While the most productive post-punk scene in the ’70s and ’80s was happening in Manchester, two of the best bands of the era originated in Liverpool. Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes both emerged in the Beatles’ old haunt, after the dissolution of Crucial Three which featured members of each band, releasing their debuts around the same time, each one boasting a psychedelic take on punk rock and an affinity for The Doors. Of the two, Echo and the Bunnymen were the ones who would go on to achieve greater success, release more albums and even see a second wave of their career that is going strong in the present day. The Teardrop Explodes only released two proper albums and broke up shortly after the release of their sophomore effort, Wilder. Yet the sound created on their debut, Kilimanjaro is undeniably unique, making it a true standout upon its release.
The Teardrop Explodes were aesthetically similar to state-mates Echo, yet they were somewhat more intense, playing up the psychedelic aspect to a greater extent. Frontman Julian Cope was a charismatic and enigmatic frontman, indulging in hallucinogenic drugs and displaying a fondness for Krautrock, a genre which wouldn’t really get its due until later on. His odd behavior and drug use would later find him going in and out of seclusion, but while the band was in their prime, he was a powerful leader, penning weirdly catchy songs and providing a deep and uniquely British voice to sing them.
The fierce, trippy Kilimanjaro is as incredible as a debut can be, showing infinite promise for the band, despite their short lifespan. Released in different formats with differing track orders, the singles “Reward” and “Treason” each being rotated out in certain versions. Those seeking out a copy would be well advised to find one with both infectious tracks included. That the sequencing of various copies differs is something that was expected at the time, US and UK versions of albums often being even more radically different, such as The Clash’s debut. In the case of Kilimanjaro, it’s only fitting, as the songs were culled from various recording sessions as opposed to all being of a certain time and place. Yet the album has a surprisingly cohesive nature.
One other similarity to Echo pops up in the track “Books,” which was recorded both by The Teardrop Explodes and their Liverpudlian neighbors for their respective debuts, written by Cope and Echo leader Ian McCulloch while in the band Uh? Yet the two versions couldn’t be more different, and that’s where the comparisons come to a screeching halt. While Echo’s was a subtler, Velvets-esque tune, the Teardrops’ version was more upbeat and commanding, with soulful horns courtesy of Ray Martinez and Hurricane Smith, who would also lend their fanfare to opener “Ha Ha, I’m Drowning,” “Reward” and “Went Crazy.”
Among other classic songs from this brilliant set are “Sleeping Gas,” a Krautrock-inspired psych-rocker propelled by Dave Balfe’s organ that was actually the band’s debut single, the trippy ballad “Poppies,” and the fiery “Bouncing Babies,” with a Hellish organ riff and chugging guitars. Yet few would disagree that the true gem of the album is “Treason,” a song that came to be the definitive Teardrop Explodes single, their first big hit, and a song that came to be released in various mixes, including one with vocals sung in French. Not as overtly soulful or trippy as some of the band’s other songs, it was nonetheless a catchy and unforgettable single, indispensable among the best of the post-punk era.
The Teardrop Explodes, much like many of their contemporaries, had a short recording and performing career, but made a considerable impact with just their debut alone. After their break-up, leader Julian Cope moved on to a long solo career that would see him making an even bigger impact in the United States. He never returned to the psych-punk sound that marked his days with Teardrop Explodes, but they were at least able to give us one truly essential debut and a pretty good follow-up as well.
Echo and the Bunnymen – Crocodiles
Comsat Angels – Sleep No More
Psychedelic Furs – Psychedelic Furs