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Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs CD (album) cover


Syd Barrett


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3.67 | 184 ratings

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4 stars The most important thing to realize going into listening to this album the first couple of times is that Syd Barrett really *was* a talented songwriter, and that even without his total mental breakdown he still would have amassed a pretty decently sized following. There are quite a few melodies and chord sequences here that would have worked just fine in a normal setting, with a lyrical combination of playfulness and self-confession that would make quite an impact on their own. The opening "Terrapin" is a great example of this, as it's a rather gentle acoustic ballad that combines playful (and only somewhat nonsensical) lyrics about being a swimming fish and simple (but still kinda clever to my ears) boy-girl lyrics like, "Well oh baby my hair's on end about you." Simple and poppy, yes, but high quality simple-and-poppy, if you ask me.

But of course, it's not the normal aspects of the album alone that ultimately draw people here, but rather the way in which they provide a context for the train wreck of Syd's mind. "Terrapin," by having such 'regular' appeal, is an extremely deceptive opener, as the evidence for this album's weirdness reputation begins in full force with track two. Witness the dark aggressive (and outright disturbing) cacophony of "No Good Trying", whose most revealing moment is the line about the person Syd is singing to spinning around in a car while lights are flashing all around. Witness the hilariously catchy up-tempo, nonsensical "Love You," where Syd and Co. conjure up a vaguely Kinksy piano number and let it linger in the astral plane just long enough to totally screw it up (meant in a good way). Witness ESPECIALLY when Syd's performance (singing, lyrics, guitar, everything) goes totally off the deep end in "Octopus," all culminating in the ecstatic chanting of, "Please leave us here! Close our eyes to the octopus riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide!!!" And so on.

The easiest way, for me at least, to categorize the rest of the album is to divide it into "lucid" and "less lucid." The less lucid parts sometimes happen within the songs themselves (like the weird mumbling freak-out in the second half of "No Man's Land"), but the most frightening one comes when Roger Waters and David Gilmour (the producers) share an outtake from right before Syd's 'proper' rendition of "If It's In You," where Syd starts into the number and ends up hideously off-key in singing, "Yes I'm thiiiiiiiiiiiNNNNNNNNNNKing" and follows by mumbling only semi-coherently. Poor, poor, Syd.

What makes his collapse even more frightening and sad in my mind, though, is the ways the lucid moments show he was fully aware of it. "Dark Globe" is playful and has somewhat off-key vocals, yes, but those are serious chills down my back when he sings, "Won't you miss me? Wouldn't you miss me at aaaallllllll??" Those chills stay when I hear Syd longing for a girl in "Here I Go," in the mournful "Long Gone," and even when he's slowly singing James Joyce poetry to an elementary melody.

Beyond these, there are some songs that aren't really that super, and that kinda negate my original hopes that, even in the wake of such heavy drug abuse, his songwriting abilities would remain completely unscathed. But really, I don't think that's the point. This is an album that can be extremely enjoyable at points, yes, but it's also very sad, and more than that really has no parallel in music of which I'm aware. It's messy, it's playful, it's sad ... it's Syd. And Syd was great, despite himself. This is why I like this album terribly much, despite that I almost never bring it out. If you don't like it, I can understand, but you must also understand that those of us who do like it get a feel from it that's largely indescribable, and thus you should not condemn us or this album.

PS: Somehow, I left out mention of the album's second best song, the closing "Late Night." It's probably the best example on the album of a semi-coherent love song, one that had a great song at its core but got tweaked more than a bit by being filtered through Syd's mind. It brings a tear to my eye each time I hear it.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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