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This review is from: The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (Audio CD)
The sad passing of Syd Barrett has lead me back to the records he made, though these are records that draw me back time and again regardless. Pink Floyd's debut album manages to distill the avant garde act of the UFO club and Barrett's otherworldly lyrics into something not that far from pop - producer Norman Smith did wonders (though the UFO band is still present and correct on epic wigout 'Intestellar Overdrive' which was often the Floyd's live set at the time). I'd recommend the excellent 33 1/3 book on this album to anyone who wants to know more about this record...
'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn' takes its title from 'The Wind in the Willows', Syd fixated not only on psychedelia and its possibilities, but a certain type of Englishness found in 'Alice in Wonderland', 'Peter Pan' & 'Jabberwocky.' Alongside Ray Davies' lyrics on 'The Village Green Preservation Society' it offers a very English outlook later to be taken up by XTC, Blur, Julian Cope, The Libertines, Robert Wyatt and others. Coming on the back of the classic singles 'Arnold Layne/Candy and a Currant Bun' and 'See Emily Play/Scarecrow' (why are 'Candy...', 'Apples & Oranges'/'Paintbox' & a few other oddities missing from this or 'Relics'?), most of the songs here last a pop song duration, but distill that transcendental thing Syd was on. It should be pointed out that this cd version is far superior to the slapdash budget price version previously issued - though why no bonus tracks????
'Astronomy Domine' is the memorable opener, like closing track 'Bike' it showcases a proto form of sampling with its use of tapes - advancing on approaches made by Joe Meek and the BBC Radiophonic workshop. This method would recur on the Floyd's most famous LP 'The Dark Side of the Moon' which used tape recordings of interviews - without this version of the Floyd, there would not have been the 8-track wax-jacket Jeremy Clarkson approved version! It should also be pointed out that Syd was the chief songwriter at the time, Joe Boyd recently mentioned a tape he lost of other songs Barrett had composed - here's hoping they were those great songs that followed on those solo records. Blur's Syd-tribute 'Far Out' (composed by Alex James!!!) re-quotes 'Astronomy Domine', a song the Floyd started playing again in the mid-1990s and placed at the opening of the compilation 'Echoes.' Next up is my favourite track 'Lucifer Sam', which blends a psychedelic surf-guitar groove with suitably odd lyrics that centre on felines and twins. This is a song that seems to set up lots of material after - The Beatles best psychedelic work 'I am the Walrus' and albums by The Pretty Things and Tomorrow. "That cat's something I can't explain..."
'Matilda Mother' is another gorgeous Syd-composition, centring on the child world that would undo him - "Why'd you have to leave me there/Hanging In My Infant Air, Waiting?" Rick Wright's keyboards here are fantastic and show what a pseud Ray Manzareck is!!! 'Flaming' continues the greatness, underlining the fact that this is probably the key psychedelic album - though I guess we should mention 'Surrealistic Pillow', 'SF Sorrow', 'Easter Everywhere', 'Odessey & Oracle', 'Younger Than Yesterday' & 'Their Satanic Majesties' Request.' 'Flaming' seems to implode, making way for 'Pow R Toc H' whose odd noises anticipate parts of Brian Wilson's 'Smile' (technically the same year) and something like 'Monkey Island' by the Elevators. The sleevenotes poorly don't let you know who composed this or 'Intestellar Overdrive'. The interlude between 'Pow R Toc H' and the epic 'Overdrive' is Roger Waters' 'Take Up Thy Stethoscope & Walk' which fits in wonderfully - mad surf guitar and nonsense lyrics that hold their own with Syd.
The latter half of the album returns from the freaked out to the whimsy of the earlier material - 'The Gnome' and 'Bike' both showcase the quirky side of Syd, nodding to Tolkien and an England that was probably already gone. 'Chapter 24' is closest to the solo material that would follow, though managing to weave in the Mason-Waters-Wright backing band wonderfully. 'Scarecrow' really sets up that whole Canterbury Scene, so English and pastoral, again this is very close to 'The Madcap Laughs' and 'Barrett' and probably not that far from shocking unreleased material like 'Vegetable Man' - a thin line between genius and madness I guess...
'Piper' is one of the key records of the era, one of the great debut albums, the best Floyd album, and a key psychedelic release. How could you live without it?