Julian Cope

Black Sheep

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AllMusic Review by Alan Severa

Black Sheep presents further dispatches from the ongoing campaign to change the world by "the Arch Druid" Julian Cope (who, by the way, holds court continually on his Head Heritage website). Ever since the publication of The Modern Antiquarian in 1998 (his ambitious book exploring ancient pagan ritual sites), Julian Cope's world has been defined by the cornerstones of anti-monotheism, a love of minimalist musical structures, and a kind of rock primitivism, in line with his emphasis on archaic virtues. All his albums since then have kept to this new approach (starting with the first album under the alias of Brain Donor in 2001). It's a much more austere world compared to what listeners were used to from him until the late '90s, but the sheer fanaticism with which he has followed his mission since the dawn of the new millennium remains compelling. The drawback is that the music isn't always quite as rewarding as one would hope, tending toward the threadbare a bit too often. The minimalist production technique tends to stymie the efforts at "rocking out" (which the rhetoric of the packaging would lead one to expect). On this album, the rocking often floats on waves of Mellotron sounds and the rest is folk contemplation, all definitely harking back to precedents from the early '70s. As usual, the packaging is striking and helps to bring home the message. In defiance of the dictates of CD technology, the album again comes on two CDs to ensure that each represents what in the old days would have been "one side of an LP." In addition, those half-LPs have their own titles, Return of the Native and Return of the Alternative, again enhancing the message. Such lyrical invention remains a hallmark of 21st century Julian Cope, but as with the music, the high points are scattered rather erratically over the course of the set. Nevertheless, Black Sheep stands out a bit in the newer Cope catalog, due to the focus it gives to his (longstanding) vision of a new (or rather, corrected) world-view. Central to that is the dismissal of the concept of a single God (as brought to Europe by St. Paul), which, according to him, tragically displaced the superior concepts of a religious outlook based on a closeness to "Mother Earth" (the Norse gods being his favored alternative). A "wild man ethic" paired with scientific argumentation is the strange brew that informs all these recent Cope "packages" (as does the preponderance of earnestness paired with smatterings of humorous implications), and the Black Sheep title of this album went on to be used as a rallying point and project name for the next album, bearing the characteristic title Kiss My Sweet Apocalypse. Thus the Arch Druid's campaign continues onward.

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