[9 January 2011]
The easiest way to make a case for a three-disc reissue of the Teardrop Explodes’ debut Kilimanjaro is by using that old example of “if aliens landed, how would you describe this object or concept to them?” Kilimanjaro—along with Real Life by Magazine, Pink Flag by Wire, Crocodiles by Echo & the Bunnymen, Cut by the Slits, and Entertainment by Gang of Four—could be passed around as first-rate examples of British post-punk.
Although the likelihood of explaining post-punk to extraterrestrials is only a nudge or two above explaining the intricacies of mumblecore (in the grand scheme of things, genre designations are of extremely little importance), for those fans of late ‘70s/early ‘80s indie, Kilimanjaro is an indispensible gem. Although fellow Liverpudlians Echo & the Bunnymen might be looked to as owning a more purely post-punk sound, with Kilimanjaro, the Teardrop Explodes made a more innovative imprint.
The angularity, aloofness, and above-all jitteriness of post-punk is all here, but so is a loving debt to ‘60s pop and psychedelia. The overall effect of Kilimanjaro is of a less overtly political Gang of Four with a more traditionally pop sensibility replacing the former’s danciness. For the pervading sense of unease that comes from giving song titles a cursory read (think “Thief of Baghdad” and “Went Crazy”), the album’s pop moments are plentiful and splendid. “Treason” is an artifact-level post-punk pop song. With its crashing chorus and jangling verses, it sounds perfect for a “New Wave Hits” compilation, if only Teardrop leader Julian Cope had taken the pop star route rather than the lysergic one.
Similarly, “When I Dream” is almost gooily poppy, but the “I go babababababa ohohohoh” chorus ensures it will never reach sing-along status. The way this pop sweetness blends itself with post-punk’s wired energy is perhaps most effective in “Sleeping Gas”, wherein the song’s initial bounciness gives way to insanity as it is overtaken by repetition. In terms of fun fair music gone wonderfully awry, it is on par with Magazine’s “The Great Beautician in the Sky”.
Elsewhere, songs carry undertones of war-fixated paranoia. This can be seen in the parachute in “Poppies in the Field” (poppies carrying connotations of remembering those who died in battle), and the concluding verse of “Bouncing Babies” (“I was a bouncing baby / Now I’m a bouncing bomb”). It could all mean post-‘60s fallout, that favorite post-punk topic of societal alienation—with “Sleeping Gas” in particular lending itself to this theory—or simply nonsense. “Went Crazy” can be about Syd Barrett if we want it to be; the bottom line is Cope’s lyrics are vague enough that they can be speculated about as much or as little as the listener desires. Regardless of what they concern, Kilimanjaro‘s songs are jittery blasts multihued brilliance.
This being a reissue, Kilimanjaro‘s other discs are littered with the obligatory live recordings and John Peel sessions. Even for an album of such significance, the abundance of extras seems a bit much. However, if a reissue of such proportions is required to entice more listeners to take notice of a foundational album from one of music’s most inventive and intellectual genres, then glutting Kilimanjaro is forgivable. It may not cause a whole nation to sing the nonsense chorus of “When I Dream”, but if even one person uses Kilimanjaro as a gateway to post-punk, then its indispensability is confirmed.