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Julian Cope
Trip Advizer Ben Graham , January 29th, 2015 16:34

Subtitled "the very best of Julian Cope, 1999-2014," Trip Advizer is a Cope 'best of' that begins at roughly the point that he fell off most people's radar. Nothing on here was ever released as a single, never mind a chart-bothering one, so there's no 'World Shut Your Mouth' and no 'East Easy Rider'; no 'Beautiful Love,' 'Sunspots' or even 'Planetary Sit-In' (the Drude's final top 40 single, from 1996). Cope's various groups are ignored here too; not just the Teardrop Explodes, but also Brain Donor, his bubblegum / black metal power trio, launched on April Fool's Day 2000; nineties 'glambient' duo Queen Elizabeth; and Black Sheep, the militantly experimental, utopian revolutionary musical collective whose acoustic, percussive and semi-improvised 2009 album, Kiss My Sweet Apocalypse, remains one of the most divisive in Cope's increasingly idiosyncratic catalogue.

Trip Advizer passes these projects by in favour of an overview of Julian Cope's last decade or so as a psychedelic, shamanic, but still more-or-less approachably melodic solo singer-songwriter. A period in which Cope has become better known as an author and an antiquarian, usually characterised as an "ex-pop star," a loveable eccentric and a national institution, but one whose musical milestones are considered long behind him. It's this version of events that Trip Advizer gives the lie to, the sixteen songs on this self-released CD proving that Cope's musical muse is still in rude health and that, in fact, the latter phase of his career has produced some of his most important and enjoyable work to date.  

In the 1990s Cope the semi-reluctant pop star became Cope the Gnostic shaman-seer, drawing on direct visionary experience as well as the gonzo writings of John Sinclair and Lester Bangs, which he crucially connected back to the nineteenth century mysticism of Jung and Gurdjieff. In a way, Cope had got religion; but his religion was ultimately rock & roll, and it had been there all along. The decade saw a huge surge of creativity, with five mostly brilliant major label LPs- three of them doubles- accompanied by the lo-fi official bootleg LPs Skellington and Droolian, two records with Thighpaulsandra as Queen Elizabeth, and the meditational funk grooves of the first two Rite albums. Not to mention his books; two volumes of autobiography, the mammoth Modern Antiquarian and the slight but far-reaching Krautrocksampler.  Dropped by Island Records after the brilliant Jehovahkill, Cope signed to Echo for his next three releases, but in 1997 presciently walked away from the mainstream  music industry- admittedly probably by mutual consent- to focus on his hugely influential website, blog and cottage industry record label Head Heritage.

Head Heritage's initial releases consisted of Cope's ambient side-projects and some place-holding compilations, but the tour souvenir CD An Audience With The Cope in 2000 was his first collection of new songs in four years; a somewhat sprawling and directionless set which is perhaps wisely skipped over here. Only one song comes from its far more focussed follow-up, 2003's Rome Wasn't Burned In A Day , released to accompany Cope's three-night stand at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, where his support acts included Sunburned Hand Of The Man, Vibracathedral Orchestra and Sunn O))). Perhaps galvanised by his interaction with these new experimental acts, and also by the back-to-basics rock of Brain Donor, Cope was now fully re-energised and back in his songwriting stride. Three songs on Trip Advizer come from the two 'heavy' albums Cope released in 2005, Citizen Cain'd and Dark Orgasm, while another five are drawn from the two albums which saw Cope return to melodic, mellotron-flecked folk-rock: 2007's You Gotta Problem With Me and the more successful Black Sheep from the following year. Sadly skipping 2009's limited edition acoustic collection The Unruly Imagination, five more come from 2012's Psychedelic Revolution and its companion piece, 2013's Revolutionary Suicide. There are also a couple of strays.

Opener 'These Things I Know' (from Black Sheep) is typical of Cope's recent solo oeuvre, with sharp strums of acoustic guitar, near-cheesy mellotron chords and thunderstorm effects backing a plaintively melodic, minor-key vocal. Written not long after his 50th birthday, it finds Julian naturally reflecting on things learned during the course of his life as a singer, storyteller and psychedelic voyager, from "a god can only speak to his own" to "everyone believes the wiki." It leads into the  descending Stoogian ur-riff (knowingly accentuated by one-note piano, a la 'I Wanna Be Your Dog') of 'Hell is Wicked' from  Citizen Cain'd. Arguing that religion is geographically specific and arises from particular landscapes, Cope characterises Jehovah and Allah as equally unwelcome desert deities unsuited to our fertile and rainy northlands, invoking instead the ancient Celtic and Norse pantheons. So Hell in this case actually refers to the Norse goddess Hel, daughter of Loki and queen of the underworld; the "serpent mother" Cope refers to in the song's coda.

Tweaked and edited from its original release on Black Sheep, 'Psychedelic Odin' emerges as one of the most full-on gorgeous pop songs Cope has ever recorded, equal to anything he released in the eighties. Inspired by William Blake and Robert Graves, its insistent, loping bassline gives way to a massively uplifting refrain of "peace / comfort in the morning" as Cope celebrates the sun and moon and how "From up here in our northern world we scan the entire globe, to weed out every sexist and each vile homophobe."

At this point it should probably be noted that Cope's hard-won anarcho-paganism is blatantly rooted in punk-era anti-authoritarianism, feminism and homophilia; yet waving the flag of Odin while castigating both Christianity and Islam has at times made him seem aligned with the pagan nationalism of European far-right and neo-fascist groups. That these parties also spread their propaganda of volk, earth and blood through the kind of dark folk and black metal music that Cope has also championed and absorbed further muddies the waters, as does the fact that Cope is happy to advocate armed violence in the name of his utopian revolution. The overwhelming evidence from his lyrics, interviews and statements however shows that Cope remains a forward-looking, change-embracing left-wing intellectual; pro-queer, pro-women's rights, embracing of cultural differences and the uniqueness of the individual, and raging against anyone with the temerity and arrogance to declare themselves a leader, whether that be Cameron, Putin, Barack Obama or Bono.

Furthermore, Cope is no Little Englander, happy in his hobbit hole defending the Shire against the dark forces of Mordor. Our man loves to travel, and to seek out the most culturally different corners of the globe. Celebrating and exploring his own history, geography and radical heritage just as he delights in that of others, Cope looks for points of common belief rather than appropriating the seemingly exotic for his own ends. So 'Raving on the Moor' advocates an ecstatic celebration of one's own landscape over submissive, bowed-down worship in temples and churches, and closes with a powerful dedication to the moon as the White Goddess of Robert Graves' writings, eternal muse of poets and visionaries the world over.     

'I'm Living In The Room They Found Saddam In' is a catchy mid-paced garage rock song, albeit with a ridiculously over-distorted vocal, that takes the deposed Iraqi tyrant's exile as a punk metaphor for opposition, isolation and paranoia. It's all kinds of bad taste fun, as is 'They Were on Hard Drugs,' which offers a profoundly simple explanation for all of our questions about the ancient world's great philosophers, kings and builders of mysterious monuments. Largely accompanied by a wobbly Casio keyboard, the song's novelty value conceals a serious point about the importance of psychedelic substance use in the development of culture and civilisation.

'Cromwell In Ireland' similarly makes an important historical point in the guise of a novelty-sounding acoustic ballad, the catchy chorus of "This ain't a folk song, a what the fuck song; this ain't a love song, so what the fuck," concealing a well-researched condemnation of the head Roundhead's systematic process of massacres and crop burning in 17th Century Ireland, which many feel amounted to a policy of deliberate ethnic cleansing. 'A Child Is Born In Cerrig-Y-Drudion' is an anti-Roman diatribe with a rising vocal hook that recalls 'Soul Desert' from Jehovahkill; if the theme seems obscure, substitute 'Romans' with 'Starbucks', 'Amazon' or any other contemporary harbingers of global monoculture.

The brooding 'Zoroaster' comes from Dark Orgasm, the album on which Cope most blatantly posited heathen rock & roll as an alternative to pious and sexless monotheistic religion. Here he calls "hail to the numbskull," the godless and horny, before shrugging "looks like I'm going down…" This leads us neatly, if not nicely, into the previously unreleased 'Julian In The Underworld', a track inspired by Cope's overdosing on salvia while writing his novel One Three One in 2009, and finding himself reduced to "salad with attitude" for over four months. This spare and haunting mellotron ballad, with its plaintive, broken refrain "And I can't begin to know what's going on," could easily have sat on Fried, and finds Julian once more lost and doubting in burnt-out psychic purgatory.

The whole CD is carefully sequenced, not in chronological order but to make connections across Julian's output of the last fifteen years. Thus the brass-assisted garage pop of 'Revolutionary Suicide,' which defends the principle of dying for a cause (specifically anti-capitalism), sits next to the busking singalong 'All the Blowing Themselves Up Motherfuckers' ("will realise the minute they die they were suckers"), which mocks and castigates suicide bombers who believe their act will take them directly to paradise. Contradictory? Not really, but maybe it's all a question of where you're coming at it from.

'Conspiracist Blues' is the oldest song on here, in fact predating the allotted timespan: though it first appeared on the 2000 odds n' sods compilation Floored Genius 3, it's been a live favourite at Cope's solo acoustic shows at least as far back as 1995. Upending conventional wisdom, it's probably also Trip Advizer's weakest track, a throwaway acoustic novelty song from a period when Cope started to mistake whimsy for the muse. The too-specific subject matter is also dated; Margaret Thatcher, Madonna and Courtney Love (who Cope knew when she turned up in Liverpool as an acid-dealing teenage Teardrops / Bunnymen fan in the early eighties) cast as three doomed witches in a boat, too obsessed with power, infamy and gratification to save themselves from disaster.

'Psychedelic Revolution' has been re-recorded from its previous appearance on the album of the same name, the main difference being that Cope takes the lead vocal rather than guest singer Lucy Brownhills. Personally I much preferred the original version, which had a Shampoo-like teenage snottiness that suited rebel-adolescent sentiments like "Gonna spike some fuckers tonight," but it's all good. The collection closes with 'Shrine Of The Black Youth': an eight and a half minute rock epic that comes on like Led Zep's 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You' irrigated with ascending glam-metal solos from Brain Donor / Spiritualized guitarist Doggen and intuitive synth wizard Holy McGrail. The song pays homage to Cope's beloved Armenia, where the pagan adolescent god Tukh Manukh is still worshipped with blood sacrifices despite the country having been nominally Christian for over 1700 years.

Far from being the acid casualty he's still sometimes caricatured as, Cope remains uniquely important and relevant among his generation. The likes of the Bunnymen, the Cure and New Order continue as nostalgia acts well past their sell-by dates; only Nick Cave, Mark E Smith and perhaps Morrissey spring to mind among his post-punk peers as regularly producing credible new work, and even they are arguably only refining and repeating the same themes they first became known for. What other rock & rollers, on hitting forty, do not fade rapidly into obsolescence but instead, like Cope, regenerate into different and perhaps even greater artists than they were before, confounding many old fans but acquiring new ones too? Genesis P-Orridge maybe (and tellingly Orridge is one of the few of his contemporaries Cope still openly respects), but Gen's strike rate doesn't come anywhere close to Copey's. Trip Advizer is well-named; this is a gazetteer for the journey of a lifetime, and- for the diligent- the opening up of a whole other universe. Enquire within.