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There are many stories here in the hidden world, down below the flat surface of things, behind the veils of illusion and delusion, inside the skin, adrift on the imagination, where tales are spun.
For one, there's the story of Copyright. The four-piece formerly known as Circle C, , Flour, Mo and Christian Thor Valdson's Freeze-Dried Dog. Before that there was Slow, the Kittie of their day, Vancouver's own teenaged rock apocalypse. They trashed and burned and sniffed and snorted their way into west coast legend, deeply offending all, but still delivering a ferocious band-sound, matched withthe art-punk aesthetic of singer, lyricist, conceptualist and rebel boy-child provocateur, Tom Anselmi.
As Circle C, they drugged and drank their way through a six-figure advance, then bottomed out in their early 20s a decade ago -- one largely unheard "masterpiece" (claim the loyalists) to their credit, their big American label deal in tatters, personally lost in a haze of diminished highs and distraught family members. Faced with an elemental choice of life or death by a lethal combination of whatever they could lay their hands on, they got clean. They struggled back with a solid independently recorded and financed album (Love Story, released by ViK.recordings in 1996). Now, after five more years of intense, claw-it-out-until-it's-absolutely-right collaborative effort, we have The Hidden World, Copyright's third album in 12 years. Quality, not quantity, is their byword -- another rebellious attitude from a band that has written a chapter or two in the how-to on nonconformity.
There's also the story of the album itself, a multi-dimensional trip that works as both an invigorating blast of rock dynamics and as a thematically linked song cycle that details the unvarnished truths about hard drugs and the inevitable end game that's played out when experimentation turns to deadly habit.

On one deeply satisfying level, The Hidden World is a visceral collection of gutsy performances, art-damaged songs and incendiary playing co-produced by Dave "Rave" Ogilvie (David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails) and Jamey Koch (Love Story 's producer). The first five songs in particular replicate the feel, intuitive flow and classic chord changes of a great album side -- a 21 minute burst of music that moves with the swagger, strut, veiled mystery, soar-away choruses and preening coquettishness of all landmark rock'n'roll. You may (or may not, depending on your familiarity with rock's primal influences) hear echoes of the New York Dolls, New Values-era Iggy Pop, The Verve, John Lennon, Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones (circa Exile on Main Street). Anselmi's read on the album's opening half: "It's our take on classic waster rock."
Think early NIN crossed with The Cult's Love Removal Machine, maybe, when it comes to the album's big industrial-hued single Rock Machine. Imagine journeying up that big rock candy mountain, up high where the views are forever. Then picture a new species of winged creature, one that soars with the Olympians yet doesn't mimic or mirror them to the point of parody. The influences are coded into the band's DNA, but the writing and performances are entirely their own. Listen to Anselmi's resolute vocals as he roars away with strength, mid-range power and some surprising falsetto (developed while singing along with Jane Birkin albums). Note Thor Valdson's filigreed guitar patterns -- part Lindsay Buckingham, part Johnny Thunders. Feel way down low the subterranean rumble of Marxson's bass lines and appreciate the fact that Bourne's drums are mixed as prominently as they should be in any and all mutations of authentic rock'n'roll.

At that interesting place where slashing riffs and cooler-than-thou poses give way to something more meaningful, the album is rich in storytelling and audacious conceptual reach. To do it the injustice of defining it with a single word, The Hidden World is an autobiographical morality play about "addiction." The band consciously designed the album's opening half to replicate the early salad days of a drug romance. The second half is where reality kicks in, hard and unforgiving.

What might be called The Hidden World's "second act" begins with a brief overture titled Theme and is keyed to the harrowing songs Death of a Curb Crawler and Juliet. This is Anselmi's shot at a mean streets Gilbert & Sullivan operetta as rewritten by Dostoevski, Bertholt Brecht and Kurt Weill. It's based on life as he's seen it in Vancouver's downtown east side -- a certifiable hell realm where every foul truth of modern society plays out in squalid monochrome, a politically designated and enforced corral zone for the human dregs of a city that is otherwise one of the world's most affluent and privileged. Every city, of course, has this kind of geographical shadow side. Vancouver, as duly noted time and again by the national press in Canada, has one of the worst.

Naturally, the story isn't pretty. The first-person portrayal of johns, hookers and addicts -- mainlining heroin, selling their bodies for increasingly elusive highs, dying at the hands of emotionally scarred men seeking vengeance for whatever ills the world has visited upon them -- is disturbing and difficult. The language may make you blanch, coil up inwardly and return again to those first five songs, where the rock machine rolls so sweetly and the lyrics aren't laced with nightmare imagery. As in Crime & Punishment, though, there is a prototypical happy ending -- the protagonist waking up to reality and finding a measure of redemption in the album's wildly inventive closing track Whatever Befalls Me. A Christian ending that invokes God, written by an non-religious lyricist whose own faith in something bigger lies in rather more fluid concepts related to nature and energetic flow.

Narrative structure aside, this is very much a band album. Copyright is a tight family. The story begins with Anselmi, a grade eight student at a west side Vancouver experimental school, rocking out on typewriter while fronting his own band. He was a snotty, alarmingly smart punk kid, pure trouble and rebellion, fed up with always being the outsider (his parents moved frequently in his youth). "I went out of my way to make sure everyone hated me," he says today. "I was so picked on as the new kid that by the time I got to high school I really didn't care anymore. I became very vicious."
Christian Thor Valdson, grade 10 and way cool, led a rival band at the school. "Everybody hated Tom, it's safe to say, but I didn't," he recalls. "I had the amazing foresight to see that we should be partners." After acting out in spectacular fashion time and again, Anselmi was shipped off to a residential private school where he met drummer Pete Bourne, a private school lifer.

Thor Valdson came for a visit and the three hit it off. Eric Marxsen, another friend, joined on bass. The band's first gig was December 31, 1980 in a Yaletown warehouse.
Aside from the Slow years (when Bourne was in Toronto and Marxsen was part of the prototypical grunge band East Van Halen), they've stuck together ever since. The family now again includes Steven Hamm, a Slow original who will be touring with the band. It also includes co-producers Oglivie, who helmed Copyright's ill-fated 1990 Geffen Records album, and Koch, a fellow traveler since the early '90s. Just like their other albums, The Hidden World came together slowly and deliberately, its songs and hooks and musical structure debated, reworked and razor-sharpened as the band geared itself up for two months of studio sessions last summer.

"It wasn't easy and I don't know how successful we've been," concedes Anselmi. "It will be misinterpreted and probably condemned by some people. What we want to be is a challenging rock band. And writing about addiction is challenging. To me the whole idea of addiction is completely far-reaching through every aspect of our society. This is an obsessive-compulsive society that wants instant gratification. All of us sacrifice so much of ourselves -- our souls, if you want to use that word -- to be comfortable. I wanted to show what happens when you take that kind of compulsion to the nth degree."

Jeff Bateman
Vancouver, April 2001