Joss Cope goes down the rabbit hole

Joss Cope - Indefinite Particles 2020

Have you ever wondered why it is that most artists lose their creativity as they get older? Regardless of how good their early albums were, at some point the quality drops and never seems to recover.

That is one reason Joss Cope’s surprise solo debut album “Unrequited Lullabies” caught me completely off guard. I mean, he was born all the way back in 1962 and put out his first single in 1985 with his then band Freight Train. What could an old man like that still have to contribute? A hell of a lot as it turned out: That album was one of my top ten picks for 2017.

What if ageing is not at all related to diminishing creativity, and that eventual quality loss is instead a simple effect of output volume?

In that case, Joss still has a lot of musical mileage ahead: Although he was involved in the nascent Zoo scene around the Crucial Three (brother Julian, Ian McCulloch and Pete Wylie) in Liverpool and later played with many of the Creation Records bands, a bit like a Zelig in British post-punk psychedelia, he has very little to show for that in terms of recorded output.

And sure enough, new solo album “Indefinite Particles” is even better than the debut. Just like the previous one, it was recorded with Finnish musicians during short family trips to Helsinki. Juxtaposing influences from the 60s, 80s and 90s, while adding smooth vocals over a relaxed band sound and quirky lyrics, it is in fact something of a stroke of genius: both timeless and surprisingly forward looking.

Spanning everything from 50s rock’n’roll pastiche (“Mad King Ludwig”) to protest songs (“Who Are You Trying To Kid?”), the diverse themes are at all times joined at the hip by a warm, psychedelic production and a sense of absurd humor. 

Much of it is quite personal. Inspiration from his days working as a climate activist with Greenpeace shines through on songs like “From A Great Height”, as well as a probable reference to the mental collapse that lead to him ultimately quitting the organisation on “Healed”. There is even a song about his then as of yet unborn first child, “She’s Going To Change Your World”, who incidentally turned out to be a boy instead.

But “Radium Came” is right now probably my favourite song. As Joss explained to me in an interview I did for Mono Magasin, it is just anagrams, pure nonsense.

Radium came – madame Curie; twelve plus one – eleven plus two; Howard Stern – wonder trash; slot machines – cash lost in ‘em

It goes on like that, yet manages to feel sincere. Joss Cope describes it as “creating meaning by accident” and in doing so he pulls the listener down a Lewis Carrol styled rabbit hole.

And for that very reason, he is more “psychedelic” than 99% of what is labeled like that today.

But compared to Alice’s Wonderland, maybe the nature in his is a bit more dramatic? And the sky a bit higher, the air more shimmering?

The most English pop album ever recorded in Finland. And an amazing one at that!

Esa Lehporturo, Ville Raasakka, Puka Oinonen and Joss Cope

Esa Lehporturo, Ville Raasakka, Puka Oinonen and Joss Cope

Photo: Graveyard Virtanen

Pea Green Boat dish out sonic smorgasbord


Roger Heathers is a 27 year old multiinstrumentalist living in Cornwall who seems to have been totally bitten by the 10cc bug. His music starts with a jump, stops on a heartbeat, slows down and stretches out; and then goes off in the least expected  direction. 

Some will call him too clever by half. But as far as I am concerned, you can never be too clever if you are this full of pop hooks.

One of my most pleasant discoveries last year was the plethora of releases Roger has put out, both as a solo artist and as Pea Green Boat together with vocalist Joe O’Neill. A lot of what I heard was very good, with the standout being the 2019 solo album ‘Next Week In Münster’.  Yet as good as that album was, it still held the promise of even better things to come. 

Well, with the new Pea Green Boat album ‘An Unforgettable Luncheon’ Roger and Joe have delivered on that promise, and made something that can only be described as fantastic.

But I should warn you. Although the album serves up mouth watering morsels and juicy delicacies from their musical crossover kitchen, the effect of stuffing the whole smorgasbord of aural delights into your ears is one of gluttony. Taking in the whole 50 minutes in one sitting can make you queasy.

My play count tells me I have listened to the album a full 16 times in order to write this review. And while I may be a bit slow on the uptake, that is still a considerable effort in order to get a grip. My point is that while this is just pop, it is nevertheless overwhelming at first and you need to take it in bit by bit.

‘An Unforgettable Luncheon’ is vocally dextrous, full of energy and not afraid to take in syrup, pretention, Disney schmalz, and doo-wop harmony barber shop pop. There is at times a pastiche feel worthy of Godley & Creme or Roy Wood. 

But references to this kind of flippant music soon veer off the highway and into the 70s undergrowth. I would point to Brian Protheroe’s masterful ‘I/You’, maybe with the added vocal fragility from Mike Batt protégé Vaughan Thomas on his sole, self-titled album. 

An even closer fit is the most ignored art pop classic of that decade, namely the final mad dash by Fickle Pickle bandmates and Morgan Studios stalwarts Cliff Wade and Geoff Gill as the Beaver Brothers on the album ‘Ventriloquisms’. Funnily enough that album serenades a character called ‘Bertrand’ whereas here ‘Bertram’ gets a similar treatment. I am sure it is just coincidence. And just like on that album, I have the nagging feeling that there is a unifying concept behind all of this, although too convoluted to pinpoint. I am sure that’s a coincidence too.

The first four singles from the album are simply the first four tracks. But this is not a case of front-loading: anything here could be a single. Or nothing. I mean, these are really small pop symphonies and should be heard in context to really shine. 

While rooted in the 70s, this is not music only of the past. On the contrary, albums like this could not be made on what I am certain is a shoestring budget without modern technology. In fact, it shows just how far bedroom pop has come.

Lyrically, it is also up to date – and to data – starting the luncheon with a robotic chef and the climate crisisesque opening lines “Hey hey, it’s a beautiful day / We never see the sun / But we don’t need it anyway”. And final track ‘Spirit Valve’ offers up the lines: “The internet has ravished me / Transparently / Of means of escaping what I can’t control / And the feeling of knowing I can’t be alone.”

There are also a few notable contemporaries with a similar sound. Paul Steel on his wilsonesque ‘Carousel Kites’ from 2017/2018 immediately comes to mind. Another obvious comparison would be the 2017 album ‘Who Folds First’ by the Blood Rush Hour.

These more obscure references are unfortunately the most fitting, which makes my review a slightly harder sell. However, if you have found your way to the Popgruppen blog, I am willing to bet that you will cherish ‘An Unforgettable Luncheon’ as much as I do. An instant classic. Go and get it!