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Monday, 10 September 2012

Julian Cope - Jehovahkill (1992)

I like musicians who have stories - artists who have led interesting and intriguing lives. Most new artists have a story in the same way that they have a look or an image, and their story is contrived, for example, as a means of gaining sympathy from the audience in order to shift more units (see every other sob-story on X-Factor). I like an artist whose stories build up around them naturally from doing interesting things, not by an image consultant trying to package the artist as a brand.

Julian Cope has some interesting stories; he has lived a fascinating life. I doubt that an image consultant would instruct a performer to do any of the following: take a lot of acid and talk enthusiastically about your experiences; write some books about stone circles and progressive rock from Japan and Germany; become a shaman and profess to Goddess worship; or dress in the oddest clothes in existence. When I saw him live a couple of years back at the Band on the Wall in Manchester, he was dressed as Napoleon and was regaling the audience with stories of taking acid on Dartmoor and conversing with Thor (the Norse god who likes hammers) – the crowd were hanging on his every word. There aren’t many rock-stars who are keen antiquarians - I know that Brian May has his star-gazing, but Cope is no mere academic: he is an obsessive with a genuine passion for the ancient spiritual landscapes of Britain. The inlay of Jehovahkill includes photographs of megaliths, and a small essay about how the Christians adopted the sign of the cross from ancient pagans. There is fervour and excitement in his writing, and I imagine that Cope would make an excellent history teacher (though I can see parents and Ofsted objecting to his promotion of certain fungus-based hallucinogens).

Jehovahkill opens with the fantastic ‘Soul Desert’, with its bizarre barbershop harmonies and simple double-bass and tambourine backing. The first half of the song has a dopey, soporific feel, as Cope’s deliberate vocals talk of being “lost and loveless in your soul desert” – the song then explodes and as Cope’s vocals become angry he tells us that “Being is just too hard for me”. This is a great album-opener that reminds us exactly why Cope is such a unique talent: the music is simple, but his chord changes and vocal melodies are simply brilliant. Whereas ‘Soul Desert’ verged on folkish simplicity, ‘No Hard Shoulder to Cry On’ is a more traditional rock song, as far as Cope can do traditional at least. I really like this song, although it must be said that it suffers from dated production. ‘Akhenaten’ is a quirky song with a knackered-sounding electric guitar and thumping drums that sees Cope in unabashed hippy mode.

In the dark’s early light I went out to the sun
I saw the sun rise over the land, I stretched my arms way out
Feeling the sun rays hitting my eyes and I felt way out
I held my body in the shape of a cross I was hypnotized

These were brand new feelings for me
Feeling my body in the shape of a cross
Feeling my body in the shape of a cross
And trying hard not to freak out!

This is the lesson I’ve learned
I’m not afraid of the cross
And whenever the sun shines
I stretch my arms way out

‘Mystery Train’ is great. The song opens with a chilled-out harmonica riff that would fit comfortably on any Beta Band song. Indeed, the entire song sounds like it could easily fit on the Beta Band’s Three EPs. ‘Necropolis’ is pure Krautrock indulgence, distorted guitars, bursts of organ sounds and driving drums. Guitar solos and strange noises come in and out of the mix. It is frantic and urgent, and builds up to something approaching white noise – very Faust. ‘Poet is Priest’ is just insane, and sounds like Can trying to do dance music. This is probably my least favourite track on the album, and it really hasn’t aged well. ‘Julian H. Cope’ has the energy and feeling of a Velvet Underground live track, even down to Lou Reed’s vocal-delivery and the drum-styling of Moe Tucker. It has one of my favourite lyrics of all time:

Slave to the slaver and hollering dog,
Woke up in the fireplace, slept like a log,
Keep sweeping sister ‘til the brush comes apart,
But just remember women aren’t supposed to fart.

I just love how silly the line about waking up in the fireplace is - it gets me every time. ‘The Subtle Energies Commission’ dips back into Krautrock, and could easily be mistaken for a cover of Neu’s ‘Hallogallo’. The album closes with two tracks that are musically linked: ‘The Tower’ and ‘Peggy Suicide is Missing’ - the former is another Krautrock song, this time with inspiration coming from Amon Düül II: it’s a ten-minute epic with a groovy rhythm and rambled lyrics, that by the end of song are almost being growled; the latter is a short piece with instrumental noises and Cope chanting the word “mother” – very odd.

Jehovahkill is a strange album that shines a light onto Cope’s bizarre mind. It is definitely a keeper, and one I’m looking forward to revisiting again.

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