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Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs CD (album) cover

THE MADCAP LAUGHS

Syd Barrett

 

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3.64 | 143 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
3 stars I admit to having mixed emotions about the semi-legendary debut solo album from PINK FLOYD's original Piper and Crazy Diamond: it's a fascinating document of an artist's damaged psyche, but in a sometimes horribly voyeuristic sort of way.

The disarming innocence and literate whimsy that made those early Floyd pop songs like "Matilda Mother" and "Lucifer Sam" so memorable is still very much in evidence, from the jaunty "Here I Go" to the haunting "Golden Hair", the latter borrowing its text from a poem by James Joyce. And the naked simplicity of the songwriting and arrangements, often featuring Barrett alone on acoustic guitar, stands in welcome contrast to the increasingly baroque avant-garde experiments his ex-bandmates were designing at the same time, in albums like "Saucerful of Secrets" and "Ummagumma".

But too much of "The Madcap Laughs", from the album's title and cover photo to the inside sleeve art and layout, arguably exploits Barrett's chemical dependence. In a more cynical sense the album might almost be marketing his mental illness.

To cite one obvious example: compare the song "Dark Globe" as it appears here with the more accomplished earlier take released years later on the "Opel" compilation. The discarded original was a gentle, bittersweet ode to unrequited love ("Oh where are you now, pussywillow that smiled on this leaf?"). But in the version ultimately chosen for the album poor Syd had to frantically reach for notes several octaves above his natural vocal range. And including the ragged false starts to the song "If It's In You" does nothing to illuminate the creative process, beyond encouraging an unhealthy measure of embarrassment and pity.

At its best the album reveals something of the same inadvertent Outsider Music quirkiness and purity of expression heard in The Shaggs' "Philosophy of the World" LP (referenced in my PA avatar, and by coincidence recorded at around the same time as "The Madcap Laughs"). But the enduring myth of Syd Barrett as a visionary poet destroyed by the callous demands of the music industry is just that: a myth and nothing more, built from years of sentiment, sympathy, and rose-tinted revisionist history.

His actual recorded legacy is a little more ambivalent. In the cold light of hindsight this first album has to be considered only a fossil of Barrett's once vital talent, but like any surviving fossil it remains either an invaluable artifact or a unique, blue-moon curio, take your pick.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |

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