The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

Backtrack, Vol. 12

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It is one of the great unanswerable questions in '60s rock history: no, not whatever happened to Syd Barrett...whatever happened with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown? One moment, there they were, on top of the (under)world with a number one smash, a Top Ten album, and an entire career of fire-retardant headgear stretching ahead of them...and the next, they were foundering around with a string of ever more underperforming 45s and collapsing in disarray before the year was up. Is that any way to treat the God of Hell Fire? Backtrack 12, reiterating the Crazy World's eponymous debut album, appeared in November 1970, just two years after "Fire" catapulted the band to gory glory, and already the group was forgotten. But, for anybody looking to upgrade their old mono version of that album (and everyone bought mono back then -- it was cheaper and whoever imagined stereo would take off like it did?), the one-pound purchase price was as attractive as any other offer you were likely to get. And it was a wonderful album to boot. Side one is where the real meat lies, a suite of songs that travel through the flame-licked horror of the Crazy World's fiery nightmare, nailed by Vincent Crane's stygian organ and Brown's own preternaturally shrieking vocals. Even with the most innocent subject matter, still that voice blazes with pain, anguish, suffering; anyone approaching this album from the point of view of an absolute novice, unversed in the properties of "Fire" itself, would be forgiven for thinking they had wandered into an absolute madhouse, as staffed and managed by Hieronymous Bosch. The stereo mix amplifies many of these qualities, although a few of the mono version's neater elements are noticeably absent. "Fanfare - Fire Poem" sounds horribly incomplete without the disembodied female who invites you into the flames. The segue into "Fire" is also less compelling, although "Fire" itself is much improved in its stereo form. And the two mixes of the "Come and Buy" and "Time/Confusion" sequence are so vastly different that you suddenly find yourself wondering if you've simply replaced your mono copy...or doubled the size of your Arthur Brown collection. Side two is weaker, if only because it would be impossible to actually come over any stronger. But "I Put a Spell on You" and the chill-inducing "Child of My Kingdom" are both astonishing workouts for the Brown tonsils, while "Spontaneous Apple Creation" at least reminds listeners of some of the stranger things that people thought about during the psychedelic era. When they weren't contemplating self-immolation, that is.

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