Songwriter Lloyd Cole has had his share of ups and downs. After releasing the bona fide classic Rattlesnakes and the truly fine Easy Pieces in the 1980s with his band the Commotions, Cole jumped from Universal to Capitol, where he cut his self-titled solo album and the critically acclaimed Don't Get Weird on Me Babe. Neither sold. He moved to Rykodisc for two albums before slipping out of sight in 1995 for the decade's remainder. He returned in the new century and released independent albums every couple of years, but they went mostly unnoticed. Cole quietly disappeared again after 2006's Anti-Depressant. In 2009, he emerged again and appealed to his small but dedicated fan base for help in financing a new album. Broken Record, released in Europe in late 2010 and in the U.S. in the middle of 2011 is the result. The gamble paid off in spades creatively. Recorded in Manhattan with Commotions' keyboardist Blair Cowan, session drummer Fred Maher, guitarists Mark Schwaber and Matt Cullen, among others, Broken Record is small in scope, but full of crafty hooks, wry, self deprecating humor, and genuine irony. Cole's lyric panache is enhanced by this solid meld of classic singer/songwriter-ish pop, country-tinged acoustic rock, and crystalline production. The album's first single, "Writer's Retreat!," is a jangling rocker with mandolins, harmonica, 12-string guitars, popping snares, the biting, opening line: "When you get back from the writer's retreat/I won't be there waiting," and the killer refrain: "You can get a beat from a broken heart/You can write the book fallin' apart/You can have it all but the one you want/Just going for a song." "That's Alright" is another scintillating pop ock number that deals with the end of a relationship in a more biting manner, but the wordsmithing is so top-notch it doesn't sound like sour grapes. "Westchester County Jail" could have come right out of the Commotions' catalog. Banjo, piano, and pedal steel and drums adorn the title track, a Brit country-ish (à la Brinsley Schwarz) waltz with the opening confession: "Not that I had much dignity anyway..." Despite its sometimes straight-razored lyrics, musically Broken Record is the most consistent upbeat record Cole's released in a dog's age. Whether he's dishing it out or taking it on the chin here, he never takes himself too seriously. Cole's writing and recording confidence on Broken Record is abundant; it sounds like what it is: a fresh start.