CD Review of Saint Julian by Julian Cope

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Saint Julian
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Polygram
Released: 1987
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Saint Julian is the album that introduced most fans – American fans, at least – to the strange genius of Julian Cope. Snagging some long-overdue exposure thanks to the heavy MTV rotation of the videos for “World Shut Your Mouth” and “Trampolene” (back when MTV actually still played music videos), Cope surprised many longtime fans with his new self-assured, leather-clad image, a seeming contradiction given the album’s almost dance-pop new wave feel (a sound that pegs this release squarely and firmly as a product of the ‘80s). But love it or hate it, Saint Julian produced Cope’s biggest hit with “World Shut Your Mouth,” a feat he was never able to duplicate (though he came close with “Beautiful Love,” from the equally brilliant Peggy Suicide in 1991).

Julian Cope is also known for being, something of a nutter, as the English say, in much the same mold as other British musical eccentrics Syd Barrett and Roky Erikson. A self-confessed LSD devotee – at least in the early half of his career – Cope found fame as the leader of the late-‘70s neo-psychedelic UK band the Teardrop Explodes. (An earlier footnote to Cope’s career: he was the bass player for the short-lived Crucial Three, which also included Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen fame.) In fact, Cope’s never truly deviated from the incongruous musical marriage of loopy, ‘60s-style lyrical imagery and punk energy that he mined early in his career. And although his madcap antics – including cutting up his chest, Iggy Pop-style, with a broken mic stand at a concert in the late ‘80s, posing for one of his album covers wearing nothing but a turtle shell, protesting against the English “poll tax” dressed as a giant space-baby – have secured his notoriety in the English pop pantheon, Cope was never one to rest on his acid-singed laurels.

In fact, Saint Julian positively brims with Cope’s barely containable excitement. He’s at his most assured and ecstatic when belting out his almost-indecipherable lyrical visions of religion, life, death, the cosmos and more, songs that seem to build on one another before gliding back down to Earth on the album-ending “A Crack in the Clouds.” And while this album found Cope’s beat-punk sound updated with a healthy dose of ‘80s major label sugar coating which hasn’t aged particularly well, Saint Julian still stands as a testament to a lasting, albeit flaky, musical mastermind.

~Una Persson