When we went to see him playing this album live, a female associate with our group demanded loudly from the audience that guitarist Michael Mooney (and I quote) ‘Stick his plums up me bum!'.
Oh god. I volunteered for this task. In fact, I volunteered to write the whole Cope and Teardrops discography, but Incendiary got so pissed off with my tardiness that they started it last month in desperation, which finally spurred me into action. It wasn't that I didn't want to listen to them all again, it was just that when I went to the Cope section in my vinyl and CD racks, the sheer amount of them just scared me.
Looking back on his discography is also a personal journey for me. Cope is one of the first 'cool' pop stars I remember in my youth, my first memory being watching TOTP with him singing Reward from the back of a jeep. His records have stayed with me through all the years since this, rekindling a childhood obsession with archaeology along the way and even inspiring the purchase of a ridiculous bright orange jacket that I wore with pride in the snows of 1995. His live shows have been some of the best I've ever seen, especially the 3 hours marathons he was doing in the mid-90s.
Rather than running out of ideas now he's in his relative pop dotage (having given up proper touring) he's releasing albums at a furious rate. These days you only have to go to the toilet and spend a bit longer than usual doing your business to find that he's put out 3 more double albums of sub-metal grindings, AND a 5 year long ambient odyssey dedicated to Armenian lunar shrines.
Anyway, you'll notice that I'm still prolonging the bloody review...
Floored Genius ,1992 (a.k.a. the best of)
If you're reading this then I can assume that a) you like music, b) you like music of a certain variety. From this I could also assume that quite a few of you are already acquainted with Cope and have some of his stuff. If not, start here. It really doesn't get any better than this collection of Teardrops and early period solo stuff – every song is a masterpiece and it's just one of the all-time greats.
OK, so back to solo albums proper...
Saint Julian, 1987 (a.k.a. the one with the hit record)
All you really need off this album is on Floored Genius, namely World Shut Your Mouth and Spacehopper. Other than those, it's fairly routine pop-rock fare. I can't honestly say that I've listened to this album much over the last few years. In fact, the best things Cope did from this period were the B-sides from the World Shut Your Mouth singles, inspired covers of Pere Ubu's Non-Alignment Pact and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators' I've Got Levitation.
My Nation Underground, 1988
The same kind of goes for this one – China Doll and Charlotte Anne (found on Floored Genius) are the best songs on here. There's nothing overtly bad about the rest, but it's not going to be your favourite album ever.
Skellington, 1990 (a.k.a. the shambling acoustic one)
This is fantastic – an hour of rough, bare recordings, some only fragments of songs. There are too many great songs and song-lets to mention, but it contains the classics Robert Mitchum and Out of My Mind On Dope and Speed, which are worth the purchase price alone. Incredibly Ugly Girl warrants a special mention as well. It's the perfect late night/early morning album, and taught Badly Drawn Boy all he knows.
Skellington re-emerged in 1993 with a younger brother of an album tacked on and re-named 'Ye Skellington Chronicles'. It's largely in the same vein, and also brilliant.
Droolian, 1990 (a.k.a. the shambling but electric one)
Not as good as Skellington but in the same territory – a collection of mini-songs and embryonic ideas. Safesurfer appears here in its developing state, reappearing on next year's album in its full glory. Jellypop Perky Jean may have been procured by some half-assed Irish 'comedian' for his TV show, but is still one-of-a-kind. An album to get to complete your collection, rather than his most essential (but still charming – ed)
Peggy Suicide, 1991 (a.k.a. the first of the hour-plus albums)
However, the opposite is true for his next album... For the first two 'phases', there really are few albums of this genre that get close to its greatness. It's just unstoppable. The great songs just keep coming: Double Vegetation and East Easy Rider being a bruising double-header; Safesurfer is long, rambling and just marvellous. It does feel like it loses its way a bit in the middle though, with too much time devoted to loose jams and playing with those new fangled sampler things that were becoming all the rage. All this is excused though by the glory of Beautiful Love, surely the best (only?) love-song-inspired-by-a-dolphin-with-Italo-house-leanings in existence. Cut this down to the best 10 tracks and you have an almost unbeatable album. Overall, you need to own this if you don't already.
Jehovakill, 1992 (a.k.a. the one that got him dropped from Island records)
Oh, yes. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Jehovakill. OK, it's one of my top 10 albums ever, so there's no way I can be objective about this. A concept album of sorts about religion, but don't let that put you off. Brilliant song-writing in the 'songy' songs, and the loose unfocused jams of Peggy have now mutated into full on Krautrock work-outs. Upwards at 45 Degrees is probably my favourite Cope song ever. Fear Loves This Place is just a superb song. Fa-fa-fa-fine is a gorgeous pop snippet and could sit nicely on Killimanjaro. Jehovakill also contains what the idiots at Island dismissed as the worst song they'd ever heard (No Hard Shoulder To Cry On), which is reason alone to buy it. No, in fact you don't need a reason, just believe me.
(As an aside, it was at the time of this album that Cope began playing legendary live shows lasting 3 hours plus: an hour of Jehovakill, a solo acoustic spot and then nearly 2 hours of greatest hits. It was brilliant stuff, majestic and intense – the 15 minute, freeform, improvised version of Safesurfer recalling recordings of the madness that was Sleeping Gas in the Club Zoo days. In fact, after about 2.5 hours it was all getting too much for me and I was reduced to a gibbering wreck, actually willing him to stop, believing that it was just too good, and that life subsequent to the gig would somehow be jinxed, having used up all my share of pleasure....)
Anyway, back to the records...
Hmm... I still listen to this a lot, but tend to do a bit of skipping tracks depending on my mood at the time. A slight drop in form, maybe due to the decreasing influence of long term collaborator Donald Ross Skinner, but who knows...Some great moments, particularly Autogeddon Blues and Don't Call Me Mark Chapman. Another concept album, this time about cars, but maybe the concept gets a bit stretched at times. For me, the highlight is the final song 's.t.a.r.c.a.r' and its gorgeous 10 minute guitar solo.
20 Mothers, 1995 (a.k.a. the one where he goes fluorescent)
The third in the triumvirate of brilliant albums started by Peggy Suicide and Jehovakill. OK, so out of 20 songs there are bound to be a couple of duffers, but the quality really doesn't drop much throughout. Try, Try, Try is almost the perfect pop song, like the grandson of Reward, and there are some truly touching gentler acoustic numbers celebrating Cope's change from leather-bound rock god-dom to a life of domesticity and fatherhood.
This is also the first album where collaborator Thighpaulsandra really comes to the fore, with gorgeous Moog and Arp bleeps and squiggles liberally spread like Marmite on the song toast, erm, if you know what I mean.
(Any discussion of this album must also mention the fantastic 'Fuck, fuck, fuck you' chorus of Greedhead Detector. In his live shows at the time this was accompanied by a hilarious goose-steppin', Nazi-salutin' dance which caused me to laugh beer out of my nose.)
High production values and a 'glossy' feel throughout, but somehow this feels less personal and intimate than much of what had gone before. I don't find myself listening to this much anymore. I Come From Another Planet, Baby is still a great song though. Top marks also for the psychedelia-meets-opera mash-up of Space Rock With You.
(When we went to see him playing this album live, a female associate with our group demanded loudly from the audience that guitarist Michael Mooney (and I quote) 'Stick his plums up her bum!'. I'm not sure if he did, or indeed whether it is physically possible to perform this act. However, soon after this he became the first Cope refugee to escape to Spiritualized, presumably to avoid running into her at future gigs...)
An Audience with the Cope, 2000
An interim album, in celebration of another tour. Songs on here were the first taste of a development in Cope's songwriting, heading towards what he has referred to as 'sub-sub-sub-metal'. There are some great moments on here, especially the almost Beatles-esque Holy Mother of God. There are also a few interminable guitar-a-thons, which was a sign of things to come... It's not his best or most immediate album, but a decent one for completists nevertheless.
Rome Wasn't Burned In A Day, 2003
By now, Thighpaulsandra had also run off to join Spiritualized, leaving Cope to further develop the rockier, back-to-basics style. This album has been reviewed previously on this site so I won't dwell on it, but an honourable mention must go to Shrine of the Black Youth, which is 8 minutes plus of classic Cope song-writing. Overall, it's a fine album.
Citizen Cain'd, 2005
On first listen, my reaction was 'what the hell is this?!' It sounds like it was recorded in a cave using a Dictaphone. On listening more, I realised it was brilliant. Cope has somehow summoned up and captured the intensity and rawness you expect from someone's first album, not their 10 squillionth. Standout tracks mostly come on the first disc, with a personal favourite being Living In The Room They Found Saddam In, on which Cope sounds like he's singing in a cardboard box half-submerged in a swamp. Overall though, it's a bit too long and you feel at times it's crying out for a producer or someone to yell 'stop!' on some tracks. There's also a full review elsewhere on this site so I'll move on...
Ambient and Other stuff.
I'm laughing at my own stupidity for not buying this immediately when it came out. I thought an hour of meditational funk-a-thon jamming would be rubbish, especially after the comparative flabbiness of some of Peggy Suicide. I was totally wrong. This is marvellous. Buy it.
And this is even better. Buy this as well! Like Rite but with Thighpaulsandra's Mellotron and analog burblings for added effect. This is gorgeous stuff and everyone should own it.
Rite Now, 2002 (a.k.a. The un-bought one)
For some reason, I've never bothered to get this. Maybe I thought that I'd got all I ever needed with the first 2 Rites. Maybe the first two were so good that I worried he couldn't pull it off again. Maybe someone who's heard it will prove me wrong. Until then, I can't tell you any more! (it is mental and I love it –ed)
Queen Elizabeth, 1994 (a.k.a. early morning torture device)
I shared a house with one of the editors of this magazine for 18 months. This would go on the stereo in the lounge at any opportunity, especially when I was in the throes of a raging hangover. And this album needs thought. So it made my head hurt more. Essentially, it's Cope and Thighpaulsandra improvising with their vintage synths. It's not perfect but has some lovely moments. By the way, the NME thought it was 'execrable' – what more recommendation do you need? These are the people who think Pete Doherty is bloody Wordsworth, for god's sake.
Queen Elizabeth 2 – Elizabeth Vagina, 1997 (a.k.a. The unknown)
I waited years before getting this, and then never listened to it. Even for this review. I just can't do it and I don't know why. Maybe it's just too big (yet another double) and I've got more important things to do than sit down and try to make sense of another one. Sorry. (ha! Wimp! Kids, it is absolutely amazing – better than T-Dream! Buy it! – ed)
I can't decide about this. Sometimes I listen to it and it sounds like lovely ambient loveliness. And then sometimes it reminds me of shops selling crystals and rainbow-patterned bags in Somerset. If you like both of those types of music then get it. If you only like ambient loveliness then save your money and get some more Eno. You can never have too much Eno.
Brain Donor – Love Peace and Fuck, 2001
Oh lordy. This is rubbish. A poor attempt at a humorous take on MC5/Stooges. Sorry, I can't think of any redeeming features of this. Cope's co-conspirator in all this is Doggen, who also later went on to join Spiritualized to make Amazing Grace, which is their worst album by far and is, surprise, surprise, a poor take on MC5/Stooges, so let's blame him.
Well, this is only my opinion, and maybe you can get something out of listening to this, but I only got a massive feeling of disappointment. (I thought the disappointing thing was the production, as there are some great songs on there, once you can hear them –ed)
Brain Donor 2
No, I haven't heard it, and I'm not going to without a lot of persuasion. Yes, I know this is a discography. I'm meant to have listened to them all and given you my words of wisdom. But you're not getting me anywhere near this without a fight. You can't tell me what to do. (It's good actually! – ed)
No, I haven't heard this either. By its description it sounds worse than Brain Donor(s) and I've said as much on that matter as I'm minded to right now.
So to sum up...
Go Out And Buy Right Now
Floored Genius 1
Buy If You Like Those
Rome Wasn't Burned In A Day
Ye Skellington Chronicles
Borrow or Buy When You've Digested Those
The Rest.....apart from....
Put Down The Cd, Turn Around, Run Away Very Fast and Don't Look Back
Words: Richard Slinger.
Editors Comments: Richard Foster