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

4 thoughts on “Joss Cope goes down the rabbit hole”

  1. A few thoughts about the loss of creativity as you get older.

    As you get more experienced as a musician and writer it becomes increasingly difficult to be unself-conscious. The more musically knowledgeable you become the more you become aware of the mechanics of how to do certain things, and that makes it much more difficult to be unaware. Since most creative people depend on inspiration and that means it is essential not to be too aware of what you are doing – helpful though this must be at the refining stage. So increasing knowledge inhibits the way you write or how you construct a solo. Also you get to hear and know much more music so ideas you have a danger of falling into familiar groves based on things you have heard before.

    There are, of course, other factors. There are certain emotions you can only feel when hormones are going wild in your body so there are particular songs you can only write authentically in your teens. Also there is an expectation that writers can continually come up with something new throughout long careers and that it asking a lot. In the art world there is a recognition of “late work” and some willingness to come to this with different expectations. However, for better or worse, expectations are different in music.

    (Michael, I have put the Regime’s 1969 “album” On Monday night together with some other 1969 recordings and a couple from 1966 onto Bandcamp – free to download! All the best, Graham)

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    1. Hi Graham,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments! I basically agree with what you are saying. However, I was trying to make the case that it is not the ageing process in itself that is the problem, but rather the accumulation of experience. Normally these go hand in hand, but in the case of someone not having actively pursued a career in music, that person would have an opportunity to come at it with a fresh mind.
      If you listen to the album I reviewed here, ‘Indefinite Particles’, it is immediately obvious that it wasn’t made by a teenager; on the contrary, it shows the multi-faceted experience that comes with middle age. Yet there is an obvious magic happening here. The creative discovery is in the actual process of turning those experiences into lyrics, tunes and recordings.

      (Thanks also for uploading all the Regime material on Bandcamp! I was a bit confused when it seemed like some tracks were being taken down, but then I realised that you had collected them as the ‘On Monday Night’ album instead. Some really good stuff there – and definitely with an air that can only be created when young!)

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