Saturday, August 11, 2007

JULIAN COPE, Krautrocksampler: One Head’s Guide To The Great Kosmiche Musik - 1968 Onwards (Head Heritage)
Mojo, December 1995

Since it deals with that most fetishised of genres, Krautrocksampler is appropriately enough an intensely fetishisable object. Purportedly the first of a whole line of Head Heritage Cosmic Field Guides, this pocket-sized volume is wittily styled to resemble the Observer’s Book of… series. And it’s jam-packed with colour plates of album sleeves, over whose tripped-out imagery Joolz drools almost as copiously as he does the music.

It’s the music that counts, though, and in his crusade to convey just how much Can, Faust, Cluster, New!, Ash Ra Tempel, Amon Duuls I and II, Guru Guru, early Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schultze et al, should matter to you, Copey ain’t stingy with the superlatives and fulsomely imagistic metaphors. Just clock his description of Ash Ra Temple/Timothy Leary’s collaboration 7 up as "a cosmic Cresta Run". And how about this purple passage on Amon Duul II’s Yeti: "Dalekvoiced No-men call and sneer, riffs fused from Orc-punks and Sci-Fi priests ensnare you… Rogner’s vacuum-cleaner organ [is] like a dissenter left to go crazy on the edge of a new space colony." The book’s long appendix, wherein Cope reviews each of his All Time Top 50 Krautrock LPs, is full of this gloriously unreconstructed hippiespeak.

In the main body of the text, Cope loosely defined German Kosmiche Musik as the collision of proto-punk attitude with acid-rock’s mindblown grandiosity. Especially with Can and Neu!, it’s this ‘ur-punk’ ethos of self-restriction (derived from the Velvets and the Stooges) that curtailed any tendencies towards the flash muso masturbation exhibited by contemporary prog and fusion.

Krautrocksampler is intensely subjective (what else could one expect from JC, a man who’s already published his autobiography?), and while this gives the prose its brio it occasionally makes the book a tad lopsided. I must take issue with Cope’s curt dismissal of Can after Ege Bamyasi and vocalist Damo Suzuki’s departure; how can he possibly fail to rate the astounding funkadelia of Future Days and Soon Over Babaluma? Generally, Cope doesn’t quite grasp how James Brown was as important to Czukay and Liebezeit as Velvets mantras like ‘European Son’. I also wouldn’t have minDed an extra chapter tracking Krautrock’s myriad legacy, from the avant-funk of Talking Heads and PiL, to more recent trance-rockers like Loop and Stereolab.

Still, them’s just quibbles. Brilliantly researched, Krautrocksampler abounds with revelations (like the story of key Kosmiche activist RU Kaiser and his Cosmic Jokers supergroup). And Cope’s enthusiasm is contagious verging on lethal (at least vis-à-vis the reader’s financial health, given the amount of rare records and over-priced reissues he convinces you warrant immediate purchase). By the end, you’re left feeling that Cope missed his true vocation – a sort of lysergic Lester Bangs. Roll on the next Head Heritage Cosmic Field Guide


No comments: