Charming despite frequent bouts of pretentiousness, Welsh-born singer/songwriter Julian Cope (once in a crypto-band called the Crucial Three with future-Echo icon Ian McCulloch and future-Wah! man Pete Wylie) led Liverpool’s great psychedelic hope, The Teardrop Explodes, through two albums before moving on — in the midst of an aborted third — to a solo career. Cope’s influences include everyone from Scott Walker to the Doors to Tim Buckley, but Teardrop’s sound was better than the sum of its parts. The group’s problem was Cope’s scattershot approach — his songs are filled with too many amorphous, meaningless and just plain silly images — and his unanswered need for a good editor. Excesses notwithstanding, the Teardrops created some of the era’s most exciting music, exerting considerable influence on succeeding generations — Morrissey and the Inspiral Carpets being just two examples of those so influenced.
Kilimanjaro is the more focused of the two albums; next to it, Wilder sounds like a debut, as whatever restraining influence the band had on Cope was removed, leaving him to write all of the songs unaided. (The original US and UK editions had different sequences and two different cuts each. The UK album was later reissued with a different cover and the addition of “Reward”; the Skyclad version uses the reissue’s cover but the American track listing. The 1990 model reverts to the original cover but keeps the UK reissue’s track listing. Lost in the shuffle is the excellent “Suffocate.”) In any form, it’s a lush, mesmerizing, appealing album, whose only problem (other than the lyrics) is that the songs — most of which have a childlike, dreamy quality — tend to float together with little individual character. But the ones that do stand out are terrific: “Poppies in the Field,” “Treason,” “Reward” and “When I Dream,” the last providing a brush with American radio success.
While better-defined musically, Wilder is more confused lyrically, though still infused with the band’s unique atmosphere. Cope’s flat voice serves to provide instrumental-like color, especially on “Bent Out of Shape,” “Seven Views of Jerusalem” and “The Culture Bunker.” The US and UK editions had the same track listing but different sequences and covers; Skyclad again reissued the American edition and Fontana the British.
The band split up in mid-’82 during the sessions for its third LP, four songs from which were released on You Disappear From View. The EP also includes both the original recording (on the double 7-inch) and a newly recorded string-quartet version (on the 12-inch) of “Suffocate.” Those four basic You Disappear From View tracks (including a more finished-sounding recording of “The In-Psychlopaedia”) join seven others for Everybody Wants to Shag, a Cry of Love-style paste-up of the unfinished third LP that finds the dissolving unit as adventurous and powerful as ever. Mixing experimental material with more familiar brass-speckled pop (as well as early versions of two songs that found their way onto Cope’s brilliant 1984 solo debut, World Shut Your Mouth), the album tacks on an earlier, brilliantly psychotic B-side (“Strange House in the Snow”) but again no “Suffocate.”
Piano compiles the band’s complete pre-Kilimanjaro discography (three singles and three compilation tracks). While the first two 45s are weak enough to make one wonder what all the fuss was about, the alternate versions of “Books” and especially “When I Dream” cast a charming new light on the songs. Best of the rare material is the slinking “Camera Camera” and the paranoid “Kwalo Kawlinsky’s Lullaby,” basically a rhythmless interstellar dub of “Sleeping Gas.”