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Sunday, 16 September 2012

I Come From Another Planet, Baby: 7 inch single - Julian Cope (1996)

Julian Cope is one of the great freaks of rock music. Part visionary, part crackpot, part genius, part intellectual and part mystic – Cope is a true cult artist. It wasn’t always the case though. Emerging from Liverpool’s punk/post-punk scene in the late 1970’s, he became a rock star with his band The Teardrop Explodes. They blended punk attitude with The Thirteenth Floor Elevators and Love (you can throw The Doors in there as well, Cope even wore leather trousers). An awesome band – but they imploded in the early 1980’s and Julian Cope embarked on a totally fascinating, eccentric and entertaining solo career. Cope is someone who is a true eccentric but manages to turn playing with self-parody to his advantage. He gets away with being totally ridiculous and absolutely serious at the same time. If you spend some time in his world you won’t emerge unscathed, and I mean that in a good way.

I Come From Another Planet, Baby was taken from the Interpreter album of the same year, which acted like a kind of kooky space-rock coda to his prior astonishing run of LPs: Peggy Suicide (1991), Jehovahkill (1992), Autogeddon (1994), 20 Mothers (1995) that explored paganism and his own brand of outrĂ© mysticism, amongst other obsessions. I Come From Another Planet, Baby is pseudo glam blended with psychedelia and features a pulsing beat with sci-fi keyboard trills as ornaments. Just how much irony can you fit into one song? If you are Julian Cope then the answer is plenty. ”I’m not the man I wanna be,” he laments before the song reaches an intense climax, with Cope singing “another planet” again and again, as if he’s surprised by the fact.

Often with singles the real fun is to be found with the B-sides, and this single is no different. How Do I Understand My Motorman? is a true B-side (even though it’s on the A-side of this single), because it’s obvious why it wasn’t included on the album, but in the context of the single format it can thrive. It starts as a somber minor key keyboard dirge before becoming much more sprightly and in the end naggingly catchy. Cope croons, “How do I know my motor man?” and claims, “We are blind to the sight of everything.” Every time I play this song I find myself singing it to myself for days after, which is not such a bad thing because there are far worse songs that get stuck in the folds of the brain.

The actual B-side of the single is perhaps one of the most intensely way-out songs ever, if you could call it a song at all. When I first heard If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You I was totally blown away. I was, I have to admit, pretty wasted, but there’s no doubt about the outright weirdness of this track. Once I’d heard it for the first time I had to play it again and again. I became obsessed with it and this was when I realized that Cope had become like a drug and he had altered me chemically.

The track begins with electronic thunder-like sounds and pitch-shifted keyboards and then Cope enters and starts talking about “Flipping out at the mother’s jam.” This is the beginning of nearly nine minutes of improvisation as Cope ruminates about buying a vintage keyboard from a nutter who looks like Boris Becker. He states that he has, “ A date with a lusty broad, a date with mother earth!”  He yearns for something called Glambience - surely his own genius invention. He also obsesses about Harry Houdini and asks “So why am I so screwed up?” Monotheism is his answer.

It’s difficult to fully convey the full impact of this track in which all of Cope’s weirdness and his pagan sensibility merge into one. You simply have to hear it and fortunately ‘Maiorov Simpleton’ has done the sensible thing and put it on You Tube. Listen to it here. While you are at it you might as well listen to I Come From Another Planet, Baby here. Why not try out How Do I Understand My Motorman? as well. If you can connect with any of these songs then welcome to Julian Cope – there’s no looking back. 

                                 Searching for 'Glambience'

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Early Takes vol. 1 - George Harrison (2012)

I had to buy this as soon as I saw it, not just because I love demos and outtakes, but also because George Harrison wrote songs that were an expression of his inner world, and that makes all the difference. This collection is full of charm and warmth, just what you’d expect from the former Beatle. Early Takes features 10 tracks, all previously unreleased. The liner notes on the rear cover note that these tracks were unearthed during research for Martin Scorsese’s Living in the Material World documentary.

The demo of My Sweet Lord is a hesitant run-through without the propulsive tempo of the finished version, so it comes across as a little dorky. It’s the only track that doesn’t stand up as a demo. Still, it’s worth hearing as an insight into Harrison’s writing and arranging process. Better is Run of the Mill, which is an intimate acoustic version of the All Things Must Pass (1970) track. Many of these demos hail from that album and it’s great to hear them shorn of the full production that album received at the manic hands of Phil Spector.

After the melancholic I’d Have Her Anytime, a Dylan co-write, Harrison asks “Anything you want to change?” - very little it seems. Dylan pops up again with Harrison’s cover of Mama You’ve Been On My Mind. This track is perhaps the best on the album. It’s a beautiful version and Harrison actually sounds like he’s impersonating Dylan.

What sounds like a Jew’s harp graces a short but gorgeous rendition of Woman Don’t You Cry For Me. Unlike the demo version on the Beatles Anthology 3 (1996), the track All Things Must Pass sounds like a full band demo, but it still retains its emotional impact. Let it Be Me is almost perfect, which is something you could say for almost all of these demos. They are more than just sketches.

I’ve listened to this album at least eight times now and haven’t tired of it. These stripped back recordings really suit the warmth of vinyl and I’m grateful that Universal went out their way to get them pressed up. Thoroughly recommended not only if you are a Beatles or Harrison fan, but also if you enjoy music with soul.