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The Arthur Brown Band - The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown  CD (album) cover

THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN

The Arthur Brown Band

 

Proto-Prog

4.07 | 134 ratings

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Frankingsteins
3 stars This bizarre duet of organs and inhuman wails, with some drums and a bass guitar filling in underneath there somewhere, remains one of the classics of late 60s psychedelic rock. Deleted fairly swiftly on LP, this quirky oddity of rock and reason was released on CD in 1991 and is still readily available today, although you may have to look pretty hard.

Against all likelihood, this self-titled debut album from Arthur Brown's first band spawned a hit (#2) single with the energetic 'Fire,' commonly regarded, by people who judge music in terms of popularity, as one of the strangest one hit wonders in music history. At least, before the 80s came along ('Shaddap You Face' anyone?) Unfortunately, nowhere else on the record is the energy so vibrant and the musicianship as frantic as in those (in)famous two-and-a-half minutes.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown takes its cues from blues rock, evidenced by the cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' hit 'I Put a Spell on You,' as well as more laid back R 'n' B style. Again, this is supported by the album's second cover song, 'I've Got Money' by James Brown. This album is psychedelic in a different way from the dreamy soundscapes and mellow singing of The Who, The Beatles and Pink Floyd, opting for a more concise and speedy mood most of the time.

The lack of guitar sets this album apart from those of its contemporaries, and the resulting over-compensation of Vincent Crane's organ makes it sound particularly dated today, as well as weirdly compelling. The album's main strength lies in the vocals of its frontman; Arthur Brown still reportedly possesses his famous four octave range, and he doesn't shy away from demonstrating it throughout this record, occasionally moving through his whole range in the space of five seconds. Even if you don't want The Crazy World of Arthur Brown to mean anything more to you than one stupid hit single, this proto-prog album at least has historical significance. And, um. not much else.

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The first half of this album forms an infernal psychedelic suite that sees Arthur Brown indulging his theatrical side. For no reason whatsoever, these five tracks are added in monaural form as bonus tracks on the CD release and placed at the start of the album, meaning that listeners have to skip to track six. Crazy. In any case, this is the more impressive of the album's two halves (or sides if you're stuck in the days of vinyl), although its rather grand scope and repetition may cause the more chilled second half to be more suited to casual listeners. In this suite, Brown describes a pleasant riverside walk becoming a descent into fiery Hell. It's sort of like Dante's Inferno, but without the poetic justice and the moral; Brown seems more concerned with presenting Hell for Hell's sake, although record burners can hold it right there, as the lyrics are never allied with the Satanic cause. Why is it so cold in here?

To enhance the scale of the piece, the band recruits what sounds like a small orchestra, but could easily be a couple of mates they brought into the studio. The 'Prelude' is an idyllic, pastoral orchestral opening before the organ and subsequently the vocals kick in, following sound effects that sound suspiciously like snoring (some kind of comment from the impatient, hyper-energetic vocalist?) A trumpet fanfare bridges the first and second songs, but no such transition is made from the spoken word poetics of 'Fire Poem' to the hit single that follows. Brown's vocals become demented in track two, a nice precursor to the only famous song he has ever done.

Brown's terrifying announcement opens the pointless but immensely enjoyable Hellfire anthem. His pseudo-croon that dominates thereafter is haunting and compelling, and works brilliantly alongside the piping organ, which is later usurped by parping trumpets. The break-off in the middle of the song builds anticipation for the reprise of the chorus, especially as the vocals become higher and higher as Arthur Brown's soul burns in the fires of Hell.

"God brother, you lie." As a striking contrast to the opening of 'Fire,' the longer, slower and calmer 'Come and Buy' works excellently in the arrangement and is one of the best songs on the album. The funky vocals as the song speeds up, and eventually the reprise of musical and lyrical themes from 'Fire Poem' and 'Fire' makes this a great proto- prog song. The same goes for 'Time/Confusion,' which begins slowly, aided by something like a xylophone, and features more poetic lyrics before reflecting back on the album thus far and drawing things to a fitting end. Of course, there's still half an album to go.

'Spontaneous Apple Creation' boasts the uncontested best song title of the album, but is one of its weaker moments; I don't know whether it's intentional, but the old- fashioned organ and plodding bass and drums really retreat to seaside music territory here. Adding Brown's fairytale lyrics to the mix, this sounds more like an old fairground ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach than a song worthy of peoples' time. By contrast, 'Rest Cure' is a pretty good song that anticipates David Bowie in its low range English croon and is led by the bass for a change, plucking along in place of the irritating organ. This song is perhaps the most inherently commercial on here, so it's a shame it wasn't given the same attention as the hit single.

The album concludes with the long and progressive 'Child of My Kingdom,' featuring everything from mellow vocals to an extended instrumental jam session that actually gives the drummer something to do for once. It's nice to hear Brown whistling some of the alternating verse lines at seemingly random intervals, and it's almost sad to hear the instruments fade out after seven minutes. The cover songs 'I Put a Spell on You' and 'I've Got Money' are covered well, to the extent that they sound like they belong on the album rather than on someone else's, and although they fit in well when given the organ treatment, it would have been nice to hear some more original material.

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This is a fairly unbalanced album, clearly divided into two uneven halves, neither of which comes anywhere close to perfection. The 'Fire' cycle isn't particularly daunting, but does get a bit repetitive, and once it's all over with and the mini-orchestra have been sent home, the resulting songs sound shallow and simple. Based on the listener's orientation to this kind of thing, this will be a good or bad move; after all, most people will have bought this album based on a very short hit single, and probably didn't anticipate its position in the middle of a 'play.'

The impressively educated Brown's mundane, Monty Python style English name may not draw in the kids as much as those of the shock rockers he would directly inspire, most notably Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper, the latter of whom reportedly stole Brown's make up ideas. Fortunately his stage presence and legendary theatrics with flaming helmets and cranes more than compensate, and have left a lasting impression: despite never achieving high sales of any albums hereafter, Brown still sells out every concert venue today.

Brown's vocals are something pretty special, but are only supported by primitive instruments here. Vincent Crane may be admired for his organ skills, but it still sounds like a supporting instrument struggling to take the place of a guitar. Nevertheless, he and Brown came up with some great songs here, and never burdened themselves with trying to be sensible, coherent or popular. I wonder how the hell 'Fire' happened?

Frankingsteins | 3/5 |

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