Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Julian Cope
Saint Julian

Released 1986 on Island
Reviewed by Le Samourai, 17/07/2000ce

St. Julian is the album that introduced me to “The Crazy World Of Julian Cope”, so it obviously has a special place in my heart. I STILL think it’s one of his all time best albums. After reading in Repossessed how he came up with the concept for this album and how it fared in the world has done nothing to tarnish it. Now I will go out on the furthest limb possible and say this about it:
St. Julian is The Drude’s very own take on The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars. Yes, it’s a Tragi-Comic Rock Opera for the 1980’s and a response to the religious affinity of certain pop stars from that era (stand up U2, Prince & Madonna. Okay you can all sit down now.)

Let me tell you the full story of St. Julian as detailed in the album - Angel from heaven (St. Julian) spies on sexy, rebellious girl (“World Shut Your Mouth”)/Angel travels to Earth, falls in love with girl (“Trampolene”, “Planet Ride”, “Spacehopper”)/Angel becomes human (“Shot Down”) and questions himself & God (“Screaming Secrets”)/Angel meets God and kills him (“St. Julian”)/Angel gets severly punished for his actions (“Pulsar”, “A Crack In the Clouds”). Okay, it’s not exactly “Wings Of Desire” by Wim Wenders but it sures makes for a rockin’ album!!! Christianity has always had “problems” with human sexuality and anyone challenging its authority. This album deals with those issues better than any other album before, during or since. While U2 may still not have found what they’re loooking for in Christianity but still practice it and Prince & Madonna simply want to be sexy Christian people who love God - how would any of them deal with that very same God telling them to their face that “I’ve been looking around the world I created - it’s gone so well”? Especially with every other aspect of “Man’s Inhumanity To Man” going full speed ahead, and of course “The Root Of All Evil” (a.k.a. money) still being our main value system (Morality being a very distant 2nd) in this world? You’d probably wanna have a long chat with the man (or woman) and more than likely probably wanna throttle him too.

Now, before I get to why I love St. Julian - like all good Christians, let’s damn this album to Hell. Here are the main problems people have told me about St. Julian:

1. The production is too Big Budget/1980’s/Huge Ass Snare Drum/“Glossy.” Warne Livesey made it shimmer too much when it should’ve rocked more. Plus that Steve Lillywhite-Bob Clearmountain-esque snare drum sound on most of the tracks is inexcusable. Julian Cope is NOT U2 or Bryan Adams and shouldn’t have to sound like them to succeed. If he really wanted to go commercial then Ed Stasium should’ve produced the whole album with Julian and Donald Ross Skinner and Warne should’ve stayed home.

2. Making St. Julian messed with his musical muse and drained him making St. J basically a dress rehearsal for My Nation Underground - Julian’s worst album. That album is even more slick and airbrushed and “soul-less” than St. Julian and proved that Julian shouldn’t have bothered trying to go “commercial” a’tall. If you gotta compare it to Bowie then St. J is really his “Let’s Dance” album not “Ziggy Stardust.”

Now let me answer those critics:

1. St. Julian loses nothing due to “glossy production.” His Cheshire Cat-like smile still shines brightly behind all the tracks unlike the bland New Wave funk Nile Rodgers and Bowie came up with on Let’s Dance. Plus, Julian is no stranger to ethereal, shimmering, textural like tunes (just listen to anything from the Teardrops’ classic Kilimanjaro LP.) Julian also earns extra points for trying to bring garage rock back into the Top 40 (thanks to “World Shut Your Mouth”) at a time when people were mindlessly buying Meatloaf rip offs like Bon Jovi. Yes, the snare drum is HUGE on most of the tracks Warne produced but it never gets in the way of Julian or the groove and never sounds drum machine rigid (thank you Chris Whitten.) Bowie spent the rest of the 80’s trying to be Mr. Funk Rock (2nd only to Robert Palmer) and came up flat while Cope exceeds in that area with grace and style. Palmer & Bowie would’ve killed for a groove like “Planet Ride” and Warne did a brill job producing it. If you ever thought that Warne Livesey can’t produce an album with high production quality AND passionate “guts” check out this album, Diesel & Dust by Midnight Oil and Heartworm by Whipping Boy.

2. Okay, I admit My Nation Underground falls flat on its pale white “woe is me” arse but you sure can’t see it coming on St. J. Julian is still in fine lyrical & vocal form here as he was on Fried. His fellow martyrs (his backing band) rock out in fine style as well. They never sound as cartoonish as The Cult or any other UK rock band from the late 80’s that borrowed from the late 60’s/early 70’s. Yes, St. J ends with “A Crack In Clouds” pretty much a “Gloom, Despair and Agony On Me” lament and perhaps the only route Julian could see taking artistically from there was to riff on the mood of that song for his next album. But nothing on MNU matches the somber beauty of “A Crack In The
Clouds.” None of it. It’s too bad he couldn’t rifle through his record collection to be inspired enough to spice up MNU. Maybe he could’ve talked Ed Stasium or Warne Livesey into helping him produce a Covers LP (ala Bowie’s Pinups.) But, again the dross of MNU is nowhere to be found on St. J.

St. Julian was the album that made me want to buy Peggy Suicide, look for him on the Internet, buy Head On/Repossessed, buy Can, Neu!, The 13th Floor Elevators, Pere Ubu and dig Julian’s righteous cosmic musical trip. It’s a great introduction for those that need it to a truly underrated genius. Commercial flop or not, this is one great ticket for Cope’s musical rollercoaster.

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