Lloyd Cole doesn't mean to sound misanthropic, but he can't help himself.
Bring up any one of his positive career achievements, and the British-born, Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter will counter it with a resigned sigh and somber response.
While moonlighting as a journalist, for instance, the rabid golf enthusiast won a Best Feature of the Year Award in Australia for his piece on Melbourne courses. But he wrote 5,000 words when he was only being paid for 1,500.
"And it took me two weeks to write it, and that's not cost-effective in my world, unfortunately," he says.
Likewise, while Cole should be celebrating the release of his latest oblique-chorded masterpiece Standards, he cautions that it just might be his last.
"There might come a point where I'm not interested in making music with words anymore," says the singer, who made his recording debut with former backup band the Commotions on 1984's widely acclaimed Rattlesnakes. His subsequent solo flight began with 1990's Lloyd Cole set, and its sinister breakthrough hit "Downtown."
"Every time I finish an album, I'm completely exhausted, in terms of the work that goes into writing songs. And after every one, there's this period of not writing words at all, which goes on for a year or more. And you get to a place where you're like, 'This could be it — this could be the end.' And when it ends? It ends."
But so far, Cole adds, he's always picked up a notepad and started scribbling lyrics. Like the brilliant self-reflective ones for Standards' chiming "Period Piece": "These were the best of times / It was my austere demeanor that defined the age / Next to me, the green more greener, the gray more gray."
Cole is justifiably pleased with the track, as well as how fans have responded to it live and via the Internet. In fact, they hear things in its verses that he never intended. Still, he mourns the passing of a halcyon musical era, before musicians had to take to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook just to stay afloat.
"I was more comfortable with the scenario we had when there was a distance," says Cole, who turns 54 this month. "When I was a teenager, thinking about wanting to be a pop star, there was no interaction between the pop star and the audience. I remember going to see The Buzzcocks at 16, and being completely flummoxed that Pete Shelley was out, walking around in the crowd, and we could say hi to him. I thought, 'That's wrong! I shouldn't be able to say hi to him — he's my hero!'"
Compliment the artist on his remarkably comprehensive website — which even features "Ask Lloyd" and "Tell Lloyd" sections, along with his instrumental collaborations with Austrian composer Hans-Joachim Roedelius — and he harrumphs.
"It's broken right now — I can't log in, I can't change it," he says of lloydcole.com. "And I haven't taken to the Internet, exactly. I just feel like if I want to keep making music, I've got to survive, somehow or other, so I have to be realistic about stuff. I don't particularly enjoy, say, chatting on Facebook. But I need to let people know that I've got concerts happening."
So has Cole had any warm interactions with his following? "No," he responds, "not really."