Joss Cope – Unrequited Lullabies

Joss Cope – Unrequited Lullabies

Having been released in early-October on the Gare Du Nord record label Unrequited Lullabies is a party already in full swing, so apologies from both DOA and your humble reviewer for our tardiness. We mean to have fun now that we’re here.

Deciding if Joss Cope is on or under the radar is a tough call. Having first pitched up, alongside older brother Julian, in the late-’70s Liverpool post-punk scene, his most high profile period is represented by his association with numerous Creation bands in the second half of the ’80s. A brace of releases as Something Pretty Beautiful was followed in the early-’90s by his formation of psych-rock band The United States Of Mind and the recording of their solitary album. The mid-’90s onwards led to a concentration on directing music videos, TV animation and campaign management for Greenpeace. Recent years, however, have spurred a return to musical pastures via work with Dexter Bentley and Sargeant Buzfuz and have engendered Cope’s first full solo flourishing.

While analysing Unrequited Lullabies without reference to the ‘other’ Cope’s work would certainly be a neat trick it might also become an exercise in elephant-in-the-room-avoiding pointlessness. So, getting it out of the way, the very obvious question arises; does Joss sound like his bother? Yes, he rather does, somewhere in the region of Cope major’s early solo albums. But the way in which the similarities manifest themselves give cause for both pleasure and satisfaction. If one is a fan of Cope, Julian then it is entirely rewarding that an ‘alternative universe’ (for want of a better description) version of him is available to us in the shape of Cope, Joss, the world not being over-supplied with others in the Archdrude’s ‘tree’. Put simply both brothers have, unsurprisingly, taken on water from the same musical wells since their early years and therefore share a certain commonality in influences. But the parallels lie largely in the bedrock of the music and melodies here, rather than in the execution and expression of them. Certain chord sequences emerge that are reminiscent of the ‘other’ Cope’s ’80s work and the occasional tendency to sublimely soar via declamatory melodies is comparable yet Unrequited Lullabies is very far from an affair of fraternal aping, the differences being substantial. Both Joss’s voice and the rhythmical patterns of his lyrics are considerably more reminiscent of ace word-smith Peter Perrett (minus the Marmite drawl and whine) than those of his sibling, this characteristic being ramped up by Joss’s band sharing more than a passing sonic resemblance to Perrett’s classic Only Ones line-up.

Genre-wise Unrequited Lullabies is firmly fashioned from psych DNA and clearly more rooted in early-’80s psych than late-’60s but, due to the inventively idiosyncratic nature of Joss’s songwriting, more specific influences are harder to call. Barrett for sure. Almost goes without saying. I’m also picking up a less epic version of House of Love (which would chime in with Joss’s own Creation Records roots), a tinge of the now somewhat neglected Wasted Youth and something melodic that may be a less whimsical version of the Postcard Records sound. He shares the musical intelligence of XTC but neatly side-steps their tendency to concoct mere ‘cleverness’, Cope inhabiting far more emotional territory. According to his press bio, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band is also an influence but that rather out-obscures me. Stylistically this is also a very English affair. Imagine that the whole Canterbury scene, specifically Kevin Ayers, had been operating within the musical environment of, say ’79-’88 rather than ’67-’75 and that tells you much about it.

Unrequited Lullabies is a very complete sounding opus and represents, I would guess, the sound of a fairly protracted and evolutionary process of song choice and composition. Due to its mature and considered nature it consequently contains a strong parity of quality between its songs and while the tone can turn to bizarre humour many of the songs pivot around romantic complexity with a Perrettesque emphasis on the falling apart. Standout tracks must include opener “Learn To Float” with its astutely observational finger-pointing word play, the weighty, slow grooving and splendidly-titled “Your Broken Heart Is Not For Sale” and the beautifully melodic and deeply ironic “Turned Out Nice Again” which comes fully equipped with sumptuously, smoothly, saturated electric guitars.

Unsurprisingly, the psych elements bleed outwards to the sleeve cover with its memorable heap of plastic dolls. I also spent an enjoyably ‘Cope-family-world’ few minutes wondering if the band members had decided to use anagrams in place of their real names before recalling that the band are, in fact, all Finnish. It’s certainly a package that takes you into the zone. It should be observed that this is an album for which the last twenty years or so of music might as well not have happened. But, taking it on its own terms and turf, Unrequited Lullabies is a splendidly valuable exercise in the English art of heartfelt, individualistic, romantic psych.

Gare du Nord