Even in England, famous for its eccentrics, nutters and rabble-rousers, Julian Cope stands out. After establishing his neo-psychedelia bona fides with short-lived group The Teardrop Explodes, chasing the “120 Minutes”-era brass ring as a solo artist (“World Shut Your Mouth,” anyone?), and finding artistic vindication with 1991’s Peggy Suicide, he dropped off the radar of many North American music listeners. What’s he been doing since the new millenium?
A whole lot, in fact. He has carved a unique niche as a respected scholar and lecturer of prehistoric monuments (Stonehenge and the like) and cultures of the British Isles and Europe; a musicologist celebrating freakadelic rock from unlikely corners of the world; a fearless activist for historic preservation and civil liberties; a public intellectual often quoted in the Guardian and other periodicals; and most recently a gonzo novelist, not to mention a devoted family man ensconced in a small village in southwest England. Through these activities, many of which can be accessed via his aptly-named Head Heritage blog, Cope has transformed himself into a self-styled “Archdrude,” proselytizing for a new cosmopolitan rock’n’roll paganism, symbolized by the likes of Norse god Odin and uber-punk Iggy Pop, that’s serviceable for psychedelic communion and the pursuit of righteousness in the face of catastrophic modernity.
As Trip Advizer: The Best of Julian Cope 1999-2014 documents, music remains part of his gig — now an extension of these other activities, but always the purest conduit for his inspiration. This new compilation presents a striking collection of anti-monotheist agit-pop and neolithic history lessons set to music. “These Things I Know” and “All The Blowing-Themselves-Up Motherfuckers” showcase one of Cope’s newer styles, a bombastic marching-band folk music — the forte of his occasional ensemble Black Sheep, who look like they’d beat the crap out of old-tyme hucksters Mumford and Sons if the two groups happened upon each other. He channels shamanistic spells on recordings like “Zoroaster” and “Shrine Of The Black Youth,” putting Doors-inspired psychodrama to dynamic, expressionistic rock that I’d call krautrock, except that Cope, author of the encyclopedic tomes Krautrocksampler and Japrocksampler, would no doubt correct me. And as “They Were On Hard Drugs” illustrates, he can still craft superb ditties of pupil-dilating whimsy.
Trip Advizer doesn’t draw upon all of Cope’s recordings over the last 15 years. I’d like to hear something from the albums by Brain Donor, his face-painted power trio that pays tribute to addled, MC5/Kiss-style hard rock. Then again, nor is the compilation’s pacing broken by the sprawling instrumental freak-outs and drummerless “ambient metal” (hey, that’s what he calls it) that he recorded in the early millenium. Nonetheless, the coherence of this selection isn’t an unambiguous virtue. There’s a didactic tone to Trip Advizer, with lyrics railing against capitalist “greedheads” and the bloodshed, oppression, and cultural erasures legitimated by the “desert gods” of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Cope’s strident, which-side-are-you-on sentiments deserve your attention but clearly aren’t for everyone. Ultimately what redeems them is his humor, his remarkable skill as a songwriter and bandleader, his unshakeable faith in the transformative power of rock, and total commitment to his freaky lifestyle and worldview.
Like fellow new wave veteran Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope’s music presents an apparently loony yet internally consistent symbolic universe that draws listeners down a very odd rabbit hole. In this case, the trip leads to vital sources once thought lost to history or global obscurity. I can sincerely say there’s no one like Julian Cope in music today, making Trip Advizer very worth the effort it might take to obtain.
1. These Things I Know
2. Hell Is Wicked
3. Psychedelic Odin
4. Raving On The Moor
5. I’m Living In The Room They Found Saddam In
6. They Were On Hard Drugs
7. A Child Is Born In Cerrig-y-Drudion
8. Cromwell In Ireland
11. Julian In The Underworld
12. Revolutionary Suicide
13. All The Blowing-Themselves-Up Motherfuckers
14. Conspiracist Blues
15. Psychedelic Revolution
16. Shrine Of The Black Youth
A sociology professor living in upstate New York, Leonard Nevarez is patiently waiting until his kids are old enough for a family roadtrip to Maryland Deathfest. He blogs at musicalurbanism.org and is writing a book about Martha & the Muffins and the late 70s/early 80s downtown Toronto music scene.