The Teardrop Explodes: Kilimanjaro UK CD 
- Ha Ha I’m Drowning
- Sleeping Gas
- Second Head
- Poppies In The Field
- Went Crazy
- Brave Boys Keep Their Promises
- Bouncing Babies
- The Thief Of Baghdad
- When I Dream
- Strange House In The Snow
- Use Me
- Sleeping Gas [live]
My, oh my. This one had been a long time coming! I first heard The Teardrop Explodes some time in 1981 on WUSF-FM. Don’t bother looking. They’re now an NPR affiliate… zzzzzz! Back then they were a cool college radio station. They had a Friday night New Wave show that I could barely pick up on my stereo, 90 miles away in Orlando… if I held the antenna just right! Ah, the pitfalls and glories of the analog existence! Back then, it was possible to hear and see things that you weren’t supposed to due to random atmospheric conditions.
As was policy back then, I was air-checking the broadcast onto a cheap C-90 tape I had bought at K-Mart. No need for quality as the sound was riddled with static and “FM drift,” but it did give me songs to research for future purchase later. I heard an exciting, horn-driven tune that reminded me of the late 60s brassy soul vibe which had gone dormant for about a decade by then. The tune was infectious, but the DJ only announced the name of the group. I didn’t have a handle on the lyrics owing to the difficulties in receiving the transmission, so I had no clue as to the track’s title. One of the very next things I bought in a record store was the first Teardrop Explodes UK 7″ers I saw, “Colours Fly Away.” Since the sleeve art showed a prominent horn section, I thought this might be the one, but it wasn’t. I didn’t buy any more Teardrop Explodes releases owing to my disappointment at not getting this amazing song.
I later discovered that it was called “Ha Ha I’m Drowning” and was from the album “Kilimanjaro.” I would occasionally see a LP or CD of it over the years, but never bit for reasons unknown.
<insert 35 year gap>
All of that changed last Saturday when I hot my local emporium for a copy of the new Eno album and saw this lounging in the used bins. When I popped this into the CD player, I was rewarded [did you like that?] with the still completely awesome “Ha Ha I’m Drowning” issuing from my speakers. Though it felt strange not hearing it riven with static, I managed to somehow cope . Listening to this 36 years after its release, I have to imagine that it was this record, as much as anything, that led Paul Weller to add horns to The Jam’s 1981 album “The Gift.” While that was a nice effort, the trumpeters here [Ray Martinez, Hurricane Smith] truly lift much of this music to the plane of the sublime. “Ha Ha I’m Drowning” is notable not only for the boss horns driving its propulsive epiphanies, but also the rhythmic powerhouse of a middle eight where the instrumental drum break speeds forward for a full 40 seconds before the tightly coiled rhythm guitars bring it to a searing climax.
The rest of the album was perfectly fine horn driven New Wave from a time where, Dexys Midnight Runners aside, there were few such bands operating in this space. Even so, there were other standout tracks. “Sleeping Gas” was an amazing reveal of the influence of Krautrock on Julian Cope, an eternity before his writing made the links explicit in the 90s. “Sleeping Gas” was an absolutely mesmerizing vocal, lyrical Krautrock track that locked into a groove and stayed there the whole song. Krautrock was typically an instrumental genre but like Simple Minds at the same time, The Teardrop Explodes were using its foundations to craft new hybrids that were astonishing in their invention.
The closer “When I Dream” also hit the trance zone with it’s repetitive format and 7:13 running time. I seem to have heard the first bonus tracks, the 1981 non-LP single “Reward” somewhere over the intervening years. It’s an infectious single as produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley; old hands at horn-driven pop. At the time, the band were part of a seemingly non-existant wave of “neo-psychedelic” bands which were anything but. I don’t really hear any of that here. More than anything, this was a soul-led group who were adding disparate genres like Krautrock to the mix. The B-side “Strange House In The Snow” was one track that seemed to actually touch psychedelia, but only the barrel dregs of it! I can’t say I think that the inclusion of this song over some of the ones left off of this as bonus tracks was justified.
More interesting was the acoustic “Use Me” and the French language translation/remix of “Treason.” The “Sleeping Gas [live]” recording dated from the next album’s “Tiny Children” 12″ single and it managed to take the already brilliant track, far and away from its relative comfort zone with a frenzied Cope riffing on John Cale’s “Mercenaries [Ready For War]” while seemingly improving the track to a never boring 9:27. The song gets completely “meta” as Cope becomes a pilot/singer attempting to “land” the song without damage. What a thrilling performance!
This 2000 RM added six bonus tracks for the first time to the CD of this title. In 2010, there was a 2xCD DLX RM which was truly canonical, but I’m fine with the shorter program of bonus tracks here. If I saw it, I might be motivated to pick it up but the going price on Discogs now begins at $40 so this is not likely unless I get lucky. The big question, is that should I also buy the 2000 RM of the second album, “Wilder” also in the used bins at Harvest Records? Enquiring minds want to know.
– 30 –
Kilimanjaro is one of those albums that I picked up in a record store, and walked over to the owner to play and was then hooked. This would be the case for the first Bunnymen, Wah! and Comsat Angels albums all at around the same time.
To this day it stands as one of my faves and sits in among the crowd of Post Punk albums which I consider my all time favorites. There is a skewed genius at work and very noticeable here. Cope was on fire. A mix of Krautrock meter, punk/post punk urgency and some truly wonderful nods to 60’s garage rock all contribute to the album being lumped into the “neo-psychedelic” category which critics came up with to describe work they weren’t really qualified to critique or categorize at the turn of the decade.
Sleeping Gas and Books (a vestige of Cope and McCulloch’s many attempts at working together) and Treason are my favorites, but you have to admit this is an album with no duff tracks, NONE.
Echorich – Only that B-side I called attention to was wanting.
Strangely,I have never owned this album,though I do have and adore “Wilder”.
My friend Alan Gill wrote “Reward”-he was in a band with my brother Steven Brick called Radio Blank,which morphed into the Teardrops and had links with others in the Liverpool/Erics scene.
“Bouncing Babies” is a classic.
Gavin, Alan Gill is a demi-hero of the post punk era for me having been in Dalek I Love You!! Copey certainly credits Gill with exposing him to lots of sounds, especially Krautrock in Head On. And I loved his work on Letter To Brezhnev. Yes I am a bit of a Liverpool/Eric’s Scene trainspotter…
Echorich – Hmm. I have the mandatory “Letter To Brezhnev” soundtrack LP but it’s all tunes, no score. I’ve never seen the film.
Yes,the score to Letter to Brezhnev is superb.Alan is still making music,as The Most High,but lives a very reclusive life in Birkenhead.A lovely,gentle man.
“Should I also buy the 2000 RM of the second album, “Wilder”?
You most certainly should! In my book Wilder is the better of the two albums. It’s certainly different to Kilimanjaro – it’s more stretched out, filled with space, stranger (particularly with the inclusion of the additional tracks). All of that is good, and leads to a more textured, more varied, more ambitious collection that stands up all these years later.
Kilimanjaro is great, but Wilder is superb.
Ian – Welcome to the comments. Indeed, I’ve been enjoying “Kilimanjaro” so much that also buying “Wilder” has become a foregone conclusion. Now, the question remains… what of “Everyone Wants To Shag?” I’m assuming that the recordings there that correspond to the B-sides on the 2000 “Wilder” are not the same versions? Can anyone verify? By the way, I managed to actually see Julian Cope when he was touring his fine “St. Julian” album in The States in ’87 as he was opening up for Siouxsie + The Banshees. Excellent value for money, there.
To my mind “Everyone wants to shag…” is what it is – a somewhat disjointed collection of half-completed recordings showcasing the band as it fell apart. That’s not to say it’s bad – there’s some good songs on there (those tracks on the extended Wilder edition are the same versions, the ones that appeared on the “You Disappear From View” 12″). A couple of the tracks turned up on Cope’s first solo album (Sex/Pussyface and Metranil Vavin on World Shut Your Mouth), and others (Not My Only Friend, for example) would have fitted well into that record. But overall it doesn’t have the same cohesive feel as those first two albums, and the quality criteria isn’t as high either.
I did get to see The Teardrops… on the Wilder tour, which probably partly contributes to why that is my favourite album of theirs. I’ve also seen Julian Cope a couple of times since – increasingly unhinged but very entertaining. He doesn’t play much from this time, but last time I saw him we did get The Culture Bunker, The Great Dominions (both from Wilder) and Sleeping Gas – nowhere close to that magnificent live version from the Tiny Children single, but still good to hear.
Agree, you must get Wilder – an amazing, somewhat forgotten album. Totally agree with Ian’s description.
My first ever gig was in 1982 – the tour promoting Wilder – it set a high standard for the subsequent 34 years to follow!