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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Syd Barrett Madcap Laughs

Syd Barrett Madcap Laughs

There is no question that Syd cuts a fascinating figure, full of loss and mystery. But, set the personality stuff aside - something you should do with everything you listen to - and pay attention to the music.

The Madcap Laughs is an album of legendary status. The songs on it are a tad eccentric, yes, but still evidence that even in 1969, as he was allegedly going mad, his songwriting was heads and tails above that of his former Pink Floyd mates (compare these songs to the solo efforts presented by the Floyd on "Ummagumma," their effort of the same period of time).

Work on The Madcap Laughs began at EMI's Abbey Road studios on April 10, 1969. EMI's Malcolm Jones began producing the album, though Gilmour and the Floyd's Roger Waters, both wrapping up their "Ummagumma" LP, took over for the three final sessions, June 13 and 14, and July 26.

Syd Barrett was a poet and genius of the highest order. Fragmented and tattered, the songs on this album lay it all out on the table. This is the reflection of a man who was dying on the inside and who's reality was slipping away literally as he sang.

First and foremost, intentionally or not, Syd's lyrics are high art. Not self-conscious, referential and elitist nonsense. These lyrics are poetry, and poetry can only result from experience. We don't need to know or speculate about that experience, we need only comprehend that it somehow resulted in some amazing work.

Songs like the opening Terrapin and the closing masterpiece Late Night seem to speak volumes of the feeling of disassociation he must have felt in his life at the time. And, the truth is, every song in between the two are more than worth the their weight in gold. Jaunty tunes, such as Love You, Here I Go and Octopus, mingle with material that is, for a lack of better words, absolutely soul crushing.

Syd's voice is often broken and fragile. On songs like Dark Globe, it is on the verge of sounding tortured. This IS NOT a pop album and it IS NOT an extension of his more whimsical Piper at the Gates of Dawn album. Be forewarned: this is an album that will haunt you for years to come.

The music is the perfect match for the words. The feeling of accident, of the joy of finding the right note and the frustration of being just sharp or just flat, a split-second early or a half-second late is all there to hear. It brings a remarkable one-to-one feel to the music, somewhere between the rehearsed and the improvised, and it never comes off as self-conscious or calculated.

The production is fittingly sparse -- some songs are literally just Syd and his acoustic (Dark Globe, Feel, If It's In You), while many others are filled with small psychedelic flourishes that keep the ambience intact. The only low point on the album exists in the admittedly weak She Took a Long Cold Look. This song would have found a better home on the B-sides collection Opel (ironically, the song Opel would have been a perfect fit). Long Gone is a darkly chilling highlight -- chromatic acoustic scalings, thick harmonies, and dynamically interesting organs make for a particularly sinister song.

The album alas was marred with production problems. Syd did live in his own time space world, and as the recording dragged on, Harvest became fidgety, unsure that Syd could deliver the goods on schedule. Under pressure to get the LP out on time, Malcolm Jones, the original producer, (un)wisely handed the producer's reigns over to Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters with the idea that Syd would work better with his friends and get the lp out on time.

For whatever reason, unfinished takes were included on the lp, and stick out like a sore thumb. The tracks that Jones produced find Barrett in great form- relaxed, within his vocal range- and were excellent tracks. It can be assumed that had Barrett had more time to properly complete the Gilmour/waters produced tracks; they would have been as good.

The legacy of the lp are those few tracks, alas. They are cited as proof that Barrett was going mad and should not have been in a recording studio. I disagree. The rest of the lp shows that with patience in the studio that Barrett created quality tracks ("Golden Hair," "Terrapin, " "Late Night," and "No Good Trying" show Barrett in very fine form) and was in control in the studio.

Syd Barrett Madcap Laughs Track Listing:

1 Terrapin 5:04

2 No Good Trying 3:26

3 Love You 2:30

4 No Man's Land 3:03

5 Dark Globe 2:02

6 Here I Go 3:11

7 Octopus 3:47

8 Golden Hair 1:59

9 Long Gone 2:50

10 She Took a Long Cold Look 1:55

11 Feel 2:17

12 If It's in You 2:26

13 Late Night 3:10

Credits of The Madcap Laughs:
Syd Barrett- Guitar, Vocals, Producer, Main Performer
Mike Ratledge- Keyboards
David Gilmour- Bass, Guitar, Producer
Hugh Hopper- Bass
Roger Waters- Bass, Producer
Robert Wyatt- Drums
John Wilson- Drums
Malcolm Jones- Producer
Phil McDonald- Engineer
Peter Mew- Engineer
Vic Seywell- Horn
Mike Sheady- Engineer
Gareth Cousins- Mixing
Hipgnosis (Design Group)- Photography, Cover Design
Phil Smee- Compilation, Mixing, Package Design
Tim Chacksfield- Project Coordinator
Toshikazu Ohtaka- Liner Notes
Tony Clark- Engineer
Jeff Jarratt- Engineer



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