For more than a decade, Clarence Greenwood has inhabited that off-white tower overlooking the American street scene. Even if his dwelling is more bullet-riddled fake stucco than pure ivory, Greenwood—aka Citizen Cope—has made his oft-meager living observing the American drama and offering us its tales, like an inner-city rag salesman showing swatches. Whether it’s Baltimore hustlers, lost souls in the nation’s capitol, or the victims—both foreign and homegrown—of war, the characters in Cope’s songs from The Clarence Greenwood Recordings (2004), have walked, talked and protested on the seedy streets paved by the tradition of the American observational songwriter.
But even as Cope sat on his perch—part sniper, part trainspotter (on litany pieces such as “Let the Drummer Kick It”)—another side of his personality became apparent: Rapunzel, emitting faint calls for help. Every Waking Moment is the nexus of these songwriting styles, the moment when Citizen Cope transitions from neo-soul ’60s folkie to something else—a kind of hip-hop generation Van Morrison, more interested in questions than answers; greys than black-and-whites. This new album displays a tremendous increase in maturity, past the derelict
train station of genre-blend—the forgotten depot where a mash-up of hip-hop and folk rings new and noteworthy—and onto the path toward a personal enlightenment.
Those straightforward hip-hop beats are still there, particularly on hit-single-to-be “Back Together” and the subtle reggae groove of “107 Degrees.” But, tellingly, “107” is also one of Moment’s weakest tracks—more like Cope 2004. Where Citizen Cope’s previous efforts have fallen short is a reliance on this false sense of newness, like The Clarence Greenwood Recordings’ triple-A-radio hit “Bullet and a Target” or “Pablo Picasso,” which have the sonic hallmarks of a sort of MOR-hip-hop balladry, but with lyrics that sound as if Cope emptied his notebook rather than his heart.
Moment is a big step toward the solution: Despite its urban tales, it paints impressionist landscapes—more Monet than Edward Hopper. Like on “Brother Lee,” a frantic neo-ska song born of the “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Pittsburgh” paranoia of touring life. Or Cope’s shuddering glance at wartime—the XTC-ish pop chaos of “Friendly Fire”—which begins at the same point as “Bullet and a Target,” but here, rather than righteousness or indictment, offers militant snare drums, requiem strings and a reverb-swathed host of questions. (“They say help is on its way?”) Or best of all, on the title track, which is a Zen take on Cope’s recent success that falls somewhere between Rain Dogs and Veedon Fleece.
Every Waking Moment closes with Cope’s pleading “Left For Dead,” as defenseless a plea as a songwriter can offer. But to whom? Himself? His loved ones? America itself? Regardless, there’s an unlikely optimism in this plea—“You’re gonna beat all the odds that lie up ahead”—that makes “Left for Dead” a look forward rather than a wrap-up.
Near the end of its brief two minutes, Cope’s meandering slurs from simple words (“Yeah, I owe you”) into mere vowels (“A-E-I-O-U”) repeated ’til meaninglessness—as if words are failing him and that’s OK.
By disintegrating ego—and the stylistic concerns and lyrical affectations that accompany it in a singer/songwriter—Citizen Cope delivers something more personal than ever before. There’s still a ways to go before Clarence Greenwood reaches the greatness he’s hinted at, but Every Waking Moment proves he won’t stop searching for it—and that listeners will reap the bene?ts of his quest.