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"I Am The God of Hellfire, and I bring you..."
|Also applicable:||Art Rock, Electronica|
|Starting Period:||The Psychedelic Years|
|Also active in:||The Artsy/Rootsy Years, The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day|
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Arthur Brown is usually regarded as a flash-in-the-pan one-hit wonder, one of the most typical symbols of the swingin' London eccentricity around the times of Flower Power. It's not surprising: for a brief moment in late 1967/early 1968 the man was really big, and in a way, he managed to achieve public notoriety such as Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd (with whom he was very tightly artistically connected) could only hope to achieve, with a big hit under his belt ('Fire') and his debut album, or, to be more exact, the debut album for his band, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, selling pretty well.However, I guess that the main attention at that time was usually paid to Brown the image-maker rather than Brown the music-maker - his proto-glam theatrical shows, with his bizarre robes, helmets, fire plays and face paint, got him the most publicity, and as a result, with the swingin' Sixties over, he found himself cynically discarded as nothing but a nostalgic reminder of that epoch. Since early 1968, Brown has made at least about a dozen albums, working in other bands or as a solo artist, yet it's hard to imagine a less commercially successful art-rocker - none of them ever grated even the lower sections of the charts, and you'd be hard pressed to find enough info on them even at all-encompassing sites such as the All-Music Guide (whose "biography" of Arthur, sure enough, concentrates on the Sixties period and pretty much ignores everything that came afterwards). That's a doggone shame, because Arthur Brown, when assessed as a long-term artist, is certainly much more than just 'The God Of Hellfire'. He's one of the rare breed of artsy gentlemen who can, all through their career, actually combine serious pretentions and complexity with general melodic accessibility, not to mention a solid sense of humour. Brown actually started out in the early Sixties as a white R'n'B crooner, and his love for classic R'n'B, soul, and blues permeates his entire career, starting from the second side of Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and ending with the lovable "educational" covers album he recorded with Jimmy Carl Black more than twenty years later. At the same time, Brown is an avid experimentalist. In the late Sixties, this experimental side would be reflected in his fierce psychedelic recordings and his arrogant scenic image. Later on, he became obsessed with electronics, and while not everybody knows it, he was actually one of the pioneers of the movement, relying heavily on atmospheric grumpy Krautrockish synthesizers and primitive drum machines from as early as the beginning of the Seventies. He then proceeded to work with Electronics Maestro Klaus Schulze on several of his projects, and his hard-to-find early Eighties albums, whether you like 'em or not, certainly sound like nothing else recorded at the time. And again, at the same time there's always a sensitive and tradition-based side to Arthur - as reflected on his pretty 'normal' 1975 album Dance, for instance, or on the already mentioned collaboration with Jimmy Carl Black. He's definitely got one of the better voices in the business; not too strong, but always expressive and soulful, and while some may disagree, I think he's one of the more credible R'n'B interpreters among the white population. So, both sides combined, Arthur Brown is definitely a unique figure, and well worth getting to know - that is, if you can find at least something by the man. I do notice, though, that Arthur tends to polarize people: just about any reactions to the man I've ever seen could be categorized as either complete adoration or absolute disgust. If pressed to choose, I'd select "adoration" as my answer, but, of course, Arthur does have his limits. For one thing, he's easily the most, or one of the most, pretentious artists on Earth, never coming shy of constructing some other mind-boggling universalist we-see-it-all conceptual album, and in those cases where the pretentions aren't immediately dissolved by a healthy injection of some hilarious tongue-in-cheek comment, this can be pretty bad. He isn't much of a composer, either: my suspicion is that for actual melodic ideas, he's been always heavily dependent on his collaborators (such as Vincent Crane in The Crazy World, for instance), and that his main talent lies in his role as overall "director" of the projects he's been involved in, as well as lyrics interpreter. But whatever you think of the guy, there's nobody in rock music sounding exactly like him, and that's to be accounted for. I have yet to hear an Arthur Brown album I could call "generic" or "thoroughly uninteresting", whatever my exact reaction might be. If you ask me, it's high time somebody made an effort to actually reinstate the man and give him his due - even if Arthur has been partially guilty of it himself, seemingly losing any interest in self-promotion since the days of The Crazy World (thus, his early Eighties albums were pressed in extremely small numbers, like a thousand copies or something). I don't rate him too high (high 2, low 3, something like that), but he's been pretty doggone consistent, and you'll definitely meet more praise on this page than, uh, otherwise, so let this be my lil' heartfelt tribute to the long-forgotten God of Hellfire.
Listenability: 3/5. You'd
expect less from a weird experimentalist such as Arthur, but unlike so
many freaks, he doesn't disrespect melody.
Resonance: 2/5. Well, he's not about resonance, but his love with R'n'B leads to quite a few passionate performances.
Originality: 5/5. No denying this one.
Adequacy: 2/5. The God of Hellfire? Yeah right!
Diversity: 3/5. R'n'B and crazyass electronics are pretty much his only passions, but who else combines the two?
Overall: 3.0 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1967Record rating = 10
Soulful and psychedelic at the same time, a forgotten gem of British bizarre culture...Best song: FIRE or COME AND BUY
Track listing: 1) Prelude - Nightmare (mono); 2) Fanfare - Fire Poem (mono); 3) Fire (mono); 4) Come And Buy (mono); 5) Time/Confusion (mono); 6) Prelude - Nightmare (stereo); 7) Fanfare - Fire Poem (stereo); 8) Fire (stereo); 9) Come And Buy (stereo); 10) Time/Confusion (stereo); 11) I Put A Spell On You; 12) Spontaneous Apple Creation; 13) Rest Cure; 14) I've Got Money; 15) Child Of My Kingdom.
This one's marvelous. Too bad Arthur Brown only managed to release one album at the height of his eccentric psychedelic power - maybe had his band endured for several years more and exploited their potential better, they wouldn't have been as entirely forgotten as they are now (too bad). Then again, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown were such a uniquely flavoured, but typical product of the psychedelic epoch that it'd have been hard to imagine them beyond the limits of 1967, at least as that same band - much like Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, a band that only survived by means of entirely disposing with their past musical direction.If Cream represented the "psycho-blues" direction of the epoch, the Beatles represented the "psycho-pop", and Pink Floyd were, what, the "psycho-avantgarde", then The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown were undeniably the "psycho-soul" branch. And don't you shrug your shoulders, these guys knew what they were doing. People might have been mainly gawking at Arthur Brown himself, predicting glam in his bizarre make-up and crazyass helmets putting fire to himself onstage, but fortunately, the music behind the man was fully competent as well. And considering that the band did not even have a guitar player, that's no mean feat. The rhythm section of Drachen Theater (the man was later to join Tony Hill in a rejuvenated and particularly obscure line-up of High Tide) on drums and Sean Nicholas on bass is competent and fully swinging. However, the main force of the band lies in the vocal/organ interplay of Brown himself and Vincent Crane (later on Crane would take on latecomer Carl Palmer and form Atomic Rooster of the ashes of the band). Crane is an excellent organist - please check out my compliments in his address in the Atomic Rooster reviews section - and miraculously, his sound is so thick, full-fledged, riff-based and emotionally colourful that even upon first listen I never even once paid attention to the fact that there's no guitar on the album. And as for Arthur, his vocal talents are brilliantly displayed; suffice it to say that their version of James Brown's 'I've Got Money' on this album is by far the best, if not the only excellent, cover of the man's material by a white outfit I've ever heard - with his histerical and quite authentic-sounding (well, they do seem paranoid, but so does James Brown, brotha) delivery, Arthur simply blows stuff like the Who's cover of 'Please Please Please' out of the water. It's not just the raw instrumental talent that matters, though. The songs are all great as well. It does seem a bit weird to have the first side of the album repeated twice on my CD edition - for some reason, the first five songs are all doubled in mono and stereo, and I don't even know which side is from the original release. But of course, that's a far tinier problem for me than reviewing ten Barclay James Harvest albums in a row, so I don't really mind, and besides, the songs are great and the mono mixes have some cute little details like segues between tracks and small spoken psycho snippets that aren't present in the stereo mixes. There's always a good side to compensate for a bad side, the question is you don't know which side will appeal to you the most at a particular moment. Anyway, the first side seems to be a conceptual experience dedicated to Arthur Brown's thoughts on heaven, hell, human existence and, of course, FIRE! Speaking of which, 'Fire' was the single here, a moderate hit and - so they say - the only song from the album to be sometimes heard on the radio nowadays. 'I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE AND I BRING YOU...' Wonderful beginning, and then the song becomes a rambunctious catchy pop-rocker somewhat along the lines of Frank Zappa's Freak Out!, I'd say. But the rest of that stuff is just as thrilling, even if it does suffer from... er... too much chaos? Don't worry, you'll get used to the chaos. 'Prelude - Nightmare' gets us barrages of moody organ riffage and an audacious near-operatic delivery from Arthur, as the tune slowly works upwards towards a truly red-hot climax of falsetto wailing and organ thunderstorm. 'Fanfare - Fire Poem', true to its name, is dedicated to Arthur reciting his experiences in Hell ('OH IT'S SO HOT IN HERE! LET ME OUT! PLEASE!'), which segues into 'Fire' itself; then there's the hypnotically repetitive 'Come And Buy' with its two-note bass riff and almost Gregorian intonations in Arthur's wonderfully soothing voice ('come and se-e-e-e-e... come and bu-u-u-u-u-y....'); we then continue with the gorgeous orchestrated ballad 'Time', and end in total chaos and shiver-sending hysterical laughter in 'Confusion'. All in all, you may not even like the material, but you gotta admit this is a hell of an active side - always something going on, an atmosphere of total schizophrenia without any kind of 'artificial' whiff that might have characterized a less experienced ensemble. The second side is a bit more 'normal'... which reminds me: if you're really expecting the album to be incredibly far-out and mind-blowing, don't do that, because in pure terms of "psychedelia percentage" it ranks somewhere up there with Disraeli Gears - psycho elements are more like a kind of tasty sauce in which the songs are dipped rather than the essence itself. But that's all right by me, in fact, it's better than anything else. One thing I wouldn't want these guys to be is to sound like the Jefferson Airplane at their worst. Ugh, After Bathing At Baxter's, wink wink... Anyway, the second side is 'milder' - the "soul" element is fully present on the songs here, and besides the already mentioned James Brown cover, they also do 'I Put A Spell On You', with a truly magnificent vocal delivery; Arthur certainly can be said to be trying a bit too hard to sound like his Afro-American brethren, but one could also say that he just adds a little extra weirdness and schizophrenia to the proceedings, and I believe the second variant to be correct. 'Spontaneous Apple Creation' is hilarious and arguably the most daring track on here, replete with numerous bubbly smubbly psychedelic sound effects and everything that goes with it: here's one track to truly blow your mind to, easily challenging the achievements of Pink Floyd in that respect. 'Rest Cure' has an irresistible bass line and a great vocal hook in the chorus, and only 'Child Of My Kingdom' is a slight letdown, mainly because they drag the song on and on for seven minutes when the very force of the album was in it actually being based on short songs - only two of the numbers on the first side last for five minutes, and they're multi-part at that. But that's not a big problem, and the whistling chorus is fantastiwastic anyway. So count this one as a solid 12, weak 13 on a particularly good day: it's not exactly a flawless record, because occasionally I feel the boys are overdoing their tricks, and in the end, there AIN'T no guitar on here, and so I'd understand people who'd call it, like, eh, pretty monotonous or something. Yet a fact is a fact - the songs are all good, the vocal deliveries are authentic and the atmosphere is at the same time derivative AND completely unique. And besides, the album was produced by frickin' Kit Lambert of all people, the bastard. So be sure to track this little puppy down, undoubtedly one of the primary forgotten gems of the Sixties, along with Odyssey & Oracle and S. F. Sorrow and of course, the greatest forgotten album of all time, Sgt Pepper.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Sixties hip ideology mixed with prog pretentiousness and electronic experimentation. That's dynamite.Best song: GYPSY
Track listing: 1) Time Captives; 2) Triangles; 3) Gypsy; 4) Superficial Roadblocks; 5) Conception; 6) Spirit Of Joy; 7) Come Alive.
This record, Brown's third with his new band Kingdom Come (don't mess it up with the heavy metal band Kingdom Come, for Christ's sake!), was produced after a long period of inactivity, but its impact was so heavy on selected minds that up to now, it is regarded as an all-time classic in certain VERY elitist 'alternative' circles. Never mind that Brown's post-Crazy World career has been virtually ignored by everybody; there are records like these, ridiculous anomalies in the course of musical development, that seem to be ahead of their own time when they come out, seriously dated a couple decades later, and eventually become cult favourites, and when a perfectly normal bread-eating musical reviewer like me falls upon 'em he gets stumped.Seriously now, it's one of those - pretty rare - albums I still can't make a definite judgement about. On certain days, it's genius, with Brown's amazing grasp of all kinds of electronic devices, melodicity and his understanding of theme development all major points in my book. On other days, it's total crap, with lengthy astral jams that all sound the same and get real boring. And it's an album where it's really hard to hold the middle ground; it's clearly exceptional, with Brown going out of his way to make a grand, over-reaching artistic statement. The question is, does it succeed or does it fail? I'm afraid I can't give a definite answer... although, as listen upon listen upon listen accumulates in my brain, I slowly tend to dip forward to a positive reaction. Okay, some formal description then. Kingdom Come, apart from Brown, consists of three other people: Andy Dalby on guitar, Phil Shutt on bass, Victor Peraino on keyboards. Where's the regular drummer, you ask? There's none. Apart from occasional percussion work from Peraino, all the drumming is done by Arthur using the 'Bentley Drum Machine', whatever it means; actually, the drum sounds for the most part sound like those synthesized drums that early electronic rockers of German origin, most notably Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, had pioneered earlier in the decades. But it's not like this is a pure Electronica album. It certainly borrows a great deal from the works of Edgar Froese and Klaus Schulze; but this is not electronics for electronics' sake, more like a band that's very heavily dependent on hi-tech synths. The synthesizer landscapes on the album are superior, by the way. 'Time Captives', beginning with forty seconds of basic monotonous rhythmic pounding (isn't it kinda funny how Dark Side Of The Moon came out the same year with the same type of opening), then gradually speeds up and breaks out in a nightmarish series of what I can only call synthesized analogs of nuclear explosions and total chaos, four minutes of tension that grab you tighter than any Tangerine Dream you might care for before the song actually begins. And there are plenty of these energetic explosive moments in different parts of the record as well. The songs themselves... see, there's the rub, there can be some very different reactions to this stuff. Essentially, this is still Mr Brown carrying out his old eccentric line. His lyrics haven't become any more serious; they're still grounded in the same sci-fi outbranching of the hip movement of yore. His idea of a musical atmosphere is still "fantasy shock", rooted in hallucinations and what-not. And his melodies... well, some of them are far more complex, and the extensive use of Mellotron, lengthy song structures and multiple tricky time signature changes show he'd been taking in a lot of progressive influence. But it's still Arthur Brown, the old god of hellfire. Make no mistake about it. He still got his golden mask on. My favourite song on here is the eight-minute 'Gypsy', I guess, with terrific guitar/synth duels and lots of different parts that have different "sci-fi melodies" but are still very well integrated. It's like the ultimate "avantgarde-electronica-prog" anthem ever written! The only band from that era that did anything vaguely resemblant to this stuff would be Amon Düül II, I guess, but they didn't have no Bentley drum machines... The second part is especially creepy, when they go into a fast 'astral boogie' groove with creepy Mellotron/synth riffs establishing Brown's otherworldly vision. But there's also ultracool stuff like 'Conception', for instance. Imagine a cool, slightly funkified bass rhythm backed with light atmospheric synth touches and some muffled babble deeper in the background suddenly coming out of your speakers, and then Brown emitting one HELL of a piercing scream that could well compete with Roger Waters' famous scream... and this becomes a looping groove that goes on for two minutes, and the last scream is electronically encoded and all. Woof. And after that, the perfectly normal hippiesque anthem 'Spirit Of Joy', with a dippy catchy chorus. Perfectly normal, yes, but just listen to those insane swirling synthesizer effects and the old Bentley machine happily trudging along. Heh. And the last track, 'Come Alive', is a real tour de force, with Mr Dalby throwing out gruff hard-rock riffs and battling some more against Brown's "soulful" vocals and the Bentley. Don't think it always sounds good. At times it sounds awful inadequate and pretentious. The saving grace is that this here style is so dang unique I could never give a record like that anything less than an 11; the bad news is that having established this style on one track, Brown carries it through all the others, and if you have an alergy on hi-tech synths, you'll hate the record despite all of its revolutionary aspects. What the heck, it took me SIX listens to even begin appreciating it (granted, I understood that this ain't no one-listen record immediately, but it sure was a long heavy journey). Good thing I finally did. Let me now end this review on a happy note, so generic I could certainly puke, but somehow I feel if I don't put this note up here, there ain't no goddamn record that'd deserve it more, so here goes: "Just open up your mind, buddy, and it'll blow you away". Banality at its extreme, I know, but I can't help it.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
P-poppy? D-dancy? YES! Waltz with Arthur Brown!Best song: QUIETLY WITH FACT
Track listing: 1) We Gotta Get Out Of This Place; 2) Helen With The Sun; 3) Take A Chance; 4) Crazy; 5) Hearts & Minds; 6) Dance; 7) Out Of Time; 8) Quietly With Fact; 9) Soul Garden; 10) The Lord Will Find A Way; 11) Is There Nothing Behind God?
Unbelievable - a commercial album coming from the hands of the maestro, just as he started engaging in truly mind-blowing Seventies progressive music? No more Kingdom Come? Now we're invited to 'dance with Arthur Brown', and not a single tune on this album can be truly called experimental, at least not if we go by Mr Brown's own standards. The album is nearly impossible to find nowadays, and it's equally, if not more, hard to find out anything about the circumstances of its release, so I'm not even sure if this was Brown's attempt to create a true commercial appeal for himself or he just, well, felt like it.All I know is there's a kind of unexplainable, weird coolness flowing from well nigh every track on here, even from the covers. This is dance music, although it's not brainless dance music - for one thing, it's pretty diverse, and your hips are offered some assistance from such diverse genres as waltz, rock'n'roll, whitebread soul, reggae, gospel, funk, and even music hall. And every single of these attempts is moderately - or highly - successful, with impeccable production, Brown's ecstatic vocals, and even hooks galore. But, once again, I reiterate that Dance does not give the impression of a desperate sellout; its joyful eclecticism, weird choice of covers and unpredictable moods and settings of the originals probably couldn't be all that appreciated by the general public, and certainly weren't. For every naive uneventful, almost juvenile number like 'Crazy' on here you get a track entitled 'Is There Nothing Beyond God' or a seven-minute anthemic epic like 'Helen With The Sun'. You really can't tell with Mr Brown, who hasn't changed all that much since the days of Crazy World. He's still an expert, and probably much more so than before, at interpreting soul; I'd take this here cover version of 'Out Of Time' over Chris Farlowe's version any time of day (Mr Farlowe's ventriloquist voice just doesn't sit right at home with me anyway), and the funk-gospelish tinge of Lee Robinson's 'The Lord Will Find A Way' is also a perfect addition to the album - something just clicks in the perfectly right way when the wah-wah guitar meshes with the funky 'Superstition'-like Synclavier and Brown's mighty vocals. How sincere is he, singing 'I know the Lord will find a way'? Who knows? It's one of those numbers when sincerity really doesn't matter all that much, because you get a strong emotional kick either way - you can sway along in ecstasy, or you can paint a wicked smile on your face that says "tongue-in-cheek" and still sway along in ecstasy. I like that ambivalence. Another excellent cover in 'We Gotta Get Out Of This Place', also rearranged as a crash-boom-bang-bombastic number with backup female singers, swirling organs and fat power chords throughout: take it or leave it, but it sure is creative. As for the originals (most written by Arthur, but some by guitarist Andy Dalby, carried over from the Kingdom Come period, and rightly so), they match the covers easily. Occasionally, it almost sounds like Brown inserts a message into the songs - 'Helen With The Sun' and the title track, in particular, sound just as seriously as his stuff on Journey, with trippy echoey production, soaring vocals and serious running lengths, not to mention all the goddamn minor chords. But then you come around and think that Brown never had any true serious message (at least, no message that should be considered on the Kant/Hegel level, that's for sure), and you just enjoy the trippy sound with your inherent inner intuitive introvertion, and that's where the melodic power of the songs really helps. Before I completely stop making sense, though, let me tell you that the so-called "serious" numbers are wisely and wittily interspersed with the defiantly lightweight stuff like 'Crazy' (with cute lyrics like 'I'm crazy for her gravy, I'm crazy for her navy'! and delirious saxophone passages and backup vocals that are so dang cheesy they approach genius) or the ridiculous reggae send-up 'Soul Garden' that's every bit as self-parodic as Led Zep's 'D'yer Mak'er', but for some reason just doesn't irritate me all that much. Maybe it's just because Arthur Brown never whined? One song, though, does stand out solidly and seriously against all the others, and that's Dalby's 'Quietly With Fact'. Waltz tempo, a nice build-up, and some of the most expressive guitar passages on a Brown record ever; Dalby's double-tracked solos in between the verses are economic, majestic, rhythmic and, well, just the kind of guitar solos it takes for a guitarist to master to prove he hadn't actually taken up the six-string for nothing. And, of course, a tempo that switches to rock at the very end - who wouldn't like just a little bit of acceleration at the end of a lengthy waltz? Still, only the very last track really provides a tiny glimpse into the true (or, at least, the most common and usually beloved) nature of Arthur Brown, when the band chants 'is there nothing beyond God?' for two minutes and a half, interrupted only by an unexpected false ending in the middle and punctuated by weird phased syncopated guitar playing and thick, pompous 'mmmmmm' vocal exclamations/incantations throughout. That's 2:25 for you; the rest will certainly muddle and confuse the typical Arthur Brown fan, but then again, if you happen to be an Arthur Brown fan, you gotta be ready for anything, and since I personally dig this record and consider it extremely tasteful, you'd better follow my judgement if you don't want no problems, mister.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Lots of pretentious piano pop. Does that bode OK with you?Best song: FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF LIGHT
Track listing: 1) Storm Clouds; 2) Nothing We Can Do; 3) No; 4) Bright Gateway; 5) Timeship; 6) Come And Join The Fun; 7) Stormwind; 8) Storm; 9) This Is It; 10) Tightrope; 11) Balance; 12) Faster Than The Speed Of Light.
Look, I once fell upon a short review that referred to this album as "the swan song of prog rock", so it's no Get The Knack we're talking of here, boys and girls. If you ask me, though, the swan song of prog rock was sung the day Kansas formed, but let's not get too personal. Anyway, this album, swan song or not, is hardly among Arthur Brown's best. It was recorded by him with old pal Vince Crane, long after the days of Crazy World, and produced by Klaus Schulze, who Arthur teamed with for his Richard Wahnfried-signed Time Actor album.Thus, it's no wonder Faster Than... sounds somewhat similar to the Schulze product. Fortunately, it's not at all repetitive in an ambient/hypnotic way, because the main problem with Time Actor was exactly that - the atmosphere on a particular track could be cool for a couple minutes, all the other times you have to endure the remainder of the track. Faster Than... is also pretty light. Vincent Crane takes the musical reins in his hands completely, and he's not at all keen on synthesizers and technogadgets: pianos and organs and maybe a well-tuned funky Synclavier are all this guy needs. It only remains for Arthur to overdub his excellent vocals and for Schulze to apply his excellent production and presto-changeo... ...this album ain't too good. The songs are kinda blah. Due to the 'lightness' of the sound, it hardly seems as pretentious as, say, Journey (that's Kingdom Come's Journey I mean, not the band Journey!!), but it doesn't seem to say anything particularly interesting that I haven't heard on Journey either. Arthur's sly little metaphysical/surrealistic pranks, set to this light "diet prog" piano/organ background. Does that sound nice to you? If you're a ravenous Brown fan, yes; otherwise, the tracks are REALLY boring. Really light, really hookless, really uninteresting. Not exactly bad, but just uninteresting. I'd make one serious exception for the title track that closes the album; this one looks like it took more work than all the rest of the album taken together. The grand pianos and orchestration merge together really well, and so do the slower and faster parts of the track, culminating in a couple of great great climactic moments where Arthur's ability to hold an exuberant solemn scream for half a minute really helps to get things going. I wouldn't describe the feeling as exactly cathartic, mainly because my psyche never really expects any cathartic moments from a guy as whacked as Mr Brown and I can't take this one as cathartic by analogy at least, but anyway it's pretty close, and easily the best track to ever close an Arthur Brown album. But the rest is kinda bland. Again, you get used to these songs as they go by (and by and by and by), but then again, you get used to anything if that suits your pragmatic utilitarian purposes, so that doesn't count. Sometimes the songs do have interesting ideas, like the mix of straightahead prog with mild funky rhythms on 'Nothing We Can Do'; and sometimes the songs feature interesting theatrical moves, like 'No', for instance, where Arthur seems to be staging a philosophic dialog with his inner self, culminating in yet another abysmal scream as the outer self seems to crumble under the pressure of the inner one (or vice versa?). But for every little bit of curious meek experimentation like that, you get yourself some really dumb, really yawn-inducing vaudeville crap like 'Come And Join The Fun'. And in any case, all the real fun is contained in specific 'moments' throughout. 'Timeship', for instance, has a really cute - and ominous - chorus, the one that goes 'all aboard concern', with a really fascinating piano/string quartet interplay, but what's up with the rest of this song? I can't seem to localize any other hook, and it's six minutes we're speaking of. And I'm not even mentioning the really boring tracks like the generic funk of 'Tightrope' and a couple others. And the short links in between songs don't help matters either. If you ask me, I'm a bit disappointed by Arthur's lack of enthusiasm... I have a deep suspicion Crane is behind most of the music for the album, and the guy never struck me as an ace composer. He was good for the first two Atomic Rooster albums and that's it. He's got good chops and he's got a good sense for stringing notes together, but almost no knack for making the music interesting, you know, to the degree when it makes you stop and scratch a couple hairs off your head and say, 'Whee... duh, I bet Justin Timberlake couldn't have written that'. So yeah, well, the album isn't exactly wasted or anything - let us be fair to the title track, and let us not forget that it is still Arthur Brown, so either you believe he's a whacked genius and thus find something tasty in everything he's done, or you believe he's a naughty self-indulgent fraud and discard all of his records. But even for a whacked genius, it's somewhat of a letdown, and clearly shows Arthur Brown's weirdness and its effectivity are seriously dependent on the guys he is playing with. I miss Andy Dalby, for one. Maybe a solid guitar punch would have helped to liven up the atmosphere. But it's pretty hard to tell.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1981
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
This is... sort of a specific eccentric electronic kind of weird fun. Probably.Best song: SPEAK NO TECH
Track listing: 1) King Of England; 2) Conversations; 3) Strange Romance; 4) Not Fade Away; 5) The Morning Was Cold; 6) Speak No Tech; 7) Names Are Names; 8) Love Lady; 9) Big Guns Don't Die; 10) Take A Picture; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) You Don't Know; 12) Old Friend My Colleague; 13) Lost My Soul In London; 14) Joined Forever; 15) Mandala; 16) Desert Floor.
This one and the following albums are really goddamn hard to find, even if they have been officially released on CD. The original issue of this puppy was limited to a thousand copies in the States, and I have no idea if it was even put out anywhere else back at the time. The CD issue I'm currently in possession of is pretty good, graced by a handful of top-quality bonus tracks, but apart from the Russian pirate market, I have no idea where it can be found at present. In any case, availability doesn't matter. If you have the misfortune of being an Arthur Brown fan, you'll have to dig this out from under the ground.The basic material here was the result of Arthur's collaboration with Blondie producer Craig Leon, who was, as the liner notes state, "laying down basic tracks" while Arthur later overdubbed his part of the deal over them. And while I don't really know how exactly this characterizes Craig Leon and his musical vision, there's no doubt about this being the kind of album that Arthur would really like to make. It's purely electronic, nothing but synthesizers and drum machines, yet, since this is an experimental album, it's more like a Kraftwerk electronic album than a Depeche Mode electronic album, of course. It is pretty formulaic, yet the formula is pretty unique: all of the songs are sorta like little catchy electronic loops over which Arthur sings some "situationalist" lyrics, with subjects ranging from political comment ('King Of England') to a brusque love story ('Strange Romance') to a mystical death scene ('The Morning Was Cold') and so on. And it's really good! If it was really Craig Leon who engineered these loops, he's done a hell of a job. I, for one, can't really get the cyclic funky rhythm of that 'Conversations' track out of my head. Indeed, he's surely learned his Kraftwerk homework to a tee - there's catchiness combined with emotionality here, and the overall product has all the coldness and mechanicality of Florian and Schneider's best product. The sheerest stroke of genius, though, is when he takes the Bo Diddley rhythm and manipulatively converts it into the paranoid drum-machine-led frenzy of the album's take on 'Not Fade Away' - not that you'd recognize this bouncy electronic cycle as a mutant version of the Diddley rhythm, of course, but once you know it is, you start spotting little similarities and that's where the fun begins. A monster of a deconstruction, and nowhere near parodic (like something like XTC's 'All Along The Watchtower'). Out of all the numbers, I like the title track the most, with its pseudo-Eastern overtones such as Brown's wailings in the beginning and the faux-sitar sound all over the place. Of course, I have no idea what the song is about, but there's a certain "hilarious mystery" about the chorus, when the high goofy eccentric voice says "speak-uh?" and the low sneering voice answers "no... tech!". Again, the song owes more than a little to Kraftwerk influences, but perhaps the best way to justify the album's existence is to say that it is almost completely devoid of the "soullessness" of the German pioneers. Due, of course, primarily to Brown's delivery, which is anything but robotic. How do you expect this guy to sound robotic anyway? I mean, occasionally he does try to evade any signs of emotion in his delivery, like on 'The Morning Was Cold', for instance, but even then it's merely a very British, very "cool-headed" narrative tone rather than the intentional stern coldness of what you'd expect from a typical German delivery. There's tons of personality all over the record, so that you could actually feel sorry for the 'King Of England', when Brown recounts his story in that mournful, plaintive voice; 'Names Are Names' is pretty tragic as well, while 'Love Lady' is essentially an upbeat romantic ballad, and pretty catchy at that. In fact, most of the songs are pretty catchy on here, though it takes some time to realize that. When you get a record like Speak No Tech, you don't expect it to be melodic, you expect it to be gimmicky... and it is, but it's also melodic. That's what I like about Mr Brown. It is somewhat hard to sit through all of the material in one sitting, because eventually the sparseness of the sound kind of gets to you, but if you listen to one song per day right after breakfast, you're all set! And yeah, then there's the bonus tracks which rule. They don't have anything to do with the album - in fact, they were all recorded in absolutely different epochs - but at least they're here and not somewhere in unnamed vaults. There's the priceless recording of the R'n'B standard 'You Don't Know', which Brown made as early as 1963, with hideous sound quality BUT already reflecting both of the man's sides: his love for soulful vocal delivery and his experimentalism, because he manages to get his backing band ('The Black Diamonds') to get such a mad technophilic sound of the organ as nobody was getting out in 1963, not to my personal knowledge, at least. There's a soulful rumination on the Eastern Europe revolutions from 1990 ('Old Friend My Colleague', with a gorgeous chorus and some really intimate vocals from Arthur); two inessential, but fun acoustic ballads, also from 1990, with Craig Ross on guitars; a goofy Latin-spriced number, 'Mandala'; and one more dark electronic workout, 'Desert Floor', all good songs. Six excellent bonus tracks. Yummy! Raise that rating to a 9 from me, please.
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Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Goofy and nightmarish at times... and filled to the brim with some of the most bizarre hooks in existence!Best song: BUSHA BUSHA
Track listing: 1) Chant/Shades; 2) Animal People; 3) Spirits Take Flight; 4) Gabriel; 5) Requiem; 6) Machanicla Masseur; 7) Busha-Busha; 8) The Fire Ant And The Cockroaches; [BONUS TRACKS]: 9) Tear Down The Wall; 10) Santa Put A Spell On Me; 11) Pale Stars; 12) Chromatic Alley; 13) Falling Up.
Well this one's certainly one definite friggin' delight of a record. It's like Speak No Tech, but the songs are crammed together with a somewhat more coherent concept and they're all much more fleshed out than before. In fact, Requiem simply blows just about anything Depeche Mode ever wrote out of the water - the decade's best "electronic pop" album, period. Just because it was ten times less accessible than your usual synth-pop of the time doesn't mean that it ever deserved to disappear without a trace. Find this one by all means.As usual, when Arthur tries to hang on to a concept, he doesn't do that in half-measures; here, the main theme is the nuclear Apocalypsis - the state of the world after World War III or something. I don't have the lyrics at hand, so I never bothered analyzing the tracks lyrically, but they're kind of interesting. Lots of weird imagery and some clever puns in places. Yet what interests me so much more is how he manages to actually place these lyrics in the context of an all-out electronic album which is at the same time marvelously catchy and pretty complex. Joined by drum machine expert Scott Morgan and keyboard wiz Sterling Smith, Arthur easily produces the second best album of his career. You only have to get through the atmospheric opener ('Chant'/'Shades'), which is little more than a bunch of goofy spacey post-industrial apocalyptic noises and stuff (nothing that wasn't done better by the already mentioned German electronic meisters), and then you arrive at the delicious meat of the album which took some time to grow on me, but once I got past that stage, I don't know how I could ever live without those songs. 'Animal People'? Half-industrial, half-hard rock drum beat, gruff jarring interconnected synth noises that actually make up a coherent riff, singing that goes from Brown's usual tenor tones to a charming falsetto and back, and then the 'animal people, that's their name' chorus with a perfectly mastered pop hook. Dress this song in generic synth-pop garments and you got yourself a Top 20 hit or something like that. (Of course, only if the "animal people" themselves are able to take the lyrics with the grain of salt). 'Spirits Take Flight', in dire contrast, is fast, jolly, and groovy, the most "friendly" tune on the album, with an ethereal chant of the chorus and delightful chimes on top of the synthesizers. And Arthur phases his voice on that one in true psychedelic fashion, too. Gotta love the effect, as well as all the fast funny synth solos. 'Gabriel' isn't one of my favourites, but the mid-section, with all the squealing synths on top of each other, create an absolutely unique "micro-cosmic" atmosphere that I have yet to meet anywhere else. And the title track, while making a little less emphasis on the hooks in order to better drive home the actual concept, is still pretty fun as far as "rock masses" go - although, with people like Brown, you can never tell when they're being parodic and when they're deadly serious. Ah well, never mind, what I was actually going to say in this review before the need to systematize the impressions totally screwed it up was that the last three songs together form the greatest three-song sequence on any album ever. Okay, well, on any Arthur Brown album, I meant to say. 'Machanicla Masseur' is all gruff (but slick at the same time) industrial chumpin' and throbbin' but with a bunch of unstoppable vocal hooks on top... the desired effect is obviously for the listener to spend the rest of the day chanting "yes sir? yes sir? mechanical masseur! yes sir? yes sir? mechanical masseur!" without ever realizing what it is he is singing about, and if the effect gets lost on you, well it's not Mr Brown's fault. It sure worked on me. Even better is the gritty 'Busha Busha', as fast and tight as 'Spirits Take Flight', but much darker and much less inviting, with the loudest drums on the record and a mischievous, evil-beyond-all-evil synth riff that Depeche Mode would certainly kill for (I can't believe they actually wrote all of their dark mid-Eighties albums without taking a listen to Requiem! I can feel the influence in my bones!) and a raging, ravaging chorus which is supposed to also contain a pun which I can't actually make out. No matter. When Brown puts that distorted radio effect on his voice and starts screaming out the lyrics, the paranoia is pumped up to the limit - your mind is just, like, totally blown. Finally, there's, heh, there's 'The Fire Ant And The Cockroaches', a little corny dialog that's supposed to take place between the above-mentioned insects after the nuclear holocaust when they're the only thing left on the surface of the Earth. And while the repetitive chorus ('children willing to live want the children to grow, not enough just to want to survive, want the children to know') might be a bit preachy - only a bit, though, it's not like you're dealing with Harrison's 'Save The World' here - it is, once again, one of the catchiest choruses in existence, and it provides a fun anthemic quasi-operatic finale to the record. Well, okay, so I understand it was a bit out of time. Electronic music doesn't usually go hand-in-hand with concept albums drenched in late Sixties/early Seventies spirit, and there probably was no audience for this album at the time. Still, this is easily Arthur Brown's most coherent, well-thought-out and masterfully produced piece of music since the 1967 album, and it should be far from the status of a bare footnote or something. And plus, it's one of those rare albums where lovers of the "avantgarde" and the "mainstream" could easily shake hands, so make it wide available, you stupid record companies! Oh, and while the bonus tracks on my CD edition are generally less interesting than the ones on Speak No Tech, there's at least one little gem out there - the comic reggae excourse 'Santa Put A Spell On Me', which is bound to make you at least smile, if not roll over the floor laughing. It's won-ner-ful.
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Year Of Release: 1991
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Mr Brown tutoring his tiny audience on the essence of R'n'B. Let's hear it for Mr Brown!Best song: MONKEY WALK
Track listing: 1) Fever; 2) Monkey Walk; 3) Unchain My Heart; 4) Got My Mojo Working; 5) Smokestack Lightnin'; 6) Hound Dog; 7) Help Me; 8) The Right Time; 9) Stand By Me; 10) The Lord Is My Friend.
Can there be anything special about an album of old blues and soul covers released in the early Nineties? Prob'ly not, even if the participants in the project are notorious - Jimmy Carl Black, as most of you probably know, was the first, and the most famous, drummer in Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention. I seem to remember this wasn't the first time Brown and Black collaborated on a record, but whatever the truth be, it's the first and the only serious example of such a "superstar" collaboration. There's a whole ton of session musicians as well, but I don't know any of them.What this all amounts to is a pretty uneventful, but colourful record which spotlights virtually none of Brown's classic extravagant antiques or experimentation. Just straightahead, direct playing and singing - so some Arthur fans might be disappointed, but then again, it's hard to deny this is one album the guy always had in him, what with all of his R'n'B past and love for the roots of rock'n'roll. So it's hardly totally unpredictable. What does strike me as particularly interesting about this album is the selection of the material. Maybe it's just my stupid imagination, but I have this impression that out of all the gazillions of songs he could cover, Arthur intentionally chose the ones that are usually known to the general public in later, "tampered-with" versions and, on purpose, "reinstated" them as close to the original as possible or, at least, so they could regain some of the original's spirit. Now see here: 'Fever' and 'Hound Dog' are, of course, primarily known in the Presley versions (particularly the latter, with Big Mama Thornton's original completely bastardized in the 'safe' interpretation of Leiber - Stoller; so, of course, Brown reinstates the sleazy downhome original version, even if, funny enough, the song is still credited to Leiber - Stoller in the liner notes, to avoid potential legal hassles). 'Unchain My Heart' has been completely monopolized by Joe Cocker, whose vocal delivery of the song is unbeatable, but the production values on there are typical Eighties adult contemporary. 'Stand By Me' is mainly remembered as a John Lennon tune. And, of course, there's been so many famous interpretations of 'Got My Mojo Working', 'The Right Time', and 'Smokestack Lightnin', it's only natural somebody wanted to brush a little dust off these tunes. This doesn't mean that the songs are carbon copies of the originals, not at all. They're mainly just played in a raw and energized mood, with no slickness involved and no safety belts installed. And Arthur does allow himself a few liberties - like the hilarious rap in the middle of 'Got My Mojo Working', for instance - all of which, however, fit well inside the general free-spirit R'n'B paradigm of the album. In general, I'd say there's a certain "educational" value to this album: people who wanna know their basic Fifties stuff, but are way too afraid to dig in to the old dusty squeaky records of the epoch, can rely on Brown, Black & Blue if they are gonna experience at least a little of that exciting spirit of the times. Of course, that's pretty big words, though; nobody bought this album when it was first issued, and there's even less reason for anybody to be buying it now. Not that Arthur Brown really ever cared about how many records he was selling. Out of the actual songs, I'd say Arthur's take on Paul Braun's 'Monkey Walk' is the bestest, replete with a great 'sometimes she makes me laugh... sometimes she makes me... CRYYYYYYYY!' chorus and all. His insertion of a 'Spoonful' verse within the looping rhythm of 'Smokestack Lightnin' is a great anti-boredom idea as well, and his raunchy delivery of 'Hound Dog' probably could have pleased Big Mama herself, even if she could probably jam Arthur Brown into the wall with one punch o' her big mama fist. And, well, on most of the songs Arthur's vocals are excellent, except that, 'bastardized' or not, the definitive delivery of 'Unchain My Heart' still belongs to Joe Cocker, once and for all, and so Brown's version is kinda puny compared to that. Other than that, I don't know what to say... except to comment on the last track, the only "original" on the album, called 'The Lord Is My Friend" and delivered as a fast gospel duet with Demethea McVay; really don't know what to do with that one, as it's kinda generic for the first minute and a half and then it all gives way to Brown's boring monolog on the paradox between the Lord being one and the existence of multiple monotheistic religions in the world. As usual, you never know if Mr Brown is being serious or if he's just taking a big goof on his audience. Personally, I'd probably prefer a couple more covers instead, especially considering that the album is so goddamn short (just over thirty five minutes). Nevertheless, it's a good album. Good passionate R'n'B interpretations. Players all qualify, too. No jammin' or show-offing none, just your good old jazzy guitars, brass section, and inspired drumming from Jimmy Carl Black (far less complex than what he did with the Mothers, but at least I'm a-guessin' he's getting just as much fun out of it, if not more).
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