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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 | 135 ratings

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ExittheLemming
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Lost Soul Music

Despite Brown's perennial citation as Godfather to the infant Prog, I'm not so sure he can continue to explain away the lingering cot deaths suffered by the likes of Yes and ELP or even that flushed denial behind which a Crimson prince's defence rests from charges of filling crushed velvet diapers. Arthur has always been an entertainer first, an artist second and an apologist for the worst excesses of his beneficiaries a distant third. It's only within the cosmiche cul de sac of 'Prog' that the description 'psychedelic soul singer' would be considered a pejorative one. This is unequivocally popular music albeit with subject matter, imagery, structural and textural innovation hitherto unprecedented at the time of it's release.

Spoiler warning: people whose taste you routinely abhor as crassly venal and shallow will 'dig' this record just as much as you do but for different reasons. Deal with it and move on esoteric hippy snobs. My dad is 81 years young and he loves this album hugely (his only reservation being that yes, the singer is certainly 'doolally' and that no, he wouldn't, even though he is on fire)

Arthur asks: what does Pop music want to be when it grows up? His question went largely unheeded but received the best response to date perhaps by Genesis, who on both Get Em Out By Friday and Supper's Ready share that quintessentially English take on rock with a vestige of R'n'B soulfulness (via the Gabriel tonsils) together with the storytelling elements provided by theatre that manage to avoid kitschy camp until the Lamb surrendered the keys to the Shari Lewis panto wardrobe.

Such is the convoluted, fractious and contradictory nature of how this album came into being, it might serve us well to consider several factors in its appraisal. Like most people, I cling to the comforting idea that my favourite records of all time are the painstaking result of innovative and visionary thinking, attention to detail and unswerving integrity. Well cherubs, we can spit all those pacifiers straight out of the cot now methinks. From what I can glean from a variety of competing sources, the only clear-cut consensus on offer here is that it's a miracle this dissolute, unwashed, inept, petulant and naive conglomerate of talents produced an enduring masterpiece as opposed to something that sounds like a fire in a pet shop. Producer Kit Lambert rejected the original band recordings featuring Brown, Crane, Theaker and Greenwood and opted instead to re-record the entire project in a variety of London studios using alternate personnel of his own choosing. These included John Paul Jones, Jon Hiseman, Aynsley Dunbar and John Marshall (Soft Machine) plus the addition of orchestral parts prepared by hired arrangers. It seems that Lambert and 'associate producer' Pete Townshend had also rejected the original orchestral arrangements submitted by Crane and despite what some Crazy World band-members lament as cheesy 'Danger Man' music in their place, I find the brass, flute and strings to be unfailingly inspired, commensurately subtle or dramatic when required and lend proceedings an elegant sheen that sits in perfect counterbalance to the gritty R'n'B grunt of the band. If such prevarication were not dispiriting enough for what was a new and untried group, the last straw must have been that 'executive decision' by Track Records to revert back to the original band recordings for the final release after much needlessly expensive delay. Organist Vincent Crane grew up very quickly at around this time and came to see Lambert's cynical modus operandi at close quarters: keep the band in debt so they can't leave.

Anyone who had attended the earlier 'Vincent Crane Combo' playing a gig in Brighton featuring Arthur circa 67 would have been privy to a phenomenon distinctly at odds with the music we are being asked to consider herein:

'It was very jazzy at that point' witness and future Crazy World drummer Drachen Theaker recalls. 'It was basically Vincent doing his set with Arthur squawking over it, coming on in a variety of different costumes and behaving like a maniac!' Crane had his reservations about this new teaming, but concluded: 'I felt compelled to work with this mad bastard, because he had a rapport with and control of the audience that was quite remarkable'

For me, this ability to intuit and manipulate (for benign purposes) a room full of potentially implacable, indifferent or discerning souls is a hard won skill that only entertainers of the calibre of Arthur Brown, Alex Harvey, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Ray Davies, Peter Gabriel and Alice Cooper could pass muster. Crane's admission here goes right to the heart of Prog's innate weakness i.e. it was mainly populated by long winded instrumentalists who couldn't string two words together.

Brown's sorcerer's apprenticeship was served during a residency at the Moulin Rouge in Paris where he entertained, amongst other luvvies from the transiently fab and groovy 'A' list, Ornette Coleman and Salvador Dali. It was during this wood-shedding period that Arthur devised and refined many of the performance techniques and ideas that were to provide such an irresistible momentum to his already burgeoning reputation. The flaming head-dress, mummer play/death mask face paint, multiple costume changes and theatrical props all became inseparable from the live experience that concert goers were immersed in by the Crazy World entourage. (not to mention that curious elbow flailing dance of his that resembles a much taller and skinnier Chubby Checker with Irritable Bowel Syndrome) If you want to catch a glimpse of what the Crazy World of Arthur Brown sounded like before the patronage of Kit Lambert and Pete Townshend then cast an ear to Strangelands, that abandoned and mercifully unreleased 2nd album that betrays it's lineage of free-form/jazz w.a.n.k extemporisation be-getting total freedom for those not remotely equipped to deal with same. Say what you like about Kit Lambert, but he had a nous for polishing unrefined talent despite not possessing a sliver of musical ability in his entire junkie soul. The 60's is not wanting for similarly flamboyant partying svengalis like Oldham, Epstein, Stratton-Smith et al and it's hard to imagine the longevity of a body of work by the counter culture without the intervention of those its creators habitually considered as irredeemably 'square' on first acquaintance. Pop group managers and midwives have some unlikely common ground: they often have perfectly justifiable cause to slap the baby. I know it's just pure speculation but I've long harboured the suspicion that the discipline, brevity, accessibility and imagery harnessed by this music was the result of a bartered compromise between the competing agendas of Brown/Crane and Lambert/Townshend. Art v Rock - not even Mrs Schoenberg wanted to f**k Schoenberg

Left to their own whooshy and sparkly devices, many a blurred visionary from the late 60's would have quickly disappeared up their own backside without the tutelage and business acumen provided by the aforementioned reviled 'suits'

It's unlikely that Mr B would have been afforded more than a passing asterisk in the margins of popular music shorn of the global smash hit represented by Fire. Denied that launchpad to what should have been a stellar trajectory fell considerably short of allowing Arthur to escape the wearying and stifling gravitas of our forbidding planet. Sued for stealing the melody from an avowedly drippy love song created by Messrs Finesilver and Kerr called Baby, You're a Long Way Behind (how hideously apt, like a chainsaw franchise suing a beaver) Arthur and Vincent lost most of their royalties as a result and waved goodbye to unforetold riches and welcomed home the ageing bulimic calf. I've never yet managed to locate a version of the purported original, so it begs the question: how many songs that have come to be considered emblematic of an entire decade were written in F minor?

Word to the wise Prog kinder: when listening to this record you should dispense entirely with those spurious 'mono version' tracks that clutter up most CD versions of this release. Program yer CD spinner to play from the sexy stereo Prelude Nightmare right through to Child of my Kingdom, pour yourself a measure of success, unleash the hush puppies, take your ears off the hook and simply luxuriate in one of the finest 40 (ish) minutes of your life you can enjoy as a willing and fully clothed accessory to crimes against inhumanity.

What strikes many as odd or unusual about this album is the complete absence of guitar and that the iconic single Fire is but just one part of a song suite spanning the entire first side of the original vinyl LP. This had the working title Tales From The Neurotic Nights of Hieronymous Anonymous and that Townshend and Lambert declined to use such was probably wise. They correctly surmised that discerning and inquisitive listeners i.e. you lot, would trace the line if provided with just the dots. Joe Blow on the other hand, does NOT find descriptions of - thematically linked albeit discrete song/spoken word sections that portray an individual soul's descent into the infernal region a.k.a hell y'all- particularly inviting or helpful. Joseph B would be perfectly justified in considering such a menu item to be 'the veggie choice' offered by those who describe a spade as a 'manual earth moving implement'. Here is where we meet the kernel of genius at the heart of Arthur Brown and it is hewn from the same stuff as that of the seemingly incongruous Roger Waters from Dark Side of the Moon i.e. both articulate very elusive and unpalatable ideas in such terms that they can be understood by anyone provided they have a pulse (the price of your entry is sin) The intellect is not required here to appreciate a moral fable that circumvents entirely the subsequent demarcation of the arts into hierarchical consumer 'brands'. There are those in our midst who naturally fear such deviant atavism as how else can they either champion or pour scorn on such music that stubbornly refuses to belong to any particular aisle in their upmarket ubermarket?

One of the pitfalls of mainstream success is that the particular is much more often confused with the general e.g. if a demographic think you are the devil and have come to devour their toddlers, drink granny's blood, molest her kittens and defecate in the local church fount, who are we to disabuse them of this deluded but lucrative notion? Alice Cooper, who I love to bits, has exploited this phenomenon in the pursuit of a very long and rewarding career.

Thus in the stubborn and unyielding popular consciousness, Arthur will forever be inextricably linked with the demonic iconography of what has since mutated into a particularly obtuse niche of the market place where confirmation bias is a plus (go figure hirsute paleface) Like anyone who exemplifies a strident humanitarianism wedded to an unstinting belief in the inviolability of the individual spirit, Arthur would be saddened by the idea of 'Satan' having been reduced to Rawk's favourite cartoon fetish villain. Let's be clear: the hero depicted in Arthur's tale is NOT a moral monster called to atone for his transgressions or a life of feckless debauchery. The unnamed protagonist is Everyman, he is one of us, an ordinary chap who has in parts, an innate and learned moral compass, is flawed but tries to be a good guy, doesn't shove his values down anyone's throat and probably sends his Mum flowers on her birthday. The real sin or crime that Arthur warns us about so brilliantly and thrillingly is that of unthinking conformity, consumerism (Come and Buy) self serving belief systems (God brother, you lie) and pretty much like everyone in our orbit, we would prefer your sincerity to your virtue. I would even forgive the Welsh (provided they emigrate).

I do have serious reservations however about the lazy association of Gothic that is thrown like careless confetti in the direction of this wondrous marriage of soul and psyche. I mean, it's got some spine tingling Hammond devilment on it which in places mimics a liturgical feel yes, but I can't see Arthur's corpse paint from where I'm sitting and as drummer Drachen Theaker stated:

It was a wild act, but it wasn't that wild musically. We were just an R&B group underneath. It wasn't like the Pink Floyd, because we took our cue from the whole US mid-sixties soul music invasion. What made it psychedelic was Arthur's acting ability and the fact that Vince and I just overplayed to death at gigs. We made a hell of a noise for two people

Crane agreed: Arthur was a soul singer then. We did psychedelic soul music and that's why you've got things like 'Money' on the album. A lot of people used to think he was coloured

Did you know that Chuck Berry's record sales declined when his predominately white audience came to realise he was black?. Is the opposite true for Arthur Brown? Even spookier is that the so-called God of Hell-fire was forced into semi-retirement during the 70's to become a (gulp) carpenter. Although it's true that the Crazy World of Arthur Brown presaged Prog, it should be abundantly clear by now that the good will 'oft be interred' with the formers bones (even those painted on for Top of the Pops)

ExittheLemming | 5/5 |

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