Funnily enough, it was a Dave Grohl piece in where I found out about this nugget, like most things they are generally placed well in front of you until you do some extra digging and unveil these kinds of albums.
The reason Grohl was waxing lyrical about this record in particular is because it draws 100 percent parallels to his own career. Stewart Copeland as you may know has that reputation of being a world class drummer, an incredibly revered drummer you know that, but do you actually know?
Back to Grohl just quickly for the overlap, two talented-as-fuck drummers who yearned for more, so they started crafting their own material quietly as their major bands The Police and Nirvana respectively kept blowing up tenfold. The major difference though is Grohl went down that route and Copeland went on to be primarily a film composer. He’s worked with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, Ken Loach and Richard Linklater, he would also never put out a solo album again – he’d play in numerous projects, supergroups and acts such as Animal Logic but Klark Kent remains his sole project where he’d play every instrument and receive little to no fanfare over it.
So what is Klark Kent? It’s eight songs and 25 minutes of the most complete post-punk power-pop you’re ever likely to hear. It’s probably considered an EP but by today’s standards you could easily categorise it as an LP. Adding some layers of the onion to the fold, Klark Kent was released in 1980 the same year as The Police’s third album, Zenyatta Mondatta: an album in itself that was evolving the band’s sound.
The story goes, Copeland writes this jagged little tune called Don’t Care, a song that he’d hope to see on that album but Sting couldn’t relate to the lyrics – whether it was that or he just didn’t like it, a discussion for another day (a similar situation in which Sting reportedly fucking hated Andy Summer’s Behind My Camel, an instrumental submission for Zenyatta Mondatta that would go on to win a Grammy – you could probably see the cracks starting to appear), but with the success of The Police at the time people really caught onto this song/project and proved to be chart success.
Not to mention there was a seemingly prickly, smart aleccy, elusiveness to The Police themselves, the Klark Kent project wasn’t supposed to create any kind of extra attention to Townsend but on Countdown in 1981 The Police were being interview by Molly Meldrum and when he asked the band about the project (the band would appear in masks on Top of the Pops a year later, Townsend included, until it was made clear he couldn’t sing in the mask so had to take it off).
This was Townsend’s response in full:
“I’ve been trying to figure out Klark Kent for years, he’s very difficult to understand, I suppose his history has been recounted many times, you know books have been written, movies have been filmed, he’s a young Hungarian ballet instructor who was trained by the CIA to accept vast quantities of information at high speed and binary code he can plug his fingers into a power socket and his hair goes slightly frizzy but he can learn things very quickly, his works of poetry have been translated into many different languages and stuff but nobody can really understand him.”
This plus through that time period Copeland gave different critics and media several different warped answers to the what and the who the Klark Kent project was, it was all rather entertaining.
On The Police’s 1979 second album, Reggatta de Blanc, Copeland had three sole writing credits and it’s here you can truly see the genesis right there in front of you of what his song writing prowess offered lyrically and compositionally – like an extension of Richard Hell’s post-punk vision, his is more funked up post-punk in a new wave vacuum. On Any Other Day, Contact and Does Anyone Stare are solid offerings. As mentioned earlier, third album Zenyatta Mondatta, was seeing the band continue to evolve and this time around Copeland had two contributions the immediate sardonic pop Bombs Away and the bombastic instrumental The Other Way of Stopping. All produced under the tutelage of Nigel Gray in which he’d also lend a hand to the Klark Kent project, which basically harbours the similar sound in which all members were operating under at that time.
You can split the record into two. It comprises five songs and three instrumentals. The album has copped flack over time for not being the most deep lyrically but I’m not sure that’s why you come to this album. It’s simplicity, themes of freedom, slackerism, not giving a fuck. The thing is, Stewart Copeland was fucking cool, this album just backs it up. Watch the way he masters his instrument. Opening track and lead single, Don’t Care, is pure edge pop. It’s an excellent upbeat number that The Cars in their prime never wrote followed by the richly sardonic pleasures that are Away from Home, Rich in a Ditch, and Excess – all with sharp hooks and sardonic witticisms of a guy just keeping it simple.
Compositionally the instrumentals are where Copeland shows of his is incredible skillset – after guitars, drums, synth he’s playing the typewriter! Clarinet! And the fucking kazoo! Grandiloquent gets the party started but it’s arguably the closer Kinetic Ritual that you arguably see Copeland at the most playful, concise and artistically and closes it out with the greatest kazoo solo you’ve probably never heard.
For me this record isn’t about influencing a whole bunch of bands or creating some subgenre of a scene it’s just a one off project that was never repeated making the statement even more sacred. It was the first solo album from any Police member before Sting became well… Sting! This to some might be a throwaway album (just ask Allmusic’s 2 star review) it might even just be a little nugget in context of The Police and their legacy, but for me this is a document in time that solely captures the skill and all round talent of one of the greatest drummers to ever do it in rock music.
Fuck yes, Mr Copeland.
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