Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Teardrop Explodes - Wilder (1981/2000)

[Edit 2017.08.30: This was my first-ever record review and it certainly shows. Despite some misgivings, I've left most of my idiosyncratic style intact and merely corrected a few inaccuracies. I also recommend reading the comments for some additional insights.]

Alright, I've got a couple things I want to write reviews for, but I need to listen through them more before I can really do that fairly. In the meantime, I'll write about an album that I've been listening to a lot lately. It's from 1981, so it's not exactly a new release or anything, but it is great, and it is often forgotten or overlooked. Nonetheless, I think it is a fantastic piece of music.

Band: The Teardrop Explodes
Album: Wilder
Year: 1981
Label: Mercury

01. Bent Out of Shape
02. Colours Fly Away
03. Seven Views of Jerusalem
04. Pure Joy
05. Falling Down Around Me
06. The Culture Bunker
07. Passionate Friend
08. Tiny Children
09. Like Leila Khaled Said
10. ...and the Fighting Takes Over
11. The Great Dominions

Reissue (2000) bonus tracks:
12. Window Shopping for a New Crown of Thorns [Colours Fly Away b-side, 1981]
13. East of the Equator [Colours Fly Away 12" b-side, 1981]
14. Rachael Built a Steamboat [Tiny Children b-side, 1982]
15. You Disappear from View [Single, 1983]
16. Suffocate [You Disappear from View b-side, 1983]
17. Ouch Monkeys [You Disappear from View 12" b-side, 1983]
18. Soft Enough for You [You Disappear from View 12" b-side, 1983]
19. The In-Psychlopedia [You Disappear from View 12" b-side, 1983]

[The original, obviously superior UK artwork.]

The Teardrop Explodes were something of a post-punk or new wave band hailing from the same scene as Echo & the Bunnymen. The two bands are arguably quite comparable, and both bands' lead singer once were in a band together by the name of The Crucial Three (referenced in the song "The Culture Bunker"), but the band was so short-lived that they only wrote a few songs. One of them, "Read It in Books", was released by both bands as an early b-side before being re-recorded for both bands' debut albums (although retitled "Books" on The Teardrop Explodes' Kilimanjaro). Wilder is The Teardrop Explodes' second and more or less final album. (The unfinished remnants of a third album were belatedly released in 1990 as Everybody Wants to Shag.)

The band consists of Julian Cope (songwriting, vocals), Gary Dwyer (drums), Troy Tate (guitar), and David Balfe (keyboards). Cope would later have a long and semi-successful solo career, Tate would produce the initial sessions for the Smiths' debut album, and Balfe happened to be co-owner of Zoo, the label that the Teardrop Explodes were signed to. The album credits fail to assign specific instruments to the band members, so I don't really know who contributed bass, although several songs lack bass guitar and many may feature keyboard bass from Balfe. [Edit 2017.08.30: Julian Cope was the band's nominal bassist, but bassists James Eller and Alfie Agius are also credited as guest musicians.] 

[The inferior US artwork, borrowed from the Passionate Friend 12" single.]

The original album is a mere forty minutes, which may have been a goldmine in the 80s but is nothing compared to George Harrison's 1970 debut, All Things Must Pass, at 106 minutes. To be honest, the comparison was just meant to be spiteful, and forty minutes is fine by me if the music's good enough, which in this case it certainly is. Each track is little different, but the entire slightly psychedelic package (come on, it was easy to guess just by looking at the title of the last bonus track) is quite good.

"Seven Views of Jerusalem" has a weird sort of funk groove and serves as a good example of a somewhat common theme in the album: weird instrumentation and instrumentals, obtuse lyrics (my favorite kind!), and non-straightforward drumming (often heavy on the toms). "Seven Views" might be about Jesus (who else could have seven views of Jerusalem, and what all could the oft-repeated title even mean?) but that still wouldn't explain what the line "I cut off my nose to spite my face" means. I'm not complaining – let me make that clear – I just have to wonder.

To start at the beginning, both "Bent Out of Shape" and "Colours Fly Away" (can you tell the band is British?) feature lots of keyboards, some horns and more difficult lyrics. They're a bit similar but serve as a good opening. I always love that psychedelic swirling sound heard in "Colours Fly Away", Siouxsie & the Banshees' cover of "Dear Prudence" and The Smashing Pumpkins' "Thru the Eyes of Ruby". It's better known in the guitar effects world as a phaser (or sometimes flange, which is different but similar), but I mostly just wanted an excuse to mention two of my favorite completely unrelated songs.

"Pure Joy" is under two minutes, almost besting The Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get Want I Want" as my favorite song under that mark (but The Smiths' song has the added bonus of the obnoxiously long title), but packs a quick guitar riff with a speedy drum roll and vocal delivery to match. And the lyrics are still weird ("I've got a good car but it's not a good car / It won't take me to paradise for the day"). "The Culture Bunker" is a great piece about Cope's frustration with Liverpool music scene and Echo & the Bunnymen's success ("I feel cold when it turns to gold for you"). Horns (another consistent theme) and an extended instrumental without a real solo are again featured.

"Passionate Friend" was the big single. "Big" as in #25 on the UK charts. (For bands I like... that's not bad at all.) The song is quite catchy, and the lyrics more or less make sense. I still can't quite tell what's going on, but there seems to be some sort of failing romantic relationship. The bright sound and multiple hooks wouldn't lead you to that conclusion, though. There are so many Kinks-y vocal and guitar bits, and the horns! - it's just so happy, but lines like "When the love has boiled away" and "leaving you today" imply something less cheerful. However, I don't think anyone can explain the mention of Hanunoo, a language spoken in the Philippines. [Edit 2017.08.30: See comments for an alternate interpretation, although the official lyric sheet clearly reads "Hunnanoo".] "Tiny Children" was also a single, but god knows why, as it's the slowest song on the album and isn't really a catchy song. That's not to say it's bad, just not something I'd release as a single.

"Like Leila Khaled Said" returns to the Holy Land to mention the controversial Palestinian plane hijacker, but the opening line "You can smother me with kisses" makes me wonder just what Cope is really singing about. Thematically weird, but a good song nonetheless. "...and the Fighting Takes Over" features a fantastic rhythm guitar throughout the song, unaided by any drumming, that I totally want to learn. The song isn't as complex as most of the others, but the guitar is just so great that it more than makes up for it. The interplay with the vocal melody and the bass is simply fantastic.

Then comes the closer, "The Great Dominions". The song is fairly slow, has lots of weird sounds, and lacks any real instrumentation outside an enveloping Air-ish keyboard. (That's not entirely true, but the keyboard dominates under the lyrics.) I still don't know what this song is really about, but the continual repeating of lines like "Mummy, I've been fighting again" make it's placement after "...and the Fighting Takes Over" seem suspicious. The song is something of a fan favorite, and it is pretty great, so I don't blame the fans, whoever they are.

I won't talk about the bonus tracks too much; they take the weirdness/psychedelia a step farther for better or worse. "Window Shopping..." has some weird two-tracked vocals, "East of the Equator" is a long instrumental, "Ouch Monkeys" is a fairly good keyboard and drum-machine drenched song criticizing humankind, and "The In-Psychlopedia" is a fast-paced, punchy keyboard-driven song. The real highlight is "You Disappear from View", in fact a single released from the aborted third album sessions. It starts with this really cheesy/great 60s-ish horn, keyboard, and treble-heavy guitar bit and continues onward to be a fairly catchy clever song.

I also have to wonder about some of the songs that weren't released from that period. (Some later were on the Zoology (which rhymes with eulogy) compilation, but I don't have that yet.) I may or may not have bootlegs of a Berlin concert and every BBC radio session the band did, but I can say that "Log Cabin" has some good keyboards and seems to sound like a quality song. I think my favorite outtake that I've heard is a cover of John Cale's "I'm Not the Loving Kind", a fairly self-explanatory song that I've always thought was great and rather funny. Cale's version is from his Island years and thus features Brian Eno production/synthesizer/effects and a full dramatic take, complete with a female backing chorus. The Teardrops version (or at least the version they performed on Richard Skinner's radio program in May 1981) is just the lyrics and a keyboard, plus some drumming at the end. Great stuff. New goal: mention Brian Eno at least once in every review. (Should be no problem at all; I already did it in my John Cale review, and for Morrissey... well, you know, James opened for the Smiths back in the day, and they'd cover "What's the World?" now and then, and Eno produced 1993's Laid. There.)

So... that's enough rambling for the day. To be honest, I'm still missing the Teardrops' first album (Kilimanjaro) and I'm just on the cusp of getting into the band. But I like where I've started, and I'd easily say they stack up right next to Echo & the Bunnymen (a longtime favorite of mine).

[Retrospective Score: A]

[Edit 2017.08.30:] P.S. The album has since been reissued again (in 2013). This version includes the same bonus tracks as the 2000 version plus "Christ Versus Warhol", an extended live take on "Sleeping Gas" (the same version included with reissues of Kilimanjaro), and eight Richard Skinner session tracks (including "I'm Not the Loving Kind"). I highly recommend it.


FilmWalrus said...

Good review! I like the breakdown by song. It gives a bit of insight into the music that I can't actually hear (without buying the cd) and it seems very informed.

Patti said...

For anyone who cares... I figured out most of the guitar part to "...and the Fighting Takes Over". Also, "Seven Views of Jerusalem" has a straightforward bassline, and I've figured out about half of "Pure Joy". I am willing to share my newfound knowledge.

Patti said...

As it turns out, Julian Cope is the bassist of the band... but he's not credited in my copy of the album.

Anonymous said...

In the second part of his autobiography - "Repossessed", Cope says that James Eller played "all the best bass parts on Wilder".

Patti said...

Kollykibber -
Thanks for the insight. I know James Eller from The The, but I've never heard of his involvement with the Teardrop Explodes. The credits (at least on my version) of Wilder don't specify the roles very well. I guess Cope's statement, though, could be interpreted to mean Eller only did the best parts while he himself did the rest, but who knows. I wonder, though: what qualifies as "the best bass parts on Wilder"?

Anonymous said...

My copy doesn't mention Eller and I was pretty surprised to find out straight from the (Drude)horse's mouth that he'd played on "Wilder".

I like your review of the album and agree that "You disapper from view" is a highlight and I'm glad the other versions are available now, i.e. Zoology. I think there's one on a 500-copy limited edition vinyl bootleg I once bought in Germany, along with a cracking version of "Better scream/ Make that move baby" and the string quartet version of "Suffocate". I do think "Ouch Monkeys" is classic Cope, though, as is "Log cabin".

Apparently, "Passionate Friend" is about his liaison with McCulloch's sister (can't remember where I read that though).

I don't know if you read music/ tabs or just play by ear but as far I can work out "and then the fighting takes over" goes something like this:
E C#min D6 Asus2
C#min7 (and then...) G (twiddly bit on the A string, which is difficult to describe here)
B Bmaj7 A B (and where on earth etc..)

Patti said...

I wish I could find a copy of Zoology, or should I say, a legal copy. I love the music on it but I'd really like to have my own copy!

"Log Cabin" is great, and I absolutely love the cover of "I'm Not the Loving Kind". I have the Peel Sessions version of the "Better Scream/Make That Move" medley and a horrible bootleg version of the "baroque" "Suffocate", which sounds like it would be awesome if the transcription of my version wasn't horrible.

I think I'd heard the thing about "Passionate Friend" before. It was someone's sister, I think.

Those chords are basically the very same ones I'd come up with. The notes for the "twiddly bit" are G-F#-C#-D-C#-A-B-C#-D-E if I remember right from memory. Great song. I'm still working on "Pure Joy", but I suppose only trying once a month probably isn't helping.

rayell said...

Good stuff. I love the Teardrops and came here looking for cover art having transferred my vinyl copy. Cutting your nose off to spite your face is an english phrase meaning doing something out of revenge that ends up harming yourself more than your target: more McCullough references? Have you tried reading Head On, his autobiography? He's a great writer and has a respected reputation now as a historian of ancient/pagan britain, german and japanese rock. I live in Liverpool and he recently played a nice little gig to celebrate the anniversary of Eric's, the legendary club where he met the Crucial Three. Still can't figure out And the Fighting Takes Over: anyone got a starting chord?

Patti said...

@Rayell -

Unfortunately, as an American, I'm not hip to everything about English phraseology, but I'm always trying. Thanks for the wisdom.

I haven't ever gotten into the Cope story as much as I could or should. I know he's written some interesting things and recorded plenty, but I'm totally ignorant of all of it. I should check out that autobiography, though... I bet that'd be cool.

I think "...and the Fighting Takes Over" starts on an E, but it might be more complex than that. I haven't played along to it in a long time. I'll give it another try sometime.

Anonymous said...

andiman says I have got "wilder" but it is missing "reward" and says not for resale on the front of cover in gold stamp !great album, any views.???

Anonymous said...

andiman adds on a different site i have been advised this album "gold stamped" could be worth £500 sterling ???????

Patti said...

@Anonymous -
"Reward" was originally only released as a non-album single, and then appended as a bonus track to the reissue of Kilimanjaro in 2000, but I don't think it was ever released on Wilder, so no worries there.

Regarding the gold stamp, that probably means you have a promo copy, which legally aren't supposed to be resold, but of course it happens anyway. I have promo copies of a Love & Rockets album and another from the Church. It usually isn't anything special except that it means we've technically broken the law.

Of course, if you do get 500£, awesome.

And what do you mean by "any views"?

Man From Room 5 said...

Super review, Patrick, of a super album... one of my all time top 10 favourite LPs! A very good choice indeed. (I have to say though, it is always hard to choose which to play... Wilder or Kilimanjaro, as I love em both!) Best wishes to you - Karlo [UK]

Patti said...

I'm glad you appreciated it. This was one of those albums I'd always known about and then finally one day found and just instantly fell in love with. Kilimanjaro I actually didn't like as much (once I finally found it), but it grew on me and I almost like it as much as this one. I love the Peel Sessions Plus album, too. Everybody Wants to Shag is a bit weak in my mind, but I really, really, really want to find a copy of Zoology. That's pretty much on top of my wanted list right now (and has been for about a year).

Unknown said...

Bumped into your site while looking for the lyrics to one of Cope's early songs with Teardrop Explodes.
I am a bit disappointed though by your track-by-track review of Wilder, for "Tiny Children" has always been my favourite track in the album. An eerie atmosphere and sad, melancholy lyrics, for once not too obscure. I used to listen to it a lot (yeah, 30 years ago) and it never failed to move me in a deep and strange way.
For me, it's one of Cope's trademark "moody" songs, right there with "Head hang low".
Thanks anyway for your review. It certainly shows respect and appreciation for the man and his music.
All the best from Madrid, Spain.

Patti said...

Don't get me wrong, I like the song too! It has grown on me even more since I wrote the review, but I still stand by my statement that it was a strange choice of a single. I just have trouble imagining that song getting actual airplay.

Thanks for reading.

Tricia said...

I came on this while looking for lyrics to Bent out of Shape - I loved this album and thirty years later it is still playing in my head. If you come across lyrics or better still tracks from this album anywhere please let me know. Will purchase CD as soon as I can.

Kolly Kibber said...

I believe the lyric is not about the Hunnanoo, but:

I've had my due
Of seeing you
With nobody decided

I've always thought this song was about the period of time when he'd already taken up with Dorian on tour, and was wracked with guilt because his first wife was at home, unsuspecting. His first marriage, according to him anyway, was a bit of a loveless lark (source: Head On), and this song seems to describe the moment when he freed himself from it.

Patti said...

@Kolly Kibber,

Thanks for your insight. Certainly Cope's marital/relationship status seems to play right into the lyrics of "Passionate Friend"! I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.

I'm still not sure what the Hunnanoo reference is about, though. Or has that just been universally incorrectly transcribed?

Kolly Kibber said...


I think that it was transcribed wrong somewhere and the error was repeated when the transcription was copied all over the intarwebz. So many of his songs have no lyric sources, and the ones that do have transcriptions on the web are often appallingly wrong.

Years ago, I had a pirated/foreign cassette copy of Saint Julian with the most mangled, hilarious lyric sheet ever. "World shut your mouth, shut your mouth, put your hand back in the glove and shut your mouth." I still sing it that way.