Behold! The Year’s Finest Rock Album: Oliver Hall on Julian Cope’s new one (Arthur, 2007)

Behold! The Year’s Finest Rock Album

by Oliver Hall

Originally posted Dec 11, 2007 on Arthur’s Yahoo blog

Not so long ago, people could hardly wait for albums to come out, and with good reason: the album, for a time, was as good a vehicle for an artist’s ambition as a novel or a movie. The sleeve was a big-ass 12” x 12” art object you could put up on your mantle and scrutinize for days. The record itself had two sides, a formal restriction that forced artists to program their material into two sequences of songs, which meant that the artist was forced to listen to his or her material at least once before dumping it on the marketplace, and also that the artist was encouraged to consider the effect that sequence has on a group of songs. The phrase I most often yell at other motorists in Southern California, “MY WAR SIDE TWO MOTHERF***ER!!!” would have no meaning if Black Flag had not carefully integrated the three songs on that side into a single, illegal experiment in face surgery.

It’s not just because Julian Cope has taken the care to split his latest album, YOUGOTTAPROBLEMWITHME, into two discrete sides that it’s the best album I’ve heard this year, although the sequence is a beauty; to my ear it sounds like the world ends at least twice on side one. No, it’s because Cope’s record, a psychedelic polemic against monotheist religions and a psychic snapshot of the present moment, is only new album I’ve encountered this year (it says “2007 CE” right there on the spine) that fulfills the enduring promise of the New Rock Album. If your local record shop carries it — if there is a local record shop — you will sight it by its yellow, red and black cover, which reproduces a quote from Gore Vidal’s 1992 essay “Monotheism and its Discontents” in all caps and bold type, beginning “THE GREAT UNMENTIONABLE EVIL AT THE CENTER OF OUR CULTURE IS MONOTHEISM” and ending “I NOW FAVOUR AN ALL-OUT WAR ON THE MONOTHEISTS.” Beneath the text, the image of a massive, longhaired heathen rocker banging a bass drum lovingly painted with Cope’s crest (which depicts Odin’s sacrifice of his eye), ought to give you a clue to the sort of freaks you are dealing with: devoted, literate, pagan psychonauts committed to busting their guts and the chthonic Nuggets chords in the expression of Cope’s vision.

Cope’s work (records, books, web — see since the landmark album Peggy Suicide has elaborated a mythology and disclosed a scholarly curiosity about the world that makes him seem more and more like a genuine English visionary in the tradition of William Blake. What makes YOUGOTTAPROBLEMWITHME so remarkable is the balance Cope is able to maintain between his own obsessions and the violence of the time, so that Cope’s personal mythology enriches, rather than obscures, his imagination of the lives of different tribes of people trying to live together, or trying not to live together, all over the world. When Cope quotes the piano from the opening bars of Patti Smith’s “Gloria” at the end of the title track, or builds “Can’t Get You Out Of My Country” around the breakdown from Them’s “Gloria,” he’s reminding you that rock’n’roll has always defined the sacred as what’s right there in front of you, and drives the point home by sneering the phrase “invisiblegawwwwd” until it begins to sound like a Homeric epithet. I regret to say that the vinyl sounds like it was mastered by an agent for the casuists, as it is not nearly loud enough for my purposes. Pick up the double cd–the Arch-Drude wants you to listen to it in two “sides”–so you can let those steam-whistle post-Ubu synths get in there good and deep to dismantle your brain stem so you can properly reevaluate your cosmogony.

Oliver Hall is a contributor to ARTHUR MAGAZINE


Joe Strummer Memorial Busking Tour
October 27th – 29th 2008 C.E.


In keeping with the theme of Julian Cope’s new album BLACK SHEEP, which advocates direct action and civil protest, the Archdrude and several of his musicians will – on Monday 27th October – embark on a 3-day-long busking tour of UK cultural centres. Accompanied by singer/guitarists Acoustika and Michael O’Sullivan, Universal Panzies leader Christophe F., and Black Sheep strategist Big Nige, Cope will commence the tour at 10 am at the site of ancient law hill Swanborough Tump in the Vale of Pewsey, and conclude on Wednesday 29th in front of the famous Carl Jung Statue in Liverpool’s Mathew Street. The entire action is dedicated to Joe Strummer, whose 1986 Clash busking tour was the inspiration. The Future is Unwritten!

Monday 27th October
Swanborough Tump (Vale of Pewsey)
Although nowadays ploughed down to barely a cropmark, this once proud law hill formerly known as Swinbeorg was a Bronze Age ancestral barrow employed for hundreds of years by local people for sorting out disputes and enforcing new legislation. It was here in 871, just two months after becoming King of Wessex, that the future King Alfred the Great met his elder brother King Aethelred I on their way to fight the invading Danes. Each swore that if the other died in battle, the dead man’s children would inherit the lands of their father King Aethelwulf.

Eddie Cochran Memorial (A4, Chippenham)
On April 16th 1960, the Ford Consul private taxi carrying Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent from South Wales to London’s Heathrow Airport crashed at the foot of Rowden Hill, on the outskirts of Chippenham in Wiltshire, badly injuring Vincent and killing 21-year-old Cochran. As the only first generation rock’n’roller to die on English soil, the site of Cochran’s death has long been a place of pilgrimage for freaks across the world. In 1994, Cope’s youngest daughter Avalon was born just 200 yards from the crash site, in a room in the westernmost wing of Chippenham’s Greenways Hospital.

Armenian Genocide Memorial (Temple of Peace, Cardiff)
Cope’s long love affair with Armenia began in the early ‘90s with his studies of George Gurdjieff, the Biblical legends of Noah’s Ark upon Mt Ararat and his fascination for the country that embraced Christianity two decades before Ancient Rome. In 2003, Cope visited Armenia’s Tsitsernagaberd Genocide Monument, in the country’s capital Yerevan; a site dedicated to the millions who were force marched then driven into caves and suffocated by Turkish soldiers in the early 20th century. Turkey’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge its misdeeds (and its subsequent annexation of the whole of W. Armenia) have left Armenia’s psychic wounds open for a century now, which is why Cope believed that this Cardiff monument – paid for and erected by Wales Armenia Solidarity – was such an essential and symbolic place of pilgrimage on the tour.

Tuesday 28th October
Thomas Carlyle Statue (Chelsea Embankment)
The feisty Scottish essayist, Thomas Carlyle, is celebrated on this Busking Tour because of his enduring classic works, Heroes and Hero Worship and Sartor Resartus, both of which have hugely informed Cope’s trip. The first mentioned contains an astonishingly erudite overview of the life and times of Oliver Cromwell and Odin, moreover Carlyle was the first white author to give a useful and open-minded account of the life and work of the prophet Mohammed.

Wat Tyler Memorial (Blackheath)
In 1381, Wat Tyler led the Peasants’ Revolt, still one of the most extreme civil insurrections in the history of these British Isles. The revolt originated in Kent, where Tyler’s troops took Canterbury then proceeded to London, via Blackheath, which has long been associated with the insurrection on account of the famous sermon made to the army by renegade Lollard priest John Ball.

Emily Pankhurst Statue (House of Lords, Victoria Tower Gardens)
In order to represent Cope’s relentless championing of Women and Women’s Rights, there could be no heftier symbol than the matriarch and leader of Women’s Suffrage, Emily Pankhurst. Lest we forget that it is only since 1918 that women in the UK have had the right to vote.

Winston Churchill Statue (Parliament Square)
Cope felt it essential to visit Churchill’s statue, in Parliament Square, on account of his belief that it was only Churchill’s singular nature and half-American upbringing that allowed him to recognise the enormity of what would be lost in British democracy had he not continuously petitioned Parliament against the evils of Hitler’s Nazism, most especially at a time when such acts were considered only as war mongering.

Karl Marx’s Grave (Highgate Cemetery)
On this tour of centres that celebrates democracy and events ingrained in popular culture, Cope considers that it was only fitting that London’s stint should conclude at the grave of Karl Marx, the revolutionary German Jew whose philosophies and political theories lie at the very heart of modern democracy. As the words engraved upon Marx’s tomb remind us: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways – the point however is to change it.”

Wednesday 29th October
King’s Standing (nr. Birmingham)
Five days before the first pitched battle of the English Civil War, King Charles I addressed his army from atop a Bronze Age barrow that had long been used as a law hill, and was located at the foot of Birmingham’s Barr Beacon, that area of the Midlands’ primary law summit. The barrow thereafter became known as King’s Standing, and the village which grew up around it is known to this day by the same name: Kingstanding. As a long-time English Republican, Cope chose this site as the place that signified the very beginning of Charles I’s decline and, ultimately, his demise.

Site of the Peterloo Massacre (Manchester)
On August 16th, 1819, the huge crowd of 80,000 people, which had gathered in Manchester’s St. Peter’s Field to protest about the price of bread due to the unfairness of the new Corn Laws, were brutally attacked by cavalry fresh from the Battle of Waterloo who’d been sent to police the situation. With over 700 injured and 15 dead, the incident became known as the Peterloo Massacre and led to the forming of the Manchester Guardian.

CG Jung Statue (Liverpool)
Carl Jung’s statue in Liverpool has long been associated with Cope, due to his continued championing of Jung’s philosophies and the peculiar coincidence of the statue’s marble having been brought to Liverpool in the car of Donato Cinicolo, who photographed Cope for the cover of his 1984 LP FRIED. Jung famously called Liverpool ‘the Pool of Life’ just before his death in 1961.