Certain Songs #959: Lloyd Cole – “Vin Ordinaire (alt. version)”

Album: The Negatives
Year: 2000

In 1987, when there was a new Lloyd Cole album that who knows when it was going to be released here (but couldn’t buy as an import because Lloyd Cole was signed to an American record label), all I could do was hope that someone bought it for me in the U.K. and brought it over. But by the year 2000 — the future! — that record might show up on Napster or Usenet or somewhere.

And so it was with The Negatives: I had a copy off of the internet long before I was able to buy the U.S. version of the CD at Amoeba in Berkeley. And when I did, the first thing I noticed is that they’d re-recorded my favorite song, the sadly beautiful “Vin Ordinaire.”

So the version that most people have been hearing all these years is markedly different from the one I consider one of my top 5 Lloyd Cole songs, even if it shares the same drop-dead great opening scene.

June is busting out all over
I think she’s trying to bare her soul
And I don’t mind just looking at her
But she’s just taken off her clothes

And here’s the thing: I don’t know if I got an advance copy of the U.K. version of the album, or some weird pre-release thing that never should have been released in the first place. All I know is that the swirling cello (or synth, I guess) and muted but omnious guitar on what I consider “the original” was replaced by keyboards and big drums, and something ineffable about the song was lost.

June is smoking with a vengeance
She’s trying to look like Patti Smith
I think she’s trying to make a statement
But neither she nor I knows what it is

Given the melody line, and the fatalistically ironic lyrics, it still might have been my favorite song on the album, but this version is my favorite all all of Lloyd Cole’s solo songs, telling the tale of a love triangle (at least) in which Lloyd is trying to downplay how much it hurts.

She’s in love with him
I’m in love with her
Here we go again
More vin ordinaire

I googled it back then, of course, when “google” was still becoming a verb, and discovered the “vin ordinaire” is cheap table wine. Ouch. Not even the good stuff. Whatever happens to be there.

She’s sitting on my bed
Having taken off her dress
After everything she said
She’s settling for less

In the year 2000, all I could think about this song was that Lloyd Cole was still living this way so the rest of us don’t have to. Maybe that was true. Maybe it wasn’t. But on “Vin Ordinaire,” it sure felt true, like he was still in search of a girl with the perfect skin. And this time, he knew how crazy it that search was.

All I knew for sure was the “Vin Ordinaire” was as gorgeous as songwriting got, and even if this was a demo that somehow got out into the wild, it drew such a vivid picture that I was never going to be rid of it.

“Vin Ordinaire (alt. version)”

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