Julian Cope

TrackAlbum
Bandy's First JumpWorld Shut Your Mouth
An Elegant ChaosWorld Shut Your Mouth
Reynard The FoxFried
Me SingingFried
A Crack In The CloudsSaint Julian
Robert MitchumSkellington
Out Of My Mind On Dope And SpeedSkellington
SafesurferPeggy Suicide
You Gotta Problem With MeYou Gotta Problem With Me
All The Blowing-Themselves-Up
Motherfuckers (Will Realise The Minute
They Die That They Were Suckers)
Black Sheep

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Contributor: Craig Austin

I think I’m totally visionary because I live in a visionary state. I’ve created works of genius.” Julian Cope

From the moment that Julian Cope emancipated himself from the stale and sickly self-destructive wreckage of The Teardrop Explodes, it became immediately apparent that the chequered artistic thrill-ride upon which he was about to embark would in no way mirror the formulaic careerist endeavours of his early 80s pop contemporaries. Where the corporate bigwigs of Mercury Records might reasonably have assumed that they’d been landed with a fresh-faced, well-spoken Smash Hits pin-up, what they actually ended up with was a permanently fried Roky Erickson obsessive who would soon demand to promote an album via a now iconic photo-shoot that depicted him bug-eyed, fragile and naked beneath the temporary shelter of an over-sized turtle shell. Cope – as ever – got his way, and while the album was a creative triumph, sales went through the floor; his former teen audience seemingly unwilling to accept their one-time idol’s willingness to present himself in a manner wholly devoid of glamour, and hinting at the onset of drug-induced mental illness. The incremental transition from wide-eyed Top Of The Pops poster fodder to the self-styled arch-drude of Pagan resistance had commenced in earnest. One that would take in acid-drenched detours marked ‘politics’, ‘religion’ and ‘self-mutilation’ along the way; the intermittent vagaries of a thirty-year solo career that would spawn some of the most ingenious, inventive, and quintessentially English pop music ever created.

At countless turns Cope’s artistic output has veered between periods of unashamed pop/rock entryism (most notably, the commercially successful travails of Saint Julian) and wilfully unmarketable forays into introspection and confrontation (latterly, his Black Sheep collaborations). At its core however exists the conflicting allure of the artist’s disparate pop armoury, his obsessive fascination with the trappings of rock ‘n’ roll iconography, and the plaintive affecting melancholy of the English pastoral tradition. The latter having been most successfully adopted by Damon Albarn; a man who plainly has considerably more to thank Julian Cope for than the initial appropriation of his World War 2 flying jacket. A connection fortified on Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish by the presence of Pressure On Julian; a gentle dig at Cope, and Albarn’s then label boss, Dave Balfe, Cope’s sworn enemy and primary nemesis within the crumbling edifice of The Teardrop Explodes. Albarn liked to taunt Balfe with lyrical and musical references to Cope because “it drove him bananas”.

Lists such as these, whilst presumably seeking to eulogise the less discernible treasures within an artist’s back catalogue, are often an opportunity for the obsessive holier-than-thou uber-fanatic to focus upon wilfully incomprehensible obscurities at the expense of songs that are actually, to coin a phrase, ‘any good’. Yet, the thrill of Cope’s historical output has been his willingness, some might say ‘wilful intransigence’ to squirrel away a litany of unassuming masterpieces across a scattered range of understated and limited independent releases; a joyous quest through the runes and stones of the artist’s chemically-abetted imagination. At the heart of this barely disturbed treasure trove sits Skellington, a release occasionally (and erroneously) referred to as Cope’s fifth solo album, an adorably magnetic curio in the canon of ‘head heritage’, yet one that Island Records dared not release upon its completion, its awkward ‘acid campfire music’ at jarring commercial odds with the prevailing ‘baggy’ zeitgeist. Its sleeve portrays Cope’s strung-out visage in poorly lit, squint-eyed disarray, the pores of his translucent skin as wide as dinner plates; an out-of-focus study in obstinate ugliness. Within its grooves however the external presentation of derangement and sickness gives way to a righteous carousel of authentic eccentricity and elegant candour. The artist extols the rama-lama virtues of being out his mind on dope and speed on the suitably titled Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed, breaks bread with the notorious cult leader Jim Jones on Me And Jimmy Jones, and in the acoustic and eternally wonderful Robert Mitchum delivers perhaps the most affectionate homo-erotic ode to a Hollywood idol that has ever been committed to tape: “That part in Ryan’s Daughter where you lose your wife,” Cope intones, “I’ve never seen a more dignified man in my life.”

Nonetheless, the starting point for anyone dipping his or her first tentative toe into this vivid and multi-layered Copendium is surely 1991’s Peggy Suicide, a towering double album of pop, funk, acoustic whimsy, and heads-down rock ‘n’ roll overload. Ostensibly a meditation on humanity’s abusive relationship with mother earth, it acts as the perfect segue between the most commercially successful period of Cope’s solo career and the more politicised and confrontational themes of later releases. Its numerous highpoints include the eight-minute long Donkey Kong-referencing HIV treatise Safesurfer – “you don’t have to be afraid, love/‘cos I’m a safesurfer, darling” – and the portentous garage-rock stomper Hanging Out & Hung Up On The Line. Key line: “Let’s keep the afterbirth, and throw the kid away”. A song that culminates in a mantra that echoes an initially throwaway, yet ultimately beautiful, comment once made by Dorian, his wife of almost three decades and a firmly committed anarchist: “This is not a dainty world”.

I still meet with people, committed music fans no less, who have little or no awareness of Julian Cope beyond the unseemly denouement of The Teardrop Explodes; and frankly, I envy those people. To get to hear these songs for the first time, with fresh ears, and an open heart is a truly supreme pop thrill. A uniquely English exemplification of unapologetic outsider culture writ through with a melodic and lyrical delicacy that is as beautiful as it is rare. And for anyone put off by Cope’s current somewhat intimidatory embodiment; the leather gauntlets, the quasi-fascist military garb, the beard, the hair, the impenetrable shades, it’s worth remembering the artist’s explanation for such an impermeable image and the tenderness and fragility that lies beneath the hostile leather armoury: “I dress like a cunt so people can’t see how sensitive I am”.

Julian Cope presents Head Heritage – official website

Julian Cope presents The Modern Antiquarian

Julian Cope – The Modern Antiquarian (BBC TV) Ep 1 of 6

Julian Cope biography (iTunes)

Craig Austin (@TheCraigAustin) is a writer and contributing editor for Wales Arts Review

TopperPost #382

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