I've been putting this off for a while, as Copey's back catalogue is one that must be treated with reverence, and a shoddy, slapdash piece would not do.
I've been putting this off for a while, as Copey's back catalogue is one that must be treated with reverence, and a shoddy, slapdash piece would not do. I have decided, therefore, to wimp out in the most effective manner possible, and split up his oeuvre into digestible chunks, (as the man can't stop making albums). This month you shall be treated to the Teardrop Explodes and the first two solo lps. Needless to say, I don't need to recommend them at all...
Part the First; The Teardrop Explodes.
Formed in 1978 and boasting, (throughout the band's four year history) a plethora of line-ups, the Teardrop Explodes was effectively Cope's vehicle for pop-stardom. A brash, shiny, intriguing vehicle that non the less produced two remarkable albums some great eps and compilations and an incredible posthumous LP.
As pop as you got in 1980, this lp was the original blueprint for the mainstream music of the eighties; anyone telling you differently is lying through their teeth. Big choruses, thumping sub-disco beats, sparkly guitar runs and hooks, clean and simple production; and a blonde pin-up singer. No, not Duran Duran. Much better, much cooler, more grounded in pop's 1960's traditions and boasting music much more inclined to take risks. One minute Kilimanjaro is po-faced and twee (When I Dream); the next, utterly eccentric and shamelessly feral (Sleeping Gas & Bouncing Babies). Treason and Ha Ha I'm Drowning are still highlights for me, their poppy trumpet surges and brangy guitar effects still make me excited and wanton after all this time. The DIY ethos is very high on Kilimanjaro, what with all the army surplus clothing and TE Lawrence posing. It's the sign of genuinely creative minds at work. You couldn't imagine McFly's stylists letting their charges get away with what this lot did over 25 years ago. The cd re-issue boasts the maddest live recording in the history of poular music; a 15 minute long version of Sleeping Gas, replete with "face solos" and barking...
The come-down album after the huge hit of Kilimanjaro. In retrospect Wilder's a far superior album when compared to the debut, it just took a while to be acknowledged as it was a good five years ahead of it's time. Still, you don't get that allowance in the world of Top of The Pops... Stuff like Seven Views of Jerusalem have a druggy, Stone Roses feel to them whereas Bent Out of Shape presents a classic 1986-7 era Morrissey theme. As I said, everything is far too early. It's a shame this LP is overlooked, as it is possibly the greatest pop album of the early eighties. The production, the presentation, and of course the songwriting just screams "class act". The CD re-issue is worth it due to the generous amount of extra tracks, including Buff Manilla (the last, US-only release) and a wonderful set of b-sides (Rachel Built a Steamboat, Window Shopping for a New Thorn of Crowns, East of the Equator) that have to be heard to be believed. Oh, and a cheeky sub note; did Peter Saville nick the flowers-on- the-cover idea for New Order's 1983 PCL album? The Teardrops' out of focus bouqet looks, (to use their phrasology for a second) "far more fab and groovy."
Everybody Wants to Shag the Teardrop Explodes (1982; issued 1990)
Of course, it almost goes without saying that if you do not possess this LP merely for the name alone, you have no interest in popular music. Very, very different again (as was Wilder to Kilimanjaro) the songs have a much more experimental take to them, Cope's voice often being smothered in layers of distortion. It's a very druggy, groovy release, and yet again, utterly out there. The only other comparable record is Happy Mondays' Bummed (though, yet again, it was seven years away from the making). The record at times sounds as if it was a deliberate fuck-off, yet it has wonderfull tracks on it (such as Soft Enough for You, Not My Only Friend and Terrorist) Two songs; Metranil Vavin and Sex, turned up on Cope's first solo outing.
I think this was released as a quick cash-me-in by record company types once the Cope had re-emerged as a force in the early nineties. Piano is a collection of early singles and b-sides, one for the obsessive; charming in some places (Bouncing Babies), frankly rubbish in others, (All I Am is Loving You and Kirkby Workers Dream Fades). My fave has to be the original Sleeping Gas, it's so basic and troglodyte in it's delivery. Worth owning for this song alone, but it's the last release I'd buy from the Teardrops catalogue.
Pronounced to rhyme with 'eulogy', and all the better sounding with a Scouse ring to it, this is the definitive early Teardrops compilation, containing as it does lots of rarities and live tracks, plus very informative sleeve notes and tips as where to continue the search for rare bootleg stuff. The unreleased tracks are killer; Screaming Secrets and I'm Not the Loving Kind are fabulous and I find it incredible this is their first official release. The live version of Culture Bunker encapsulates the band's springy, rapier-like genius, its sickening to think that a group this talented couldn't reap the rewards they so richly deserved. Heartily recommended; (read the longer review of this release in our album section).
Part the Second; Cope's early solo stuff.
A period of reflection after the messy, drug-sodden break up of the Teardrops resulted in two albums dripping with melancholy and introspection. They were so out of time and out of tune with the then current pop trend (the one that, ironically, the Teardrops had helped to build) that they were mercilessly slagged off by the press. Of course, nowadays all journalists smugly state that these two releases are genius (and, of course they all said so at the time). Of course they are. Read on to find out more.
World Shut Your Mouth (1984)
Recorded in 1983 and released early 1984, this record was so willfully different to all else around it that it threw a lot of people. I mean, musical references to Syd Barrett and Mott the Hoople were just not allowed back then, however brilliant the songs. And that's the paradox. The songs are incredible; chiming, beautiful flights of melancholic fancy, wrapped up in bittersweet arrangements and glittering guitars. The track Head Hung Low puts the entire Smiths repertoire to shame; (no I'm not bashing Mozzer, I love the Smiths; it's just that Cope summed the boy against the world thing up in two minutes flat). How anyone could fail to love stuff like Strasbourg (boasting the brill couplet "If I were France /And you were Germany/What an alliance that would be") or the delicate reasoning on Elegant Chaos is beyond me. People didn't though. They hated it at the time. Talk about a prophet in his own country...
A quick follow-on release maybe to try to stem the negativity around World Shut Your Mouth, Fried was even more unhinged; the classic opener Reynard the Fox presenting a brutal, Saki-like tale of pursuit. Menace and loneliness hangs over Fried, yet at the same time it's the most exquisite pop album you could imagine. I still think it's his most balanced and erudite release. There's not an ounce of spare flesh here, the songs are brutal in their honesty, Laughing Boy and Me Singing are works of genius and Sunspots is up there as contender for greatest lost single of all time. Te extra tracks on the reissue cd are worth it, Land of Fear turning up later on the 20 Mothers LP (this version is much better though). Mik Mak Mok is a subversive teenage delight. An essential purchase.
Next month, we chronicle the Cope resurgent..
Words: Richard Foster.