Albums »The Madcap Laughs

the madcap laughs syd barrettWhile listening to the strikingly handsome but sadly insane Syd Barrett's solo effort, Madcap Laughs, I was struck by just how modern it sounds – not just in the sense of the lovelorn, art school, lo-fi trend of recent times; but also in a Thoroughly Modern Millie sense. Just listen to 'Love You' and you can easily imagine that Barrett was at least a passing fan of show tunes. More frequently though, the peppy album sounds more like a predecessor to the early work of Beck (whom tolerates constant comparisons to Barrett) and perhaps the single album most responsible for the irreverent wave of early 90s indie music, 'Long Gone' even evokes tones of Nirvana's unplugged session.

It's well known that Barrett's sense of reason was on the dark side of the moon by the time the unorthodox Madcap Laughs sessions took place. Most songs were first recorded by just Barrett and his guitar, other musicians would then add their pieces over that recording. According to the Wikipedia entry, this process was flawed:

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; a close listen to several tracks [in particular “No Good Trying” and “Love You”] will reveal the backing.

Even the album cover has one of those loony rock anecdotes behind it. According to Malcolm Jones on this very thorough site about the album's making:

One day in October or November I had cause to drop in at Syd's flat on my way home to leave him a tape of the album, and what I saw gave me quite a start. In anticipation of the photographic session for the sleeve, Syd had painted the bare floorboards of his room orange and purple. Up until then the floor was bare, with Syd's few possessions mostly on the floor; hi-fi, guitar, cushions, books and paintings. In fact the room was much as appears on the original 'Madcap' sleeve. Syd was well pleased with his days work and I must say it made a fine setting for the session due to take place.

The resulting music, perhaps because of its subsequent influence, doesn't sound quite as mad as I expected, but there's no denying it's an odd little album, layered with unique strokes of brilliance and happy accidents. Thanks again to Mike for the loan.

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Posted on January 26, 2009

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