he forces “Cosmopolitan” as the rhyme.

And then after that, instead of a proper guitar solo, there’s a modulation and Clark makes his guitar sound like the sun reflecting from Louise’s perfect skin before reverting back to the overwhelming amount of musical and lyrical hooks that make up the rest of the song.

All and all it adds up to an indie-pop classic, the first of many U.K. hits and U.S. college radio standards for Cole.

As a lead single and side one, track one, “Perfect Skin” set a nearly impossible standard for Lloyd Cole to try to match, not just with the Rattlesnakes, but the rest of his career. But he did, over and over again, which is why he remains one of my all-time favorites, as we shall see.

“Perfect Skin”

“Perfect Skin” music video (OK sound)

“Perfect Skin” performed live in 1985 (shitty sound)

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