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Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs CD (album) cover

THE MADCAP LAUGHS

Syd Barrett

 

Prog Related

3.64 | 144 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Close our eyes to the 4.5!

Nobody just starts listening to a Syd Barrett album "for the heck of it." Know what I mean? Nobody sees the name "Syd Barrett" on the prog-related list and goes, "Hmm, he sounds interesting. Think I'll pick up this here Opel album."

No. People listen to Syd for a couple of reasons, and they're all basically related. There is the Floyd fan seeking roots, the psychedelic fan seeking expansion, and the freak fan seeking fun. I myself was in the latter category; I'm not the biggest fan of early Floyd, but I'd heard that Syd was totally insane on these records. So, I gave it a shot.

And what I discovered was something that was...remarkable. No, Syd did not turn out to be a mini-god. And yes, Syd was still totally bonkers. But the man had talent, both in his song writing and guitar playing, and perhaps he honestly WAS a genius under all that LSD. But it's a special kind of genius.

"Terrapin" is a droning blues piece that'll either turn you off the album or welcome you into it. I find it kind of charming; it's so relaxing, and the lyrics are a cute mix of psychedelia and boy-girl stuff. "No Good Trying" picks up the psychedelic vibe though, with nice backing by the Soft Machine, and some interesting guitar work.

"Love You" is the first spark of real genius; a bizarre piano pop song with frantic keyboards in the background. Coupled with funny love lyrics and a bouncy melody, it's great. "No Man's Land" is just plain creepy, with the fuzzy guitar attack and Syd's bleak lyrics. The Soft Machine does a perfect job of backing the Crazy Diamond too. And when Syd just starts blabbering at the end? Spooky-cool.

Perhaps the best song on the album (it's kind of hard to tell) is "Dark Globe," just Syd and his acoustic. The first half is funny in a freak show kinda way, but midway through, the fun stops; and the second time Syd tiredly yells, "Won't you miss me, wouldn't you miss me at all?" it sounds like he's begging me, me of all people, not to forget him when he's gone. Gone from where? The studio? Sanity? Life? The room? With Syd, it's hard to say, but chilling all the same.

Then, in classic Syd role-reversal, "Here I Go" ends up being a tiny Britpop masterpiece. I dig the funny vaudeville melody and the self-depreciating, yet hopeful, lyrics. Too bad it fades out as the solo starts up. No such luck with "Octopus" though; Syd is total bonkers mode here, screaming out crazy lyrics with inhuman zeal, all backed by an over-the-top psycho pop melody that you can't get out of your head for days.

"Golden Hair" is probably the most "avantgarde" thing on the record; at least, purposefully. The musical backing is sparse, just an acoustic and some cymbal effects, and Syd reading the Joyce poem with mystical undertones. "Long Gone" one ups it though; just a depressing acoustic and a creepy organ that builds until Syd's screaming the chorus. And then, it plops back his soft drone and strumming. Creepy.

"She Took a Long Cold Look" is the album's only real misfire. Syd and his acoustic, which is nice, but it's fairly tuneless, and what's up with those pauses? Was Syd forgetting his place? "Feel" also feels a little half-baked, but it shows promise, with interesting, painful chord changes and interesting, pleading lyrics.

"If It's In You" opens with a bizarre start and stop Syd mumbling and off key singing. But somehow, when the song starts, Syd manages to pull off the high notes. That is, until halfway though the song when he starts abandoning weird rhymes in favor of inhuman jabbering. And then we close with "Late Night," a little strange after all the "Syd solo" spots with just the acoustic. Still though, the soft ballad is more together, with a cool slide guitar backing and introverted lyrics, and in a private sort of way, is very touching.

Now, I realize that a high four star rating is a lot for this mess-terpiece, but it's a special rating for a very special record. The Madcap Laughs might actually be the most unique record ever recorded. Syd is far from the world's greatest guitarist, but no one played like he did, electric or acoustic.

Also the lyrics; no one ever wrote lyrics like Syd, and probably never will again. I mean, half the time he's hardly there and it's psychobabble, but the other half, brrr. Syd has a way of really digging into you and making you care about his descent into madness (witness "Octopus," which goes from "Please leave us here, close our eyes to the octopus rise!" to "Isn't so good to be lost in the woods? Isn't it good, so quiet there?").

In fact, the reason that it's so hard to choose a best number off the album isn't that they're all so good; no, Madcap is definitely better than the sum of its parts. Alone, the songs are either bizarre curios, or bizarre "lost gems," but hardly masterpieces. But together? They create a single, moving, unstoppable monster of...of God knows what, but I like it.

Half the fun of Madcap is Syd's skill, and the other half is Syd's uniqueness. On the surface, this record sounds like a lot of other psycho-folkies out there. But underneath, it is a work of genius; a painful portrait of someone going insane, who pretends there's hope, but just wishes that we'll remember him when he's long gone.

The Whistler | 4/5 |

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