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Dusted Down – The Teardrop Explodes: Kilimanjaro

Era-defining indie classic goes under the Dusted Down microscope

The history books will tell you that indie music as we know it today began in May 1983 with ‘Hand In Glove’ by The Smiths.  The history books are, of course, wrong.

Rewind three years to the start of the uncertain decade that became the 80s, and somewhere in Liverpool a band is about to smash up the post-punk landscape and recreate it in their own peculiar image.  That band is The Teardrop Explodes and not only does their debut album Kilimanjaro remain every bit as vibrant and original as the day in October 1980, it also stands as a clear, major influence on so much of the music that followed over the next 20 years.  The Cure, The Smiths, Inspiral Carpets, The Killers, Blur, The Libertines…  They all owe them a debt.

How to describe it?  Well, indie is arguably an underestimate of what’s going on here.  At least, there’s something refreshingly ambitious about it, all beautifully shiny and polished, impeccably executed and dripping in rasping brass that elevates it to heavenly, proper pop rather than mere cult status.  It’s monumental, mountainous.  It’s only right, then, that the album’s original cover art – a dimly lit shot of the band – was replaced by a breathtaking, iconic picture of the Tanzanian mountain that gave it its title.  You couldn’t get further from the grim, failing industrialism of Liverpool in the 1980s, and that was surely the point.

The band’s most obvious focal point was their singer Julian Cope.  On the surface, back then at least, he was pure pop heartthrob, not a million miles from the high cheek bones and cocksure confidence of  Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon.  Delve into his lyrics, however, and you enter a world of acid-warped psychedelia, operating somewhere wonderfully between sense and nonsense.  Since these days, he’s re-invented – or perhaps more truthfully gradually developed – himself as a solo chart star, a Krautrock archivist, eco warrior and stone circle expert, but in truth the roots of such unique eccentricities are here from the very beginning.  The clues are there in titles like ‘Poppies In The Field’, ‘Ha ha I’m Drowning; and ‘Second Head’.

The jewel in this album’s crown is undoubtedly ‘Reward’, a stampede of Northern Soul energy remade in the image of this era of shiny synthesizers.   It would go on to reach number six in the singles chart and, once it had been added to the album’s tracklisting, propel Kilimanjaro into the Top 30.  But in retrospect everything here sounds like a hit single – at least, if only it weren’t so damn far ahead of its time, from the proto-‘This Charming Man’ swagger of ‘Brave Boys Keep Their Promises’ to the disco skank of ‘Sleeping Gas’.

Hardcore fans of Cope and the Teardrops will no doubt be salivating at the prospect of Cold War Psychedelia, the collection of experimental outtakes and radical alternate versions from this time, due to drop at the end of this week.  But for anyone perhaps a little less completist, this set of originals is just as essential a listen.

Ben Willmott