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Copendium Paperback – 5 Sep 2013
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Copendium is a collection of album reviews, exactly 10 years worth, which Cope wrote for his own Head Heritage website. He homes in on the unsung, music that is unknown, unloved, even unreleased...If, like me, you thought you knew your musical onions, if you pride yourself on knowing or just owning the work of musicians whose mothers don t even know they exist, then reading Copendium is a humbling exercise...Every essay in Copendium is an adventure (Roddy Doyle Irish Times)
Here is a book of umpteen reviews by Cope of umpteen bands, a book so thick that its spine alone can accommodate not only the book's title and author, Faber's logo and a drawing of the Cerne Abbas giant waving an electric guitar, but three quotes from reviews of the book itself (from Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, Roddy Doyle and Q magazine). Of these umpteen bands, I had heard of about 11. (Nic Lezard Guardian)
Cult singer and songwriter Julian Cope's Copendium is a wonderful tribute to the misfits, outsiders and head-cases who have marked music's most magnificent margins. While heavyweights such as Miles Davis and Black Sabbath are loudly hymned, so are 'underpraised' artists such as the Mops and Jex Thoth. (Rob Fitzpatrick Sunday Times, Music Books of the Year)
I think Julian is the best writer on rock and roll in the world today. No contest. Lester Bangs would love him if he were still alive. They'd be blood brothers. He's got the spirit alright. True faith. (Bobby Gillespie)
Julian Cope's Copendium provides an alternative history of popular music from the Fifties to the present. Cope is the well-read jester of English pop, a real one-off, and we're lucky to have him. (Ian Thomson The Standard, Books of the Year)
Inside a black tortoise-shell cover, Copendium finds the erstwhile Teardrop Explodes loon vibing about some of the most outré rock records ever made. Collated from 10 years worth monthly posts on Cope s Head Heritage website, each entry reads like a mission statement to convert you to the Arch-Drude's latest space-cake obsession. Whether raving about mid-60s proto-metallers Blue Cheer or contemporary psych troop Sunburned Hand Of The Man, Cope makes most other rock writing seem lifeless. (Andrew Perry Q Magazine, Books of the Year)
Phrase by phrase, Cope is the best music writer going. He has taste, anger, wit and a resplendent supracosmic vision. His decade's writings have now been compiled as Copendium ... One hell of a book. (Toby Litt The Herald, Books of the Year)
Downright irresistible (Ben Thomson Independent on Sunday, Books of the Year)
A combination of fastidiousness and freakout fervour means Copendium achieves its own aim of being an alternative head's guide to all and every music. It also documents a history just passed. Cope will always make us want to listen to this music again. He has also captured why the process of discovering it has changed forever. (Wire)
Copendium by Julian Cope - the visionary musician, antiquarian and musicologist - is an alternative history of the last six decades of popular music.See all Product description
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Since getting hooked-up each month to feature a Drudion Julian has also reviewed an album of the month, some brand new, others decades old with no pre-requisites on genre, style or length. All of them are compiled here in alphabetical order, each decade featuring a small introduction to the period.
This material is all ready and available to peruse on Head Heritage, but the mere finger ache of scrolling down through endless obscure and, sometimes, unattractive album covers is a daunting enough task without the miles of backlit text to rummage through. With 'Copendium' everything's available and 'loaded' without the eye-ache that comes from heavy websurfing and it's far more encouraging. The 'Copendium' itself is big, black, and bears a very heavy presence; like all his others it's a very pretty book. An added bonus is the astonishing material within.
The extensive contents, glossary and index pages make it clear this isn't something to read and bookmark (but pen and paper may come in handy). It works as more of a resource to come back to and scour through, but Julian's writing style is so endearing it's tough to put the book to one side. Julian refers to himself as an 'erudite barbarian', and his colloquial ramblings certainly reflect that. Meanwhile having everything in pure black and white with zero distractions gives you a reasonable image of what to expect. Julian's enthusiasm shines, and he actually convinces you of the crucial nature of this music. Drawing on his own personal experiences of discovery and using the most absurd metaphors makes you wonder just what you're missing out on. So far I've read up on six albums I've never heard before, and I know I must hear them: He's that convincing. Otherwise I've discovered two new gems and rediscovered one I'd almost forgotten about completely. I was certain I wouldn't need the accompanying discs, but now I'm thinking otherwise and counting down the days.
Not since Simon Reynolds' 'Rip It Up and Start Again' have I been so eager to hear something new, and some of this stuff has taken top priority. As for the others; you find yourself learning a lot about underground music in general. With each review there's plenty on band history, what the album did for music, where they are now and where they were at the time. It's usually all fascinating stuff before you even get to the music.
If you're up for a bit of a laugh, a bit of a learn, a lot of mind-expansion and some new tunes to spin 'Copendium' is an invaluable resource. Just don't shelf it; you'll be climbing up after it on a regular basis. Plus, leaving it on display is a great way to intimidate house guests.
The Amazon description and some earlier reviews give you the basics: the book collates Cope's "Album of the Month" reviews, produced over 10 years for his Head Heritage website. The reviews sometimes cover familar names but more often the sounds discussed are beneath the beneath of the underground. They're ordered here along the chronology of the music, grouped into the sixties, seventies and so on, followed by a closing section of "samplers" - imaginary compilations devoted to particular themes or styles ("Danskrocksampler", "Post-Punk Sampler", and so forth). Given that this huge body of work (the book clocks in at around 700 double-columned pages) was produced while Cope was engaged in numerous other projects, you have to doff your horned helmet just at the scale of the achievement. For a volubly self-styled Odinist, Cope has one hell of a Protestant work ethic.
That's quantity, and it's admirable. But what makes the difference is quality, and, let's face it, Cope is the best rock writer since Lester Bangs took his forged prescription to the great dodgy pharmacy in the sky, because, as well as being superb entertainers, they're the only two writers on rock music whose prose is itself (in all senses but the boringly literal) magnificient rock music. Cope's writing is by turns enraged, passionate, hilarious, ecstatic, bitchy, perceptive and confrontational. It's always exhilarating and imaginative, it's almost consumed by its own energy, it never takes received wisdom at face value and it's largely untroubled by self-doubt. Frequently, it blazes with insight. Cope sees himself as a shaman, and this book may be the best evidence to date that he's the real deal, and his shamanic talents emerge far more from his writing than his (frequently splendid) music. Because this is a transforming read, taking you to places you've never been and leaving you with a new perspective on the world. Really. It's that good. Case in point: the essay on James Brown's "The Payback", which is written from an avowed "non-soulboy" stance. Because of where it's coming from, it avoids all the usual cliches and hagiography, conveys all the stuff we all already know about Brown in a fresh manner, clarifies and widens his broader cultural significance and also repositions him as an artist of great meditative profundity. It's the best writing on James Brown I've ever read, and can't see it being surpassed.
There are flaws. There are occasional factual inaccuracies. Cope's idiosyncracies can be baffling (he doesn't like jazz because of the instruments they use, and his attachment to Kiss and Van Halen stretches credibility). And, as a reviewer in "Shindig" magazine noted, you could play "Cope Bingo" so frequently does he fall back on references to "Odin", "Ur-" and "m***********s". As flaws go, they're minor and eminently forgivable.
A bigger potential flaw is that Cope's writing may be too good for the music he discusses. I'm not familiar with a lot of the music here, but while I'm loving reading about it, I don't feel particularly hungry to seek it out. The prose is so rich and stimulating, I kind of feel I've already heard the music. I've also been burned by Cope in the past. The justly legendary "Krautrocksampler" was full of praise of the likes of Amon Duul I and the Cosmic Jokers, and made such a strong case for them I ended up splashing out on some of the dullest, most self-indulgent claptrap I've ever had the misfortune to pump down my lugholes. I'm fairly confident that much - most - of the unknown-to-us music Cope discusses here is splendid, but also that a good deal of it is terrible. And there's no way of knowing which is which. Investigating the music here, based just on Cope's prose, could lead you to Hel or Valhalla. Stick with the book, and Valhalla is absolutely guaranteed.