Julian Cope Floored Genius: The Best of Julian Cope and the Teardrop Explodes Island Records
Frankly, I don’t think Best Ofs can or should be considered classic albums, for perhaps obvious reasons. But I make an exception to my own rules for this one. To put it bluntly, Julian Cope is a freak, in all the best ways, and he was insanely prolific an artist, especially in his heyday in the 1980s and early 90s. This was both good and bad, because he put out some absolutely stunner albums, most notably 1991’s Peggy Suicide. But, he also had albums with a lot of filler on them, and inconsistent quality. But such was his muse and his genius, he seemed to have no choice but to pump out album after album.
Cope first came to fame as the frontman of Liverpool post-punk band, the Teardrop Explodes in the late 1970s. He had first formed a band upon arrival in Liverpool for art school with future Bunnyman, Ian McCollough. However, both McCullough and Cope had egos and they unravelled, leading to the birth of Echo & The Bunnymen. Ultimately, Cope formed the Teardrop Explodes, who had such a revolving membership, I’m just not going to bother though the core of the band was Cope, Gary Dwyer and David Balfe. After some initial success, the Teardrop exploded in 1982.
I first came across Julian Cope watching City Limits, the late Friday night show on MuchMusic that showed alternative music. City Limits was essential viewing for the burgeoning alternative/punk kids in the suburbs, there was no other way for us to discover music, really, as we had no other options or outlets to do so. It was all Top 40 and other such shit surrounding us. I mean, seriously, for my high school prom in 1991, my friends on the committee for the dance demanded we get some alternative music. And so we got EMF, Jesus Jones, and the Happy Mondays. Gee, thanks. Anyway. City Limits put ‘Beautiful Love,’ from Peggy Suicide on relatively high rotation, and it even made it onto the mainstream broadcasting on Much. It was a brilliant, poppy, Beatlesque track. I was hooked. And then I forgot about Cope.
At some point in 1992, I heard Cope’s epic guitarfest track, ‘Safe Surfer’ in my travels. I think it was at The Record Runner, Ottawa’s legendary and sadly defunct record store on the grotty end of Rideau St (though, to be fair, in those days, all ends of Rideau St were grotty). I was stunned by the song: the slow build, beginning with a drone of feedback and an acoustic guitar strumming over top, before the third guitar comes soaring in over top the other two, and then the bass and drums, as now all three guitars are doing their thing, and here comes some organ too. Holy fuck! This song is a fucking trip! Eventually Cope steps up to the mic and dropped some of the stoopedy-ass lyrics of all-time:
And I saw my old man
Exploding out of the tunnel
I knew what came next
Recognized that cruel scene
That brought the downfall
Of the distant gaze, distant gaze.
Welcome in, a son of Clovius Boofus
Just another sheep boy
Duck call, swan song
Idiot son of Donkey Kong and I say:
You don’t have to be afraid, love
‘Cause I’m a safesurfer, darlin’
You don’t have to be afraid, love
‘Cause I’m a safesurfer, darlin’
Like, what? Seriously? Oh, fuck yes, I thought to myself. Back in the day, me and My Main Man Mike had this concept of the Car Crash Song. The song was so epically amazing, you crashed the car. No questions asked. That’s just the way it was. ‘Safe Surfer’ was and still is a Car Crash Song.
The dude behind the counter, too fucking cool for school, looked bored when I asked him what he was playing, and pointed to the cassette cover next to the hi fi, something called Floored Genius by Julian Cope. Well, shit, Julian Cope. I immediately hooked myself up and headed home and cranked this up.
I was blasting the hell out of this at the same time as the Smashing Pumpkins début, Gish. Nevermind was still on constant rotation, as was The Stone Roses, the Charlatans UK’s Some Friendly, Pearl Jam’s 10 and others. Julian Cope was the granddaddy of all these musicians, whether they knew it or not. Kurt Cobain owed him a debt, so did Billy Corgan. And John Squire and Ian Brown. And Tim Burgess and Eddie Vedder and Stone Gossard. If there’s no Julian Cope, there’s none of them. As my musical tastes expanded, so did my appreciation for Cope, so much so that I ventured into his back catalogue and discovered both genius and failed experiments. Of his genius, though, I have no doubt.
Floored Genius starts off with six tracks from The Teardrop Explodes, starting with the poppy, Stranglers-esque ‘Reward.’ At the time, I didn’t dig on these too much, though over the years, my appreciation for The Teardrop Explodes has grown and I have gone through their brief discography. But the one song of theirs that hit me immediately was ‘The Great Dominions,’ which is very much a song of its time and place, it manages to sound like Joy Division and New Order and the Stranglers and damn near every band of the original postpunk wave of the late 1970s and early 80s. Centred around synth riffs, and occasional squalls of guitar, Cope sings about fighting and struggling to find one’s way.
Cope’s early solo output, his first singles, didn’t move me, though a lifetime later, I think they’re amazingly crafted mid-80s pop songs. But then we get to track 9 of this double album, ‘Sunspots’ and we’re off to the races, as Cope sings about being in love with his best friend, over a poppy and quirky track. It seems the farther Cope got from Teardrop Explodes, the more he could dabble in his interests, and explore his genius.
Cope didn’t stick to one format or style of song in his heyday, he was all over the place, but he always had a good ear for a hook, even in his first solo single, ‘The Greatness and Perfection of Love.’ But this becomes even clearer in tracks like ‘Sunspots’ and ‘Reynard the Fox’, ‘World, Shut Your Mouth’ and, of course, ‘Beautiful Love.’
It also seems that Cope had a taste for the drugs, as evidenced by a few tracks on this album, most notably ‘Jellipop Perky Jean’ and the unambiguously-titled ‘Out of My Mind on Dope and Speed.’ Sure, he may have been, but he wrote some killer tracks.
The long and short, I have always though in listening to this album is that Cope was at his best when he didn’t reign himself in, when he allowed his genius to roam. He understood how to build a song, there was never an extra note, or an instrument that didn’t fit, there was no awkward lyrics. There was just perfection.
Matthew Barlow is a recovering academic. A Montrealer by birth, he has lived all over Canada and the United States. His natural affinities are with his hometown of Montreal, Vancouver, and his current home in rural Western Massachusetts. His first book, Griffintown: Identity & Memory in an Irish Diaspora Neighbourhood (he did not come up with that subtitle) was published in June 2017 by UBC Press. He is currently working on a new book that examines childhood, memory, and trauma. His real passion, though, is music. He is also an avid fan of the Montreal Canadiens and Liverpool FC. When not screaming at the TV, he can be found running, playing with his dogs, or hiking through the hills of Western Mass.