Do you like alternative neo-pagan psychedelic folk punk rock? Well your about to, because today we have one of the weirdest and most wonderful artists I’ve ever been cursed to discover: Julian Cope. Get ready for some label drama, norse myth, and polemics against cars.
If that name sounds familiar, and you’re really into post-punk, it might be because Cope was a founding member of post-punk and neo-psychedelia outfit The Teardrop Explodes, who had a few minor radio hits in Britain. Julian Cope would later say of this band “Would you go back to having your mother change your diapers?” indicating both his sense of artistic evolution and his…. the most diplomatic way I can put it is ‘unique personal character.’
Julian Cope dresses like a BDSM Viking pirate, swears like a Viking pirate, and more or less acts like a Viking pirate would. It’s a very niche and well established brand. Ordinarily I wouldn’t call this obvious attention-seeking from celebrities’ “campy” but in Cope’s case I feel confident this isn’t a publicity stunt. His music is trying to be serious and failing; Cope is camp in its purist form. I say this because his personal eccentricities are reflected in his music in a way that feels genuine, rather than gimmicky. His primary musical touchstone is European folk music, which he blends with trippy effects and heavy guitar tunings into a unique, but not altogether unapproachable style. His music, despite his look, is pretty accessible and mainstream, if you ignore the personality pervading it. A good comparison point would be legendary hippie group, the 13th Floor Elevators, or the less prominent but no less influential Legendary Pink Dots, both of whom share his slightly manic, but focused creative energy.
Beyond the rather mainstream, but immaculately constructed outsider folk, Cope’s most identifiable feature is his lyrics. The topical choices are strange, as you’ve no doubt guessed, but what makes his lyrics unique is the fact they’re somehow grounded and emotionally compelling. I know I said earlier that Cope failed to be serious, and that is true, but in his ridiculous access, he writes some heartfelt music about well-worn topics.
His take on the classic bad romance banger with “Pristine,” is a good example. Usually, these songs emphasize big emotional swings, Hot and Cold relationships where you’re either in pure bliss or pure agony. Cope takes a novel approach by blending the two in one anecdote, asking “How much does it take to go down on someone that you hate?” which is a question that will haunt me to my grave. Cope is very good at these kinds of lyrics, one liners that make you look at a situation in a new light, usually from a very off-putting or alienating perspective. His masterpiece album, “Jehovakill,” opens with the line “Living in the middle of your soul desert,” which is both fantastical and grounded in real emotion. It’s a unique trick, and one that makes Cope an engaging artist.
Usually when I review music this niche or unusual, I add a caveat to the effect of “This won’t be for everyone,” but with Julian Cope I actually feel confident in recommending him to a general audience. Even if this isn’t your genre (lord knows it’s not mine), Cope is worth your time. His major label work from the early 90s is where I’d start, they’ll also be the easiest albums to find on streaming. Happy listening!