Julian Cope is a strange fish. After the release of The Teardrop Explodes’ second album ‘Wilder’ is 1981, and after many falling-outs with keyboardist David Balfe (who would later go on to found Food Records and go on to discover Blur), the band, directed by now almost solely by Balfe, scrapped sessions for a legendary, lost third album, and walked out of the band and into ever-increasing Stephen Fry like, very-English eccentricity.
So we are looking and listening back through a prism of over 30 years, and it feels like looking through an early eighties psychedelic-bead kaleidoscope of restless art-rock, a music that never knows where its home or heart is, and being all the better for it. Styles and themes jump all over the place, with Cope’s imago-Tourettes scattering stream-of-association, cut-up technique and day-glo palette everywhere. He comes in rainbows in the air, indeed.
The aformentioned Blur are a good case in point. The soul/heartlessness criticisms often aimed at that band could very easily be aimed at The Teadrop Explodes, a decade earlier in the British art-pop canon though they might be. Frankly, neither band want(ed) to get bored, and pride themselves on changing tack and style, song by song, la-la-ing and ba-ba-ing hither and thither lest the audience think they have become too ‘worthy’, or pseudo-serious, as they surely saw it.
‘Tiny Children’ is all plaintive, and quite beautiful, Peter Gabrielisms, ‘The Culture Bunker’ is The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ side-project The Glove in more twangy accessibility; an Oklahoma band who hadn’t even yet formed when ‘Wilder’ was released, The Flaming Lips, may well have been listening – Wayne Coyne’s furtive imagination is a worthy successor of Cope’s, and there is a future reflection in the acid space rockers sound-mood all over the record.
Much is made over post-punk Television’s transition from the justified, godlike, in-your-face genius of their debut ‘Marquee Moon’, and the more pedestrian, in the background nature of follow-up ‘Adventure’. The Teardrops’ trajectory is reversed: the steady pop-rock rush of their debut ‘Kilimanjaro’ (where you can find their biggest hit, ‘Reward’) is replaced with depth, experimentation, introspection, and the steady gaze of experience. The slower, Cope-driven tracks on ‘Wilder’ are easily the most affecting (The Great Dominion, especially), growing in stature with each listen.
‘Honey, I’ve been fighting again’. Julian Cope’s marriage was falling apart during the recording, and the bands hit count was also struggling. That is presumably when they collectively shrugged, and decided ‘sod it’. With that kind of honesty, new plateaus are reached, and ‘Wilder’ took The Teardrop Explodes to that new level, before imploding apparently for good.