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The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown - Strangelands (1969)

O ikonie brytyjskiej muzyki psychedelicznej, jak i psychedelii w ogóle - Arthurze Brownie nie będę pisał szczegółowo, bo wszystkie informacje są łatwo dostępne w sieci. Znany jest przede wszystkim ze swojego sztandarowego hiciora "Fire" z 1967 roku pochodzącego z debiutanckiej płyty. Album jest uważany obecnie za kanon rocka i faktycznie - nie ma się do czego przyczepić. Jest to płyta dobra. Jednak późniejsze dokonania Browna odbiegają znacznie od realizacji nastawionych głównie po to, by zaistnieć lub utrzymać się na rynku. I tak też się stało z płytą "Strangelands", która teoretycznie w dyskografii powinna być druga - zrealizowana w 1969 roku - ukazała się dopiero w roku 1988 wydobyta z pomroku dziejów przez wytwórnię Reckless. "Strangelands" nie należy do płyt łatwych i przyjemnych. Brown zafascynowany ideami ezoterycznymi snuje przedziwne opowieści, a tekstom towarzyszy mroczna i trudna muzyka, w wykonaniu nie byle jakich artystów.

Arthur Brown – vocals
Pete Townshend – associate producer
Vincent Crane – arranger, keyboards
Kit Lambert – producer
Sean Nicholas – bass guitar (was later known as Nicholas Greenwood)

Strangelands is that album’s follow-up, recorded in 1969 but lost in the wilderness for a further two decades, before earning a 1988 release on the little known label, Reckless Records.

Without wishing to sound too harsh on old Arthur – whose original outing and the later Kingdom Come albums all make the HFoS approved list – it’s not difficult to see (or hear) why this didn’t find favour with Polydor when first hurled in their direction.

You want tunes, lyrics and some notion that there’s a point to all this? No dice! You want Arthur to sing and establish a logical progression between this and the previous album? Still no dice! You want an incoherent jumble presided over by a ranting lunatic? Be my guest.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown had undergone some changes since the 1968 debut. Gone was keyboardist Vincent Crane, whose swirling riffs carved out the characteristic sound upon which Arthur Brown could layer his crazy, yet tuneful, histrionics. Also gone was bassist Nick Greenwood, choosing to join Canterbury scenesters Steve Hillage and Dave Stewart in Khan, along with the production team of Kit Lambert and Pete Townshend. With Brown and drummer, Drachen Theaker, taking over sound desk duties, the discipline was gone and the sheer chaos that had brought the 1969 US tour, as well as the original band, to a premature close was allowed free reign in the recording studio.

Hence, Strangelands (which was also the name the band was now trading under) is a meandering cacophony of freeform, directionless playing, interspersed with the maniacal ravings of the crazy one himself, who seems to be labouring under the misapprehension that the between-track shouty snippets that acted as links on the first album can make an entire record on their own. It seems the only attempt to produce something listenable and in the vein of the Arthur Brown we knew and would grow to love, with the formation of Kingdom Come, is on ‘Planets of the Universe’, where new organist Jonah Mitchell is given a chance to shine, while Brown sidelines the relentless torrent of hellfire and brimstone vociferation and has a crack at singing again, albeit in his own, bizarrely unique manner.

When it comes to Arthur Brown, you generally know what you’re letting yourself in for. Semi-operatic vocal stylings; musical pyrotechnics, both metaphorically and literally; and something completely different to the norm: avante garde, progressive, stark staring mad.

Unfortunately Strangelands forgets the other two ingredients that knit this formula successfully together. Humour and charm. Without it, your portrayal of the near-rabid, shopping precinct, bible-bashing firebrand, sounds just like that and nobody wants one of those bellowing down their lugholes like a Brian-Blessed-o-gram from the Young Christian Society fundamentalist wing.

It’s worth noting that Strangelands is presented as a suite, divided into four, haphazard portions: ‘The Country’, ‘The City’, ‘The Cosmos’ and ‘The Afterlife’. When the final part arrives with its lo-fidelity cover of Jody Reynolds’s 1958 hit ‘Endless Sleep’, you can almost hear the audible sigh of relief… Hang on a minute… that was me. But you get the idea.

This Esoteric reissue of Strangelands also includes the mini-album T on the Lawn for 3, by Rustic Hinge & the Provincial Swimmers, the band that emerged from the dying embers of TCWoAB, following Arthur Brown’s departure to form Kingdom Come. This features some particularly fuzzy and strung out psychedelic rock, which, even with the inclusion of Mellotron on ‘Crystallised Petard’, still seems lacking in something. Even the arrival of High Tide, resplendent with Simon House’s sawing violin riffs, fails to hold water. Maybe it’s because by the time they get their shot, the listener is drained of enthusiasm by what has passed before. This one was, anyway.

Aside from ‘Planets of the Universe’, I suggest sticking to the original TCWoAB album and the Kingdom Come releases, also reissued by Esoteric. Far better listens.

Right then. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds beckons. A soothing foil to 40 or so minutes of being shouted at by a man in an unconvincing tin-foil mask and cremated titfer.

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