Monday, August 23, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #80

The music world is full of talented people capable of creating mesmerizing music and songs that leave you wanting more. Of those, a certain subset become so enamored with themselves and their own talent that they begin to believe every idea they ever have is brilliant and should immediately be captured in the recording studio lest the world be deprived of that brilliance, and where once was an inspired and inspiring musician now sits a pretentious twit no longer capable of separating the good ideas from the crap (Hello Bono! Hello Sting!).

Standing at the front of that line is Welsh-born singer/songwriter Julian Cope. Cope began as one third of a band now far more revered for what its members did afterward than for anything they actually did at the time.  The Crucial Three (ah, see the early seeds of pretension already?) was Pete Wylie, who would go on to form the band Wah!, Ian McCulloch, who would become a star as frontman for Echo & The Bunnymen, and our good Mr. Cope, who upon leaving The Crucial Three made his greatest and least self-congratulatory contributions to the New Wave via his band, The Teardrop Explodes.

Nicking their name from a Marvel Comics panel (Daredevil #77, for those of you who crave such minutiae), The Teardrop Explodes joined bands like Echo & The Bunnymen, The Associates, The Sound and The Chameleons in a swiftly growing scene of retro-psychedelic UK bands beginning to make noise in the early '80s.  Cope's moody, eccentric lyrical imagery and stabs at literary reference, which might have been clunky at best in virtually any other setting, meshed beautifully with the shimmering, soaring melodies of early singles like "Sleeping Gas" and "Bouncing Babies" (both 1979).  In fact, the latter single may have truly triggered Cope's belief in his own hype, it being a rare instance of one band's single being the subject of a song written by another band (in this case, "I Can't Get 'Bouncing Babies' By The Teardrop Explodes" by The Freshies).

Cope was a demanding and exacting frontman - and, as often goes hand-in-hand with such, an exasperating one as well.  Before the band's first album, Kilimanjaro, was even recorded, keyboardist Paul Simpson had had enough, and was replaced by David Balfe. Released in mid-1980, the album proved hugely popular in the UK, with singles "Reward" and "Treason (It's Just A Story)" both charting well.  Despite apparently hitting on a winning formula, the band went through no less than half a dozen personnel changes between the release of Kilimanjaro and the recording of the second album a year later!

Wilder appeared in 1981, and while also quite a good album, it was an album created by nearly an entirely different band.  Cope's ego was beginning to run amuck: while the first album's material was the combined effort of united band, this album's songs were all Cope's solo compositions.  No longer allowing others to temper his product, Cope's creations ranged from excellent ("Passionate Friend") to terrible ("The Great Dominion") to downright silly ("Window Shopping For A New Crown Of Thorns").  The band's popularity slipped noticeably.  By the time a third LP was in the planning stages, more changes in personnel occurred, reducing the band to the core trio of Cope, Balfe and drummer Gary Dwyer.   Mid-way through the recording sessions, Cope fired Balfe and Dwyer and officially dissolved the band, shelved the tapes, and decided to do it all himself.

Cope as a solo artist proved to be utterly unbearable.  Think of B-level Sting after the dissolution of The Police, only with even fewer good ideas and even more belief that everyone needs to hear what he has to say.  Cope floundered towards a goth audience, but they already had ex-Bauhaus leader Peter Murphy doing the morose intellectual act; the rise of Robert Smith with The Cure and Morrissey with The Smiths rendered Cope utterly redundant.

Nonetheless, for a brief shining moment, Cope got it all right.  This week's NW4NW clip captures Cope at his best.  Enjoy The Teardrop Explodes' finest single, "Treason (It's Just A Story)":

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. I was laughing so hard, I had to replay the video to actually hear the song! Clearly the director was aiming for a tasteful combination of Rudolf Nureyev dancing Afternoon of a Faun Performing a Building Inspection meets angst-ridden '80s hair band. I think he did a pretty good job! By the way, is uberpretension a word?

  2. Susan: Outstanding description of the video! And if uberpretension isn't a word, it should be - and next to it in the dictionary should be Julian Cope's picture.