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ONE SIDE OF THE COIN
on 17 February 2013
First off, I want to point out that, even though this review will be largely negative in tone, this album is still worth buying. Please note that, my disparaging remarks here are in regards to how this album compares to other recordings by Cope and shouldn't be taken to refer to where this album sits in the grand scheme of things or in relation to the output of any of Cope's contemporaries.
Julian cope always had a foot in two seperate camps. Right from the get go with the Teardrops the blue eyed choir boy pop was balanced out by numbers that could could be considered as dark passengers: mutated bad trips usually found on the B.sides of the (sometimes) chart climbing A. sides. I know people to this day who never got Cope or the Teardrops - seemingly, these people struggle with the dichotomy they perceive as existing between these two representations. Personally, I always felt that these people missed the subtlety here: one doesn't have to apply too much concentration to realise that, nine times out of ten, the "poppier" numbers - the A. Sides if you will, were every bit as perverse and unsettling as the material which was overtly "darker". Funnily enough however, given my definition here, I feel St. Julian is as near as Cope came to becoming (intentionally??) one dimensional. Most of the songs here (but by no means all) are missing the depth and subtlety - the dark peversity if you will - of Cope at his best. Think of something like "Arnold Lane" by Pink Floyd. What makes that song notable is that it's subject matter is dressed up in sing song pop. This is the twist. This is what provides depth and the unsettling power of the number. This is generally what Cope had always done with his own overtly melodic material. On this album however, the conceit Cope was attempting was to ACTUALLY BE VACUOUS AND SHALLOW. Everything, from his image, to his lyrics to the songs themselves was an attempt at surface and one dimensionality. It obviously worked as it provided him with a second bite at the pop star apple - hence the title and sleeve pose: second coming (geddit?) (Incidentally, that this sleeve pose is struck in a scrap yard may betray something of Cope's cynicism about his undertaking at the time).
I love Julian Cope but have paid no attention to his recorded output since "Twenty Mothers". This is because, for me, he was always at his best when playing with melody and subtleties. I've heard nothing from him in almost twenty years now - my friend still doggedly buys Cope's albums so I do get to hear them once at least - that suggests to me he has interest any longer in this aspect of his talent. Fair enough. For me the first sign of this change in emphasis (albeit in very different form here to his work over the past couple of decades) can be found on St. Julian. The sound of the album was grating at the time: produced to be "Big" and "Eighties"; this may have become "charming" and redolent of an era now time has passed although I suspect only to music journalists who aren't old enough to have lived through it the first time around.
For me Julian Cope's best solo albums are: "World Shut Your Mouth", "Fried" and "JehovahKill". Coincidentaly - and I know Cope agrees with this as well - received wisdom is that the follow up to St. Julian: "My Nation Underground" is a naff album and nowhere near as good as it's predecessor. This brace of albums share a particular version of Cope; a particular representation of COPE THE POP STAR. Cope being big on metaphor possibly felt he was running out of enthusiasm for this particular image of himself by the second album here. This, coupled with events occuring in his personal and professional life at the time of recording "My Nation Underground" has led him ever since to condemn the album as a distasteful failure. To my mind, however, it has always been the far superior of the two albums. True it still has that eighties production and does sound very dated now but there is seemingly (to my ear) more depth, both lyrically and in the arrangemets on this album than there is to St. Julian and, given a choice, I would have slumped for "MNU" being re-issued if it had to have been one of the two. In saying this however, I wish someone would get around to re-issuing World Shut Your Mouth: yes, I have it on vinyl but it's 2013 and I want to put it on my IPod damn it!!
(Interestingly, given my review here, one of my vinyl album shelves collapsed a few years ago and all the records on that shelf came crashing to the ground; narrowly missing my head. Everything was ok however with the only damage being a bend in one Lp sleeve: St. Julian! Go figure.).