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Syd Barrett - Opel CD (album) cover

OPEL

Syd Barrett

 

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2.43 | 54 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The last snapshot of a gifted artist.

Admittedly Syd Barrett is not for everyone, not for a broad audience. His solo material is like the paintings that make people ask "is that really art?" And while the answer is YES I acknowledge that Syd's songs on the surface can be loose, sometimes sloppy, and seemingly "stream of consciousness." But for many of us who look below the surface that is precisely what makes him so appealing. Sometimes beauty can be found in places where one doesn't expect it.

"Opel" is not a compilation of previously released material but more like a different snapshot or take on Syd, just like his two solo albums. To understand this it helps to realize how Syd worked and what his approach was. Most musicians go into the studio and lay down a carefully written piece of music knowing what they want it to sound like and working toward that final product. Syd went in and depending on the day of the week would lay down a dozen versions of the same song, no doubt leaving David Gilmour, Roger Waters, and his other producers scratching their heads a bit. Rather than working toward a preconceived final product they would pretty much pick the best take and go from there with overdubs by others. Or they would try to get Syd to follow previous trackings of the song which usually didn't work too well.

Here is how Gilmour described the process of producing his friend: "The potential of some of those songs... they could have really been fantastic. But trying to find a technique of working with Syd was so difficult. You had to pre-record tracks without him, working from one version of the song he had done, and then sit Syd down afterwards and try to get him to play and sing along. Or you could get him to do a performance of it on his own and then try to dub everything else on top. The concept of him performing with another bunch of musicians was clearly impossible because he'd change the song every time. He'd never do a song the same twice, I think quite deliberately." [D. Gilmour]

And where Dave says they "could have been fantastic" I would correct him by saying that they *are* fantastic. They are simply Syd being himself rather than what Dave's definition of the ideal rocker would entail. I doubt he meant to sound condescending and I believe both Roger and David have since praised Syd's material for its own merit. I know more and more modern performers are citing Syd as an influence and recognizing him by recording his songs.

So "Madcap" and "Barrett" were snapshots in time taking the song versions they wanted then and moving forward. "Opel" presents the listener with different snapshots of some of the songs from the two solo albums as well as some previously unreleased material. The songs that are different versions of Madcap/Barrett songs are not necessarily any better or worse than the original, just different. Syd could take the same song and deliver a totally different experience every time he played it and I would say to his critics: That's a GOOD thing guys, not a bad thing!

My point is this; if you are a fan of Syd's solo work, "Opel" is every bit as legitimate and essential as his two classics. You get some different versions of those old songs and you get about a half-dozen previously unreleased gems, the most notable being the haunting 6-plus minute track "Opel" which washes over you like waves with Syd singing:

On a distant shore, miles from land stands the ebony totem in ebony sand a dream in a mist of gray... on a far distant shore... The pebble that stood alone and driftwood lies half buried warm shallow waters sweep shells so the cockles shine... A bare winding carcass, stark shimmers as flies scoop up meat, an empty way... dry tears... crisp flax squeaks tall reeds make a circle of gray in a summer way, around man stood on ground... The other unearthed gems include "Word Song" where Syd rattles off word after endless word which has nothing to do with the others. Poetry with a British humor to it is how I recall Waters speaking of Barrett lyrics. And as pointed out in the liner notes, several others (Milky Way, Birdie Hop, and Let's Split) are classic Barrett whimsy. "Lanky part 1" is a rare instrumental that while more laid back, certainly reminds one of the Interstellar Overdrive days.

I recommend this album in addition to Madcap and Barrett for those who are fans of Syd. Or for better value get the boxed set "Crazy Diamond" which gives you all three of his albums with even more previously unreleased relics. 3 stars for the site, 4 for me.

Finnforest | 3/5 |

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