The Arch Drude we know as Julian Cope has been on a mighty journey the last decade or so, since getting rudely dumped by Island after delivering the mighty Jehovahkill (an LP that appeared in NME's Best British Albums of All Time a year or so ago!) he has followed a path to the underground. This journey has included several books (including the upcoming Japrocksampler), a TV show centred around The Modern Antiquarian, a great mail order service that developed into the brilliant Head Heritage website (with the particularly excellent Unsung section), side projects like Brain Donor, Queen Elizabeth and Rite, and hooking up with arcane noisy US types like Comets on Fire and Sunn O))).
It's quite a journey, though Copey's approach means that we have regular recordings that are very in the present tense, this means that there can be some stuff many consider chuff. Albums like Rome Wasn't Burned in a Day, Citizen Cain'ed, the Brain Donor singles compilation, & Dark Orgasm have that hit and miss quality, though those with more out there tastes will likely enough dig it all, or at least Cope's trip. I don't think Cope should try and be who he was, but sometimes amid an MC5-style thrash or Viking metal workout, you pine a bit for Julian Cope, the Pop Wizard. The man has penned so many rum pop chestnuts - Greatness & Perfection, Quizmaster, Sunspots, Strasbourg, Shot Down, Easter Everywhere, No Hard Shoulder, Try Try Try, Passionate Friend, Jellypop Perky Jean, Beautiful Love, Since I Lost My Head...etc - that it would be nice if he made some more. Clearly the trip Julian H Cope has been on hasn't seen him on major labels or remotely commercially driven, You Gotta Problem with Me signals a definite change. It's not Saint Julian or Kilimanjaro, or even Peggy Suicide, but it is released outside of Head Heritage on Invada (home to releases by Crippled Black Phoenix & Earth, Portishead's Geoff Barrow is one of those who runs it - hence the Cope, Crippled, Earth appearances at this year's Nightmare Before Christmas) - and I think this is Cope's most complete album since 1996's Interpreter. This feels like a succesor to the era on Echo in the 1990s, from Autogeddon to Interpreter - a whole new phase begins?
Cope has been folk (with an Umlaut) for several years now, and much of You Gotta Problem With Me (no question mark) is very present tense - Cope returns to some themes of yore as well as now. Problem's primary theme appears to be an aversion to major religions, making it The God Delusion of albums! Cope touches on the old character of Peggy Suicide, Ye Olde Britain, dodgy old bands who reform, Rome, Womanhood, the Middle East, the War on Terror/Iraq War, corporate greed (remember Greedhead Detector?), and other themes apparent in the 16 page booklet (Israel/Palestine, Walls, Cerrig-Y-Drudion, Stone Circles etc.
Cope didn't sound much like Cope on his collaboration with Sunn O))), 'My Wall' - there he sounded like Ivor Cutler at the end of Time and Space, and here he sounds a bit unlike himself. His Iggy-style vocal from yore and Brain Donor surfaces on a few tracks - notably the pulsing space rock of the title track and the Iraq lament 'Can't Get You Out of My Country' - while he slips from spoken word to comedy on 'Soon to Forget You', while sounding slightly different and more folk (with an umlaut) on disc one's opener 'Doctor Know.' Problem is an album that just seems to get better with each play, and now several times familiar, it seems pretty darn great!
'Beyond Rome' has some lovely spaced out Mellotron/Korg sounds (Cope's recent tour saw him do great versions of 'The Great Dominions' and 'Land of Fear' with it), the title track is like Iggy & the Super Furry Animals, while 'They Gotta Different Way of Doing Things' seems provoked by Cope's travels to the Middle East for a book in the pipeline. It socks it to a certain Fundamentelist mindset, the kind of song that makes me glad I'm hear in the West, and that I really should read The Satanic Verses (because I can). Saudia Arabia gets a deserved kicking, which is good since that state gets away with an awful lot due to business and political links to the UK and US...er, sorry, wrong meeting. Visit Head Heritage's Village Pump for more chatter of this nature...The guitar is superb and glam (from the great Doggen of Brain Donor, Cope's live rocking band & Spiritualized) and there's an odd synth noise like The RZA's refrain in the first Kill Bill theme...& Peggy Suicide, who was missing, returns on disc one's closer 'Peggy Suicide is a Junkie'. Oh yes..
'A Child is Born on Cerrig-Y-Drudion' is quite charming, a gentle moog/folk song that recalls 1990's Droolian LP, leading towards the greatest song on the album, the 4 minutes 51 seconds of perfection that is 'Woden.' Track two, disc two is fantastic, stunning acoustic guitar (from the great Donald Ross Skinner, a key sidekick to the Copemeister) and an emotional ode to Woden, it sounds like Richard Thompson would after getting 'on one' on a Ley Line. 'Sick Love' is almost jazzy, sounding like late period Talk Talk without any musicianship or cosmetic sounds - Doggen's guitar solo is great too. After a few days of having this LP, I haven't yet put my finger on the 60s track that 'Can't Get You Out of My Country' invokes - Jefferson Airplane? Moby Grape? Creedence? Oh, it'll come to me - a bit like that recent Fall song that "borrowed" a riff from the United States of America...
'Vampire State Building' is a bit of an odd one, dictated by a riff and what sounds like a drum machine; the drum machine sticks around for 'Hidden Doorways', which is kind of catchy and a little space-dubby - these are pop songs. & the LP goes out with the mighty 'Shame Shame Shame', which is number one in the universe I reside in - an acoustic Cope probably doesn't scare as many as the version of Cope in Brain Donor mode, though really, there is nothing to fear! You Gotta Problem With Me is more greatness from the Arch Drude and an album that deserves an audience wider than his devoted following. One of my favourite albums of 2007 already, and maybe my fave?
on 11 August 2007
Neil Young once said, after having a (gasp!) hit single, he hated feeling that he was moving into the middle of the road musically, he preferred being in the gutter. By comparison, Julian Cope is so far away from the nearest "road" that he couldn't see it with binoculars. Almost 3 decades after turning his back on pop stardom with the marginally underrated Teardrop Explodes, Cope has metamorphosed into an iconic sub-culture figure to his loyal army of admirers. A maniac fusion of Iggy Pop, Lester Bangs, John Peel and Time Team rolled into one (slightly insane and wholly eccentric) late 40-something. A self-proclaimed "forward thinking mofo". But, as his live activity in the last few years goes to prove, he is probably more relevant, crucial and essential than ever. Aside from having a huge back catalogue of music, he is a best selling author (his books on ancient monuments being highly regarded in archaeological circles) and champion of underground rock and ancient man. Cope treats the whole shebang like a cottage (well, more accurately....country manor) industry, continuing to (inconspicuously) fire out prolific shots from his base on the Marlborough Downs via his excellent website (headheritage.co.uk). "You Gotta Problem With Me" follows "Citizen Cain'd" and "Dark Orgasm" to be his third successive double-disk opus in as many years. As with all of Julian's recent output, it's no easy ride for the listener. But, it's not intended to be and perseverance is rewarded. It's almost as if Julian tries to weed out the casual/uncommitted listener from the start. This album doesn't have the riffage and instant `goulie-grabbage' of the last two, it's a comparatively mellower affair. YGPWM is by no means perfect but it is thought provoking and full of humour, clever socio-political comment and his usual eccentricity. Personally, I think other reviewer's comparisons with Jehovahkill are inaccurate, YGPWM is simply on a different plain. Julian is one of England's best-kept secrets. Consistently producing impressive work and performing jaw dropping shows in venues a fraction of the size that his talent and showmanship deserves. If the majority of the music buying, trend-fickle public don't seek out his ilk, it is frankly their loss. However, the fact that Amazon are even selling this must say something. Whether Cope's wacko by design or by birth is difficult to pin down. I suspect the latter, but long may he continue to challenge us....he deserves our full attention.
Julian Cope is capable of writing some of the most melodious, catchy AND meaningful pop music anyone could wish to hear. The mystery behind the man and subsequent albums like 'You Gotta Problem With Me' is therefore why he deliberately chooses not to. Its as if Cope feels that songs with a recognizable tune or pop sensibility lose their lyrical power because the listener is distracted away from his always passionate (and often angry) lyrics by musical hooks. In this, Cope does not do himself justice for those of us who love him are ALWAYS aware that he is a man with plenty to say and thus no matter how he dresses his songs we ARE listening!
And so 'the man who could easily be king' continues to release albums like this. 'You Gotta Problem With Me' is a difficult beast to love. One of Cope's finest in places all too often Julian decides to sabotage his own work by deliberately making songs like 'Beyond Rome' as hard to enjoy as possible. Tuneless, with its production sound rather like that of a demo session taped in a cave and with his vocals almost impossible to pick out of the mush Cope does his best to alienate his listeners to, one can only assume, his personal delight. In fact, most of this album has an 'eclectic' style of production. Most of the songs here revolve around a guitar riff and many sound like 'unfinished demos' rather than completed works. Whether this is down to sheer arrogance on Cope's part or by design only those who know the man can tell but with a more polished and musically friendly approach 'You Gotta' could easily have turned into a classic. Take ' Soon To Forget You' for example, no sooner does the song finally burst into action its as if Cope realises that he is treading dangerously close to a mainstream arrangement and at this point the song fades.
So then, considering the above forthright opinions on Mr Cope and his work, How come I give this three stars?
Well, the truth is that while Cope does his best here to put you off listening, 'You Gotta Problem With Me' is ultimately worth the pain of sacrifice to get into. Lyrically, Julian is on top form for the most part and as its title suggests, 'You Gotta' is an album that challenges people (and I don't doubt the authorities) to respond to it. Fury and indignation pours out of the space- rock title track, 'Woden' is just about the most powerful anti-war song I've heard in ages, 'Cant Get You Out Of My Country' and 'They've Got A Different Way Of Doing Things' are both thought provoking 'dangerous propaganda to listen to' songs and 'Shame Shame Shame' is just about the most passionate and vitriolic denouncement of religion you will hear.
In short, no matter how hard he tries to hide it, Julian Cope is a brilliant artist. He is a troubadour of the very highest quality with both a conscience and an enormous amount to say - its just a shame with albums such as this that he does his best to make sure no one is listening...
on 15 November 2007
Ok so what, I hear you say? The Drood's post-major label offerings have often veered lamely between the mildly diverting and the downright disappointing, and at times irritating. A major talent going to waste in fact. But this is Cope's first general release for some time and you sense that he knew when to twist!
Now I've a confession. On first listen I was in the "one star" camp with a couple of your reviewers. Two short single discs masquerading as a double, lots of bitty ditties that seemed almost throwaway. But hey, a dogged perseverance often pays off, right? By the third listen you begin to draw parallels with Peggy Suicide and Jkill, particularly on the slow burners such as Dr Know and Cerrig y Drudion. But it is more than a throwback album of outtakes. There is a playfulness and a joyfulness here - as much fun as there is the ever present pun, and surely Shame Shame Shame has to be one of the more pertinent protest songs of recent years.
It doesn't all work. Not every somg is a winner by any means. And Cope is best when he sings in his own voice - he cannot growl so why does he keep trying you wonder, but at least he seems to have ditched or at least toned down those mid-atlantic tomes he seemed to cultivate in the late 90s. And being home recorded the production value is never going to be as impressive as when he was a Pop Star. But this is at least a partial return to form for which, boys and girls, we should be thankful. My advice to the "one star" camp then, is to live with this for a week or so and then you might just get it.