Top positive review
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"sails cackling at every plate we break"
on 5 July 2010
Roger "Syd" Barrett,a founding member of Pink Floyd,a psychedelic rock group, having hits with Arnold Layne,See Emily Play and Piper at the Gates of Dawn,having written most of the material,was an innovative guitarist in his own right,exploring sonic possibilities of dissonance,distortion,feedback and echo,able to create mysterious, otherworldly sounds using slide guitar.However the pressures placed on Barrett and his increasing LSD drug use, edged him towards psychiatric illness and mental breakdown.His antics became unpredictable on stage and he was replaced by David Gilmour.They just left him out in January 1968.He had a brief solo career1968-72.He released 2 albums,The Madcap Laughs and Barrett.
In The Madcap Laughs Barrett's more vulnerable moments have been left on tape giving the music a more authentic feel.Some sessions occurred between May-June 1968,but the bulk was recorded between April and July 1969,with David Gilmour and Roger Waters,serving as studio musicians and producers.A few tracks have been overdubbed by members of the band Soft Machine.Despite Barrett's descent into insanity,this record is a real exploration of psychedelic rock.Some of the tracks are simple acoustic guitar and Barrett's voice.Others have electric and base guitars, organs,vibes, pianos,cymbals,drums and are more multi-layered, largely overdubbed over his voice and guitar. Barrett didn't want any rehearsals or re-recordings done. Syd's playing and singing were highly erratic and unpredictable--he skipped or added beats and bars seemingly at random, or otherwise he would strum on a single chord for a long time before unexpectedly reverting back to the main portion of the song. This was all much to the frustration of the session musicians leading to certain tension.
Madcap,the rash,impulsive,high-spirited girl he sings to in these songs,flips from being inner demon or muse.The spontaneity and immediacy come from his raw talent,stripped bare.He is slipping away from us mentally,getting into his own groove,out on his own track,soon to be lost forever,far from the world of groups,session musicians and engineers,floundering in a limbo of headspace,a universe in reverse.On the album cover the image of Barrett crouching in the corner of his living room,face obscured by dark, wavy hair and bad lighting.Purple and orange floorboards.This is the antechamber to the end of the 60s,when darkness descends,stark instrumentation,haunting lyrics,a vulnerability so palpable and unedited,you know this man is not sane. He will soon putter out from conscious creation.However he was in fine form during the sessions.Some of the later tracks are rushed and spartan due to time allowed.
We board an unorthodox musical train of thought,not able,like the session musicians,to anticipate where it will go.The opening song,"Terrapin"changes key and skips beats without warning.The word order combination 'Floating,bumping,noses dodge a tooth/the fins a luminous/fangs all `round the clown/is dark below the boulders hiding all/the sunlight's good for us' is rich in imagery,soulful in voice.Are we ever on the same page?In "No good trying" there is the wilful egotism and directness of a child.In `Love You' we have the whooping joy of first love.We know what it means,yet it it has no sense.In "No Man's Land" there is a gibberish verse no one can even understand to write down,meant to be understood,yet Syd liked it that way."Dark Globe",a first person narrative of schizophrenia,with the plaintive refrain "Wouldn't you miss me at all?" or "please lift a hand" like voices in his head."Here I go" Barrett waxes lyrical about a romantic,happy ending,with a happy tune disguising something scary beneath the surface like a darkness he neither knows nor cares about,warding it off with a jaunty,familiar air.
My favorite track "Octopus",a cornucopia of joy from a liberated,child-like soul, full of imagery of promise:"with a honey plough of yellow prickly seeds/clover honey pots and mystic shining feed.." I love his rendition of Joyce's "Golden Hair" with Barrett strumming mournfully against some soft cymbal work by session musicians.Two great souls united through a harmony of song.Sad and beautiful.The sad nostalgia of "Long Gone" combined with a visionary intensity:"I borrowed the page/ from a leopard's cage/and I prowled in the evening sun's glaze". With "She took a long cold look"a simple love song mutates into something much chillier.He is at the lowest ebb of his mental health on "Feel",almost mad,and "If it's in you",both harrowing examples of the misunderstood Barrett, teetering on the edge.The valedictory "Late Night",a beautifully rendered love song,gentle like sunshine through rain.Barrett never did anything to match this superb record,indelibly marked with his genius.As Pope once said:"Great wits to madness sure are near allied".However this record stands as a landmark of true creative promise.After this the stutter into vagrant silence,then the long walk home to his mother's house.