“Saint Julian” is now re-released as a double CD. No unreleased material appears here – as this entire collection was released in Japan in 2004 (albeit sequenced differently) and with one alteration the bonus CD appeared as a UK album in its own right in 1997, as “The Followers Of Saint Julian”. Twenty-six years on, it is refreshing to hear that a significant proportion of the album still stands true. It’s regrettable that “World Shut Your Mouth”is one of the handful of tracks in Julian Cope’s career that most people are aware of, as today it appears leaden, lumpen and clumsy – although the line about “having tea” is still a wonderfully incongruous moment in an otherwise tired offering.
The other singles released from “Saint Julian”, whilst not attaining “World.....”’s commercial success, are now vital exponents of blissful, immaculately crafted, honest-to-goodness pop. “Trampolene” and “Eve’s Volcano” should both be showcased as examples of bridging the worlds of pop and artistic credibility, and managing this gargantuan task effortlessly.
The album’s title track is a somewhat overlooked gem in Cope’s back catalogue. Kate St John’s opening cor anglais allies with Cope’s earlier solo work – bringing a pastoral quality to the space generally reserved for guitar solos. Why this technique has rarely (if ever) been replicated in rock and pop since is truly perplexing. This elegy of losing faith in God, sang with precise harmonies and a clearcut solid arrangement lodges in the head to the point it claims squatter’s rights.
The irresistible riff driven “Pulsar”, the bouncy “Shot Down” and the Teardrop Explodes’ composition “Screaming Secrets” sustain the level of excellence and durability, and a humorous slice of mindlessness arises (sorry for the pun) in “Spacehopper”. Composed in pre-Teardrops days, opening with the line (reputedly coined by Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch) “I’ve got a spacehopper baby but its strictly one seater” – it’s not difficult to realise that the object of the song is not the bulky toy of the seventies!
“Spacehopper”’s gloriously silly take on sex precedes another – but in this case one that is so brain-numbingly crass it would shame “Spinal Tap”. “Planet Ride” should be consigned to the dustbin of Julian Cope’s history. Hideously dated backing vocals that only seem to confirm the oft-held opinion that the eighties were a decade to forget, and an overall production synonymous with wearing concrete shoes in the Thames – this track is a validation of the existence of the “skip” function. “I seal my girl inside – ‘cos she’s my girl and I’m her Planet Ride” – ENOUGH!!!
“A Crack In The Clouds” closes “Saint Julian” - maintaining his (then) tradition of rounding off each album with slow, thoughtful epics – this doesn’t quite match the accolades of previous ventures such as “The Great Dominions”, “Lunatic And Fire Pistol” and “Torpedo” – but still cruises the album to a satisfying conclusion.
The bonus CD is a tale of (roughly) two halves. Throughout his career, both solo and fronting The Teardrop Explodes, Julian Cope has been revered as a generous benefactor to the world of B-Sides (somehow, these days, the phrase “extra download tracks” doesn’t lend itself to that same mystical status). This CD is a round-up of the “Saint Julian” era B-Sides and 12 inch single extra tracks.
The first eight songs would make a spell-binding mini-album. A punchy, spiky cover of Pere Ubu’s “Non Alignment Pact” and a creditable version of the 13th Floor Elevators’ “I’ve Got Levitation” augment songs that most bands would release as album tracks (or even singles) without a second thought. “Mock Turtle” reveals itself as a little brother to “Fried”’s “Laughing Boy”, while the cyclical riff of “Warwick The Kingmaker” ventures into cold, menacing territory. “Umpteenth Unatural Blues” is steadfast and functional, and “Almost Beautiful Child (I and II)” could be utilised as English country road music, but “Transporting” could leave one careering off the side of that same road without due care and attention. Used as the intro tape (when was the last time you heard that expression?) for Cope’s 1987 shows, this is a bewildering aural hallucination – a production riot in the studio that leaves one sonically drunk and praising the almighty for the gift of headphones. One to be taken sparingly, but with my full encouragement.“Disaster” – originally from the “Trampolene” EP – never has a track been so wilfully mistitled. A resounding classic – tipping its hat to “Paris 1919” era John Cale – this is one of the most life-affirming tracks in Cope’s extensive career.
Regrettably the last half a dozen tracks fall prey to the eighties’ market of supplementing singles with needless semi-duplicates. There have been remixes that have outstripped the original, or in some cases transformed the track so outlandishly that they stand proud as worthy creations in their own right. The vast majority, however, exist as half-hearted cash-ins – the tweaks and piecemeal studio swapping adding nothing to the main accepted versions, and ultimately ensconcing themselves as the artefacts of their decade, to gather dust on shelves. The remixes here of “Trampolene”, “World Shut Your Mouth” and “Eve’s Volcano” plummet into this category. “Spacehopper – Annexe” merely dispenses with the fadeout of the album version and stretches the song to its natural conclusion – purely outlining the fact that the fadeout was there for a reason. The live versions of “Pulsar” and “Shot Down” serve as a double-edged sword – they exemplify the powerfully accomplished and committed touring band of the 1987 Cope shows, but in doing so execute the tracks as virtual duplications of the album versions.
On its original release, I did not envisage “Saint Julian” standing the test of time. The fact that it (mostly) has happily proves me wrong. The last half a dozen bonus tracks could have been expunged so the package could be slimmed to a single CD, but “Saint Julian” as a whole holds its worth as a testament to Julian Cope’s unadulterated genius.
Lee McFadden – 26th and 27th January 2013 (blimey its my 46th birthday!)