Band: The Teardrop Explodes
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 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, "Books", appeared on both singers' next band's debut album (although retitled "Read It in Books" by Echo & the Bunnymen). However, Wilder is the Teardrop Explodes' second and more or less final album. (They did work on a third, but it remains incomplete and never saw the light of day until 1990.)
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. My copy of the album is an American issue with a different cover (originally used for the "Passionate Friend" 12" UK single) and it fails to list the participating 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.
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 tribal). "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 the Hunanoo, the Filipino tribe whose language has 92 words for rice and 40 for soil. "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]