Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Universal Panzies - Transcendental Floss

Universal Panzies
Transcendental Floss

AOTM #100, September 2008ce
Released 1998 on Head Heritage
  1. Krautrock Lovesong/
    Hallowedundgallowed (18.49)
  2. Star-bard & Grounded/
    I Won’t Mourn Outside Your Door (15.29)
  3. I Crave You (6.26)
  4. Cunnyan Crags (11.06)

Note: For those of you interested in scoring an original copy of this Album of the Month, we have secured a limited number of ‘new’ old stock from the artists themselves, so please check out our Merchandiser if you wish to buy one.

Happenings Ten Years Time Ago

As evidenced by the mawkishly sentimental outpourings of Peter Hammill’s 1975 album OVER, when the rock’n’roll poet is abandoned by his long-term partner and Muse, his poor audience may well be forced to endure a whole LP awash with torrents of sickening self-pity & self-doubt from the solipsistically self-absorbéd. That is unless the rock’n’roll poet in question happens to be a psychically tough (though physically slight) Anglo-Irish Tynesider with a penchant for Krautrock, the Clash and donning heels’n’lippy in order to wind up the local Newkie Brown swiggers in their regulation black-and-white striped footy shirts. Please step forward, Christophe F. of the Universal Panzies. In these rare cases, the journey of the artist becomes entirely capsized by his state-of-affairs, and the recorded results manifest as a Neurologic Cleansing, nay, a transcendental flossing of the brainboxes of both poet and audience. And so it was, on this sole Universal Panzies Head Heritage release, that Christophe F. bequeathed us a magnificent concept album, the first three-quarters of which he spent wounded and brooding upon his sudden abandonment (Ugly Duckling-stylee) over a highly urban and linear post-Neu/post-Can All Purpose Motorik Beat, before finally emerging triumphant from the dungeon-like city gloom, sun-drenched and bedazzled by the truly rural and heathen daylight epic 11-minute finale ‘Cunnyan Crags’, Christophe now reborn as the transcendental Seer upon his own land, the Songer, the Speaker of Timeless Truths, garrulous as a Motherfucker and Thrice as Feisty! Me a swan? Ha, Go on! And you know what, Brothers’n’Sisters? By celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the release of this Universal Panzies’ TRANSCENDENTAL FLOSS with its place as the Head Heritage Album of the Month #100, I feel I’ve orchestrated something of a righteous act. For the Panzies’ album contains within its epic grooves pretty much everything Head Heritage has long aspired to represent and deliver: transcendental Krautrock-informed mind-manifesting rhythms, over-achieving guitar bombast, saccharine sweet Joe Meekian keyboard themes, Muse-informed lyrical devotion to the Goddess, sheer (post-Queen Elizabeth but pre-Brain Donor) astral glamour of the most Odinistic kind, and always in a manner that projects highly unbalanced sonic overload. Indeed, it’s just the kind of sound that current Underground bands such as Nudity, Shiva’s Tongue and their ilk allude to. On TRANSCENDENTAL FLOSS, however, Christophe’s Universal Panzies even managed to turbo that already-hefty metaphor, uniting the by-now-timeless driving & linear Krautrock motorik sound with enough outside elements to render their stew not just invigorated but entirely their own, as dub elements in the TRANSCENDENTAL FLOSS mix are forever firing off fusillades of random King Tubbyan sparks of bass, sub-bass and wholly over-powering guitar power chords, whilst the mainly mid-range lead vocal can occasionally manifest suddenly as the loudest whisper your earhole would ever wish to experience. The album commences with the gargantuan ‘Krautrock Lovesong’, in which the lonely pulsing post-punk bass of the divinely-monicker’d Rock Stewart X-Mass prepares the way for drummer Boy Fried to enter the fray Laughing Clowns-style with his splatter-clattering Jeffrey Wegener Confederate snare drumming. Spangly guitar from the F. and string synth from M’Lady Mandy Neuschnee usher in the poet’s intimate pronouncements on the band’s intended forthcoming Astral Projections until – whumphf – the whole song defenestrates into the kind of icy and subterranean sonic trough that would even have caused Martin Hannett to cluck. As though Dennis Bovell had applied his Y-period Pop Group production techniques to the Bunnymen’s HEAVEN UP HERE, the Universal Panzies declare their dynamics in such certain terms that the listener’s mind immediately makes its decision, either to hurl such a singular CD into his fireplace, or accept the coming tsunami with good grace. Gradually, a motorik air emerges from the core/coeur of the song until; at precisely eight minutes and thirteen seconds in, the whole band surges up into a new gear and the La Dusseldorfian themes of ‘Hallowedundgallowed’ kick in big time. For nigh on the next ten minutes, the Panzies become barely more than a vehicle for Christophe F.’s guitar madness, as he assails us with the kind of neck-wringing more reminiscent of Blue Cheer’s Leigh Stephens than with any of the usual kosmische guitar heroes. Next up comes ‘Star Bard’ which (according to the artist himself) began as the Panzies’ take on two of my own songs ‘s.t.a.r.c.a.r’ and ‘Safe Surfer’. However, it’s highly apparent that their greedy and melted plastic brains soon scoffed up major elements of the Doors’ ‘LA Woman’ title track and Funkadelic’s ‘Maggot Brain’, before the resulting queasy stomach saw it all barfed back out again as some disturbingly dystopian Technicolour Yawn, a maudlin but heartbreakingly beautiful poetic sci-fi common law divorce sung over an enormous music, but one which is so majorly informed by the limited capabilities of the players that part of its True Power is contained in the fact that it bares the kind of sublimely regal & cosmick ineptitude rarely captured on tape. Like East Germans learning rock’n’roll on a crystal radio picking up only random distant US Army pop radio stations, the Panzies performances unite Ramones-level musicianship with Parson Sound expectations, on ‘Star Bard’ bringing forth a Bubblegum Trance Music somewhat akin to King Tubby attempting to add blazing Eddie Hazell axe to a 33RPM versh of Boris Gardner’s ‘Elizabethan Reggae’. Phew! Around seven minutes into this maelstrom, the Panzies – via keyboardist Mandy Neuschnee – once again change gear drastically into some kinky Russky hi-steppe that takes in mucho cranky Plastic People of the Universe-style spike-a-delick jamming, until the whole schmeer devolves into the Can-plays-J. Morrison highway blues of ‘I Want More Outside Your Door’, an eight-minute-long’n’linear Complain-o-thon punctuated occasionally by some Lora Logic-level rudimentary saxophone from X-Mass and a coupla divine Glam Descends that, in the ensuing collision, somehow manages to meld together IN SEARCH OF SPACE-period Hawkwind with CONTINENTAL CIRCUS-period Gong. Following this apocalypse, the six minutes of ‘I Crave You’ is a superb soul purge that woulda made sense on any late ‘70s Berlin dance floor. “It doesn’t hurt at all, it doesn’t hurt at all, I’m so pleased to say that it doesn’t hurt at all”, chants the F. both vainly & numbly, as the backing voices spell out the song title (I.C.R.A.V.E.Y.O.U.) over and over and fucking over again. The vibe here is highly reminiscent of post-Damo Can, but, being possessed of a hugely catchy bastard call & answer Tamla chorus, ‘I Crave You’ comes up smelling entirely its own. And as the song’s urban driving rhythms recede, so does the sound of the city’s nightlife also fade, the clanking horns and the clinking glasses and the uppers & downers, and the in-your-face city problems dissipate and dilute and dissolve into nothing … to be replaced instead by the oboe-driven and extraordinarily bucolic sound of the heroic 11-minute finale. Entitled ‘Cunnyan Crags’, this song finds the poet far out on the moors propelled by pastoral horn melodies, psychically informed by the ancient landscape and … free at last. He walks abroad, hesitating at first amidst the newfound beauty, hardly believing that he’s broken away. But each stumbling step across the heather makes him stronger and more ready to take on the outside world again, until – at seven minutes and seven seconds – Christophe F. becomes the Seer of the Ages, spewing out the names of the high places that surround him, his words tripping his tongue up at times, but still he rants on like some hilltop rock’n’roll Wordsworth, the oboe-driven New Panzies collectively summoning up the ghosts of the Ancestors, whose bold strides urge him on and on. It’s one of the most exhilarating and beautifully touching album closers I’ve ever known, and made all the more poignant because it was not to be repeated again at any commercial level. But herein, Christophe F. and his glamorous cohorts created a veritable Pandora’s Box of words & music, and one that will one day gain its true legend among the people of the North-East.

Whatever Happened To…

Many have asked me whatever became of the Universal Panzies? And, in truth, I don’t rightly know. On and off, I’ve know Christophe F. for nigh on 30 years now, and his health has never been too good, his cohorts have never been too consistent, and his geographical location has never been too appropriate for the kind of poetic lifestyle he requires. But, while his obstinacy and refusal to move south have hindered Christophe’s overall trip, certain other musical peaks – his many privately-pressed Panzies EPs, his contributions to my 2000 South Bank festival CORNUCOPEA and 2001 L.A.M.F. album AMBIENT METAL – show that Christophe’s artistic spirit will only truly be broken by bodily death. And, as one who truly appreciates just how few Black Sheep artists there are among us, I for one would rather he remained safe in the land he knows (and loves so well), rather than dutifully engaging with a ruthless outside world that gobbles up the meek, the mild and the messed-up, only to gob them out as useless and undigestible soon after. For while Christophe remains here with us, he remains useful to us all even if it’s only in an advisory capacity.