Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, these are the names you usually hear when people speak of great musicians who didn't make it into the 70s (well Jimi and Jim did, but not by a lot). But Syd Barrett didn't die, yet paid a higher price; he made it into the 70s, but with what? Those three are to Kurt Cobain, as Barrett was to Richey James. Cobain 'burned out' as the Manic Street Preachers songwriting enigma James disappeared. But Syd Barrett lives on to this day, shadowed by his band's gargantuan success after him. He was the front man for Pink Floyd in 1967, and with them created what is known as one of the greatest psychedelic albums of all time, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
. He penned down two hit singles before that, and their album reached #6 on the UK charts. Who was behind the glorious psychedelic album? Syd was, but after their sudden success the pressure began to build. Barrett would have acid trips up to 4 times a day, sometimes involuntarily. And with all the drugs and Barrett's inner psychological problems, he came crashing down. He wouldn't perform, go through erratic bouts of anger and confusion, the rest of Pink Floyd were fed up and didn't pick him up one night on the way to a show. He was left, abandoned, and The Madcap Laughs
proved that he could no longer do what he did three years before or couldn't do it alone.
The Madcap Laughs
is a scattered piece of work. Some of the songs are unfinished or just stuff that should've been left as studio outtakes. The best example is If it's in you
, where at the beginning Syd screws up the vocals at the beginning. He tells to the producer that he'll start again, basically they could've easily just not have included the first bit. The song, like a few on this album, is just Syd singing with an acoustic guitar with a weak melody and sloppy playing. One of these, surprisingly, is the more well-known song Dark Globe
song, like on If it's in You
, Syd goes way out of range with his weak voice. His voice has drastically worsened from Piper at the Gates of Dawn, seeming less vibrant. Dark Globe is a pretty short song; most of them here are around 2 minutes, only one being more than 3 minutes. Long Gone
is an improvement on the quiet acoustic songs, having a strong melody and Syd singing with more character. The vibrant organ and cheery backing vocals coming in it help Long Gone a lot too, in terms of variety.
The psychedelic feel of Piper at the Gates of Dawn is lost here; Barrett makes his own style of mysterious rock, very different from what others were doing at the time. But while the psychedelic touch is gone, Barrett's enigmatic, child-like lyrics remain. Barrett fans will all agree that his lyrics are the essence
of his records. Well as it is debatable whether Barrett is schizophrenic or not, it's also debatable whether Barrett was a lyrical genius or not. He tells fairy tales or simple stories of common events in life in his lyrics, but in it all he, perhaps unnoticeably, reveals himself and his feelings in the process. Genius songwriter or stoner who questions everything? It's probably hard to decide, given his puzzling mental history.
The Madcap Laughs
starts promising with the song Terrapin
(the only one over 3 minutes), another more varied acoustic song about two fish in love. Catchy little numbers like the static coated No Good Trying
, the honky-tonk Love You
and the peppy but bland Here I Go
prove Barrett can still construct great melodies. Octopus
is one the best songs here, capturing the poppy, frenzied sound of early Floyd. The Madcap Laughs
starts to go downhill in the second half, generally with boring, tuneless, acoustic songs. The album ends on a so-so note, with Late Night
. While it could be viewed as another dull acoustic song, it has some pleasant slide guitars adding a psychedelic touch.
All and all, The Madcap Laughs
probably isn't another brick in the wall of your fine Pink Floyd collection. It doesn't relate to any of Floyd's music (perhaps their pastoral period), so forget about expecting another Piper...
. To actually like the album, you'd probably have to be adapted to Barrett's unpredictable style, which many aren't and rejected his music. But even I can see nothing special or groundbreaking with his debut solo album. If you're a big Syd fan, check this out, you probably won't be disappointed. If you're anyone else, expect nothing more than some catchy songs, if even that. Either way, it takes some listens to get into, especially the acoustic songs. And in conclusion, whether Barrett was forgotten or a burnout, he's definitely one of the most unique musicians out there.
The Madcap Laughs-------------> 2.5 stars