Music Reviews

The Teardrop Explodes Wilder

(Mercury / Universal Music Group) Rating - 9/10

When I recently reviewed Saint Julian, I mentioned how Julian Cope's career had gone from pop star to ridicule over the course of the first half of the 1980s. A big part of that decline would be Wilder, the second and final album by the Teardrop Explodes.

In short: following the initial release of their debut album, Kilimanjaro, in 1980, the band had gone through more changes in a year than most bands would see in 20. Guitarist Alan Gill left, to be replaced by the talented and handsome Troy Tate. Keyboard player Dave Balfe was sacked (by Cope's account, mainly for being something of an uncivil bastard) and Cope himself gave up bass duties. In place came Jeff Hammer and Alfie Agius, and this line up rode the pop success of the Reward and Treason singles. This was following a tour of the US, to which Cope elected the best method of dealing with was prolonged use of mind-altering substances. On their return, the band recorded the single Passionate Friend, before Hammer and Agius were sacked, paving the way for the return of Dave Balfe. Got all that?

It was Cope, Tate, Balfe and drummer Gary Dwyer (the only other person bar the singer to see through the entirety of the band's career) that would record Wilder, along with producer Clive Langer - then shit hot due to knocking out hit singles seemingly every other month for Madness. Expectations were that a big seller was on the way, despite the fact Passionate Friend had stalled just outside the top 20 and the letters pages of the teeny-bop magazines weren't happy with the sacking of the boyish Alfie Agius.

In short, despite good initial sales from pre-orders, the album was regarded as a failure on release in December 1981 and the band had split within a year. Over 30 years on, the reasons of why this happened aren't important, anymore, as now we can just take Wilder for the exceptional piece of work it is. That said, it's not hard to see why people were confused at the time: only recently, they had been knocking out catchy numbers adorned with bright horns and thumping drums. What's all these slow numbers with repetitive synth loops? Why the hell is Cope singing about some Palestinian lady who hijacked planes? Has Cope lost it?

Perhaps he had, but in the two of so years between writing the songs for the first and second albums, his life had changed beyond recognition. Even beyond the sudden love of hallucinogenics, he had become a public figure and also fallen in love with a young American lady, despite already being married. These were amongst the themes that would inform Wilder, which starts a combination of a simple drum riff and various bubbling noises that bring in Bent Out of Shape - one of the few more direct numbers, along with Passionate Friend and a subsequent (unsuccessful) single, Colours Fly Away, which tried to mine the same vein as Reward.

Where Wilder is the most, erm, rewarding, however, is when Cope shows his vulnerable side, most notably on the superb Tiny Children - a slow, plaintive number with no guitar or bass, and little drums until the end. Equally impressive are the closing one-two of ...and the Fighting Takes Over and The Great Dominions. The latter proves that though Cope took sole songwriting credits, the figure of Dave Balfe looms over many of the songs, him having the required musical chops to rearrange and embellish the songs to great effect. Listening to the whole album, it's no surprise the band burned out not too long after, though you still think it's a loss that Cope and Balfe couldn't put their egos aside for long enough to work together again.

The reissue package doesn't have too much music die-hard fans won't have already. Indeed, if you own the previous reissue from 2000 along with the compilation The Greatest Hit, then you've got everything here but the radio sessions, the interest of which depends on your level of interest. I did in particular enjoy the version of Wah! Heat's Better Scream from a Richard Skinner session. Of more interest is analysis of the work by Cope, Balfe and Tate. As a collection, it's more than worthwhile for those looking for an "in" to the band, and Cope's songwriting in general. Purely as an album, Wilder is an essential part of alternative British rock music.