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Syd... That's Cat's Something I Can't Explain,
This review is from: The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (Audio CD)
To fully appreciate "A Piper At The Gates Of Dawn", you have to consider what else was going on in 1967. Yes, The Beatles had just finished Sgt. Pepper down the other end of Abbey Road studios. Yes, The Floyd had already had minor chart success with two perfect examples of Barrett's creative and furtive songwriting ("See Emily Play" and "Arnold Layne"). But nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared anyone for this...
For "A Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" is one of those Marmite albums - you either love it or hate it. Floyd fans may argue all day over if its warped storytelling and whimsy, almost childlike songs about gnomes, scarecrows and bikes even deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Dark Side Of The Moon or The Wall. Well, let them, but for the rest of us there's a magical world out there to discover...
Consider that, up until this album had been released, that everyone at EMI thought the Floyd would end up being a finely-fashioned, if a little off-kilter beat group. Well, after 30 seconds of "Astronomy Domine", you just know that Syd Barrett had other ideas. Get beyond that track (and many don't, believe me), and then you're into the dream-like, acid-drenched core of the album. There's no point concentrating on lyrics - the only man who could interpret them is, well, unavailable for comment.
For anyone who thought that the aformentioned Beatles were the kings of 60s psyche then forget it. A Piper... is more awash with sounds of burlesque, comedy and Gepetto's-workshop-gone-mad that it could knock 50 "For The Benefit Of Mr Kite"s into a rather large stetson. How on earth Norman "Hurricane" Smith produced what was ostensibly a band whose frontman had a notorious knack of changing lyrics mid-session is a feat that no modern producer could hope to equal. Take "Interstellar Overdrive" - no lyrics, one helleva riff and nearly ten minutes of arseing around and yet it still sounds revolutionary. That, my friends, is talent.
The album itself is, as you can probably gather, a complete triumph and a modern masterpiece in the avant-garde only rivalled by The Velvet Underground's "White Light / White Heat" and Beefheart's "Trout Mask Replica". However, the advantage that "Piper" has over both of those is that Syd's eschewed vision of perfection has none of the politicism or angularity of his contemporaries. Indeed, the most venomous tirade on an album that is typified by infantile innocence is Roger Waters' tiresome "...Stethoscope".
And so back to Syd. For despite this is a Pink Floyd album (their debut, in fact), it sounds completely like anything else before or since. And in this lies its charm - a very English rusticism, the expression of a child let out to wonder the green and lush meadows, and a sense of humour to match. Aside from this is the album's stand-out track - "Chapter 24" - a hymn referring to Chinese prophescy which, considering that their contemporaries were singing about Lonely Hearts Club Bands and 64-year olds, was a seismic shift away from the maschimo that their lumineries possessed.
I can't recommended this album highly enough - shut yourself away for a while, dim the lights, sip some tea and put on your headphones. It may take you a while, but you'll get it eventually. It's a shame Syd didn't stick around for the ride...
Change returns success? Yes, but if only it hadn't... we can but imagine...