The Musically Diverse Attack!
Glam anthems and hardcore rants. The whir of techno and the crunch of britpop. Emo-boy crying and scary stalker screeds. The Cooper Temple Clause are a wily bunch, that’s for sure. For example, their debut album, See This Through and Leave, seems at first listen to be a rotten amalgam of all that’s wrong with guitar rock these days: Unoriginal genre-splicing. Maudlin songwriting. Uninspired lyrics. Annoying sibling-band guitars. A contrived and utterly overdone ragamuffin slack-boy image. It’s the stuff vengeful rock critics are seething with. At first it gives you pause. Why would anyone want to make this album?
But even if singer Ben Gautrey does come off sounding like a two-bit Liam Gallagher at times, even if the guitars do sound like they could use a little less NOFX and a little more Stooges, even if the arty-patchouli rock-boy thing has been wrung out ad nauseum . . . well, the damn album gets in your head. It works its way in there like a rare South American parasite worming through your brain. And the only way to get it out—naturally, in this case—is to play the album until you’re sick of it.
The Cooper Temple Clause play off their musical influences like they’re writing a children’s book. It’s almost their schtick to make things as big and as evident as possible. On See This Through and Leave, the clicks and blips of technology find themselves equally as comfortable as the blasted mid-range of a punk-rock guitar. In some circles this type of music—the mixing/matching of psychedelia, technology, and rock—is called “space rock”. But don’t go trying to lump them in with the likes of Spaceman 3 or Galaxie 500, two well-cited purveyors of the art. In many ways, See This Through and Leave is a more ambitious album than either of those bands ever put out. Because unlike others of their ilk, the Coopers seem to be striving toward an honest-to-goodness, commercially-lucrative art rock album here.
It takes a certain amount of moxie to be unfashionable and then try to make that sort of thing fashionable. For instance, some of the songs on the album go on for more than eight minutes—not exactly mainstream rock-radio fodder—and much like the Super Furry Animals, the Coopers aren’t afraid of excess. They cram ideas into songs like tuna fish into a Starkist can. Album opener “Did You Miss Me?”, for example, starts off all slow and dreamlike, with Gautrey whispering the title and inquiring about someone’s love life before degenerating into propulsive rock guitars and schizophrenic stalker yelps. “Panzer Attack” opens with a classic grunge riff (a little sped-up) before whipping into a hardcore moment in the chorus, all deathly crunch and vitriol-soaked lyrics. And “Been Training Dogs” is a glammed out, Stooges-inspired rollicker, with Gautrey singing things like “Been training dogs / To bite your little princess” and “I wouldn’t wanna be ya /‘Cause we’re drawing blood if we see ya”.
Violent? Yeah, a little. It’s that type of lyric that really separates the Coopers from the kids. Throughout See This Through and Leave, Gautrey visits themes as disparate yet connected as rebellion, rejection, obsession and, well, death and murder. On “Film-Maker”, Gautrey neatly states “Don’t think ‘cos you can’t see me that I’m not watching,” the jilted lover going on obsessively about his ex-girl’s new guy. In “Did You Miss Me?”, he’s screaming and rubbing it in (forcefully) that he’s “Back with what I got / But it’s not for you / It’s for someone else / Someone beautiful”, and that “You’ll never scream my name / She’ll scream my name”. This, apparently, is the sort of thing that makes him happy. In the somnambulistic dirge “The Lake”, however, he’s pleading “Won’t you help a stranger?” before concluding “That’s a sorry sight my friend / It’s not me to make a fuss / It’s just that the water’s cold / And I can’t feel my legs”. Heavy stuff for a pop record. But in the end of it all, that’s what See This Through and Leave is: an admirable pop rock effort with enough drive and hook to keep it on the radio, but enough experimentation and strife to keep it kosher with the hep crowd.
Again, at first glance it all seems like so much maudlin pablum, and if it weren’t for the Coopers’ almost divine aggressiveness, it would be. But they come off supremely agitated, like a swarm of killer bees, even on slinkier tracks like the blatantly Oasis-inspired “Who Needs Enemies?” and the trippy electronica of “555-4823”. If it were possible to literally feel the aggression coming off of an album, See This Through and Leave would be fire, slow burning and sublimely hot. It’d be third-degree burns, my friend, not those wimpy first-degree rugburns that only require salve.
The Coopers want some musical honesty, and they’ll take you down looking for it if that’s what they have to do. It’s most apparent—most readily apparent—in the single “Let’s Kill Music”. “We dare you to mean a single word you say,” they chant, before stating “It’s not number one who will come out alive / It’s the freak in the corner with his eyes on fire / Let’s kill music before it kills us all.” The Coopers aren’t killing music so much as deconstructing it, then putting it back together, on See This Through and Leave As the resident freaks with their eyes on fire, they make a good show of it.