Having spent time as a brief threat to Duran Duran with his psychedelic pop outfit The Teardrop Explodes, Julian Cope was considered a relative outsider artist when he struck out alone in the early 80s.
His first two solo records – World Shut Your Mouth and Fried, both issued in 1984 – saw him heading into Syd Barrett territory, tortoise shell on his back, while the pop firmament was trying to feed the world.
But in late-86 came a jubilant comeback. His World Shut Your Mouth single, the first to be taken from third solo set Saint Julian, was more accessible than the somewhat surrealist style of its predecessors. Cope was up for one more crack at this pop star lark.
And why not? Around him, one-time contemporaries were moving into serious songwriting circles, U2 for example showcasing a blossoming strain of problem rock. Cope, instead, absorbed what he hated, rather than reflecting it – he sucked it in, and became stronger.
Cope constructed a “two-car garage band”, the beginning of his long association with guitarist Donald Ross Skinner, and created what’s perhaps best described as amphetamine stadium rock.
All clad in leather, Cope and his cohorts looked like the last bad-ass gang in town. And the image was completed by Saint Julian’s cover – its headline star pulling a Jesus Christ pose in the middle of a scrap yard.
Channeling heroes such as Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop, Saint Julian is an exhilarating tour-de-force of big-scale garage rock.
From the dizzying opener Trampolene (“I can’t believe you’re trampling me”) and the frantic Spacehopper, the album rarely takes a breather from its cacophony of guitars, colossal pounding 80s drums and swirling keys.
When it does calm slightly, as on closer A Crack in the Clouds, the effect isn’t too far from arena goth. A nod to the “ba ba”s of The Teardrop Explodes on the poppy Eve’s Volcano (Covered in Sin) suggests that this could have been an album of chart-toppers – albeit in an alternate dimension.
He’d never repeat it, of course. Cope followed Saint Julian with the disappointing My Nation Underground, and slipped once more from mainstream tastes. But somewhere between then and now he became a national treasure – an amazing feat, given where his mind must’ve been back in 1984.
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