Recorded at a point where the popular music press were largely of the opinion that Julian Cope was struggling to relocate his muse following the detonation of The Teardrop Explodes, Fried is the album that found the Arch-Drude at the mid-point between the music industry’s realisation that he wasn’t going to be the easily mouldable popstar that they wanted him to be (a point that had been driven home by his solo debut album, World Shut Your Mouth) and his commercial fortunes being resurrected by Island Records and the hit single “World Shut Your Mouth” and album Saint Julian.
Fried was released to a certain amount of uneasy shifting in seats by the tastemakers reacting to the cover alone. Just four years previously he had been on the front cover of every music magazine,The Teardrop Explodes being the great beacon of hope for pop music, now here was Cope naked under a turtle shell next to a toy truck. The acid casualty rumours that had been swimming round him since the height of his former band’s fame seem to have been confirmed. Such was the reaction to the cover art, it seemed to overshadow the music itself…
Over three decades later, Fried sounds for all the world like the lost classic of the 80s that it is. Pointing forward to the looser and more freewheeling music that would become Cope’s calling card with great albums like Peggy Suicide, it must have sounded like he was struggling against the restrictive opinions of the music industry at the time, which if you read the second part of his autobiography, Repossessed, was in retrospect exactly what he was doing. Only Julian Cope wanted Julian Cope to record an album like Fried and listening back to it now, he was absolutely right to do so, as it’s one of his most vibrant statements.
Opening with the remarkable “Reynard the Fox” is a signal that if Cope was going to be pop star, he was going to do it on his terms and no one elses, and to hell with the fact that no one else understood what those terms were. Listening to “Reynard the Fox” now, it’s a slice of oddly commercial psych-rock, or at least it is until you start trying to make sense of the lyrics and the freaky spoken word section comes in and the whole thing coalesces into not just a song, but a statement of intent.
Fried is an album that is by turns unsettling, challenging, amusing, paranoid, baffling and, just occasionally, charmingly innocent. Cope was going through shit at the time and it takes a brave soul to release an album like Fried which reflects that. It’s an album which ignores the parameters of what pop music should be, while still flirting with the notion that it could find mass audience acceptance. It couldn’t have been released by anyone but Julian Cope at exactly that point, as it is absolutely informed with what he was experiencing in his life during that period.
Fried is an album as absolutely unique and contradictory as the man who recorded it and for that alone, it deserves to be held up as not only an album by one of the great artists, but as one the great musical statements of the last forty years.