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 http://www.headheritage.co.uk) 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