Monday, August 27, 2007

Jukebox Juicebox #34

Julian Cope “You Gotta Problem With Me” (2007)
It’s been a couple of years since Julian Cope released a brace of albums – Citizen Cain’d and Dark Orgasm – that signified a return to form of sorts. The Arch Drude has not resting on his laurels in the meantime, finishing the Japrocksampler tome, overseeing the deluxe re-release of Jehovahkill on Island as well no less than four albums on his own Head Heritage label (live compilation Concert Climax, Rite Bastard’s twin slabs of psych-prog, early solo demos collection Christ Versus Warhol and another ballsy rocker from side project Brain Donor). You Gotta Problem With Me follows the template of previous Cope releases, with thirteen songs over two CDs (or “sides”, in a nod to vinyl albums of old). Given Cope’s justified stance against environmental greedheads, and the album’s running time of under an hour, I question the necessity of the album’s 2CD, jewel case plus cardboard slipcase packaging. That said, it looks great and, as ever, the CD booklet is chock-full of photos, lyrics, poems and short articles/essays. But the important thing is the music and whether Cope has delivered another modern classic. Well, it’s fair to say that You Gotta Problem With Me will be no surprise to anyone who has followed Julian Cope’s self-released albums and a disappointment to those praying for a return to the commercial heyday of Saint Julian, Peggy Suicide or even Interpreter.

As with Dark Orgasm, the album opens with a nod to Jehovahkill, Doctor Know’s musical template in this case being Upwards At 45 Degrees, an urgent vocal and downtempo guitar leading to an inevitable three-minute wig-out. It’s a good, if not spectacular, start with Cope’s opening line ‘I may flake out tonight if I cannot get my way’ a warning of things to come. If fact, things kick in as early with track 2, Cope’s unintelligible mumbling (translated in the CD booklet) on the two-minute Beyond Rome coming across like an intro without a song. The equally brief Soon To Forget Ya starts off unpromisingly with a lengthy spoken word piece, a frequently used Cope device that’s never been a personal favourite. Things pick up in the second half with an insistent acoustic-led refrain of 'Don’t fall in love ‘cause you know that I’m sure to forget you', Cope adopting a bizarre early David Bowie cockney accent. Possibly anticipating dissent in the ranks at this point, Cope screams 'Shut the fuck up' at the title track’s start. It’s an unapologetic rock song, though the "parental advisory" lyrics and intentionally annoying interference and screeching permeating You Gotta Problem With Me will inevitably preclude mainstream radio play (as it that matters). The political passions are still burning, most notably on They Gotta Different Way of Doing Things and Can’t Get You Out Of My Country which, oddly enough, are also the album’s grooviest moments. The former’s swinging rhythm questions attitudes to women and homosexuality in the Middle East, with some typically wry observations (‘some guys were holding hands / they said “it’s tradition, we are not gay” / but there were no women out on the streets / and I wondered what Allah would say’). Can’t Get You Out Of My Country has a Doors-sy vibe reminiscent of Cope’s own Reynard The Fox. Again, static interference is laid over the song in great swathes, for no apparent reason. If the album was on a major label, you’d suspect that Cope was attempting to sabotage an obvious single choice; as it’s not, it suggests a need for greater external influence on the production side of things.

It's fair to say that much of Cope’s recent work has suffered from frustratingly inconsistent production and You Gotta Problem With Me is no exception. The intriguingly titled Peggy Suicide Is A Junkie has a bass-heavy sound, with vocals pushed so deep into the mix that they’re almost indecipherable, undermining any potential lyrical value. By contrast, A Child Is Born In Cerrig-Y-Drudion benefits from an unfussy acoustic arrangement, vocals to the fore … and from having full lyrics available in the CD booklet. Subsequent track Woden is even better, with an urgent, repetitive acoustic chord sequence and Cope adopting a faltering falsetto. It sounds like it could have been inspired by 1984’s O King Of Chaos, which wouldn’t be a surprise as a great version was included in Cope’s live set last year. Ballad Sick Love sounds like a rough demo, with rough synth piano, harmonica, deep vocals and climatic squalling guitar, yet for all that it's an effective song. Vampire State Building is built around the funereal elements of Beethoven’s Symphony No.5, casting the USA as the titular Vampire State and George Dubya as Nazi Doodle. Hidden Doorways, on the other hand, is a far more personal reflection on Cope’s role as ‘savant guardian’, noting that ‘it’s the promise of death that keeps me alive’. The song is built on a drum machine backing and a naggingly familiar new wave guitar riff - I’m thinking the bridge from John Cougar Mellencamp’s Jack And Diane, which is an unexpected influence if true. Final track Shame Shame Shame is sadly not a cover of Jimmy Reed’s 1963 smash, but another acoustic song in the same vein as Woden. Another overtly political number (‘[…] genocidal leaders […] rape our heads and feed us pure damn lies, brazen compromise’, ‘let there be instant karma on every battery farmer’) it’s a powerful song, though feels a little out of place as the album closer. The song attempts to address this with a climatic rock out, but even this is undermined by a premature fade out after less than a minute.

On reflection, You Gotta Problem With Me is an frustrating contrast of songwriting genius, self-indulgence and patchy production that will challenge even the most committed Julian Cope fan. "Side Two" is perhaps to best way to approach the album as a first-time listener, as it’s the most immediately accessible clutch of songs, but it's worth sticking with the album as a whole as it will grow on you. Looking ahead, let’s hope the forthcoming re-release of a deluxe edition Peggy Suicide inspires Julian Cope. And a decent producer wouldn’t go amiss either.

[CD1]: 1. Doctor Know 2. Beyond Rome 3. Soon To Forget Ya 4. You Gotta Problem With Me 5. They Gotta Different Way of Doing Things 6. Peggy Suicide Is A Junkie

[CD2]: 1. A Child Is Born In Cerrig-Y-Drudion 2. Woden 3. Sick Love 4. Can’t Get You Out Of My Country 5. Vampire State Building 6. Hidden Doorways 7. Shame Shame Shame

Buy the album on Julian Cope's official website

Previous Julian Cope reviews on Bellyflop:
Citizen Cain'd / Dark Orgasm
Live In Bristol, 20 Feb 2006
Live Japan '91

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