Brute Force


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Achieving cult status is rarely an artist's initial goal, but in the case of Brute Force, born Stephen Friedland, it was inevitable. As the composer of the controversial oddity "King of Fuh" -- "in this land there was a king/and everybody called him the 'Fuh' king" -- a track that was championed by George Harrison and is officially the rarest single on the Beatles' Apple label, as well as the writer of hits for the Chiffons, Del Shannon, the Creation, and the Tokens -- he was a member of the latter -- the artist was by no means a stranger to the business. After debuting with the heavily arranged and orchestrated Confections of Love, Brute decided to cut the record that would cement him in the obscuro genre forever. The aptly titled Extemporaneous, recorded live in the studio with minimal piano accompaniment before a very small and enthusiastic audience, is an eccentric, meandering, and whimsically banal collection of comedy, folk, and improvisation that aims for profundity but ends up hitting novelty square in the jaw. Though he lacks William Shatner's bombast and agreeable narcissism, Brute's overwhelming sincerity is the only reason anything on the album works. With each burst of uncontrollable laughter at such generic double-entendres as "Uranus," Brute's excitement escalates, rushing from one topic to the next with lunatic zeal -- there is an element of narcotic giddiness to the audience's frequent and explosive giggles, like they just wandered in off of the street unaware, discovered it was happy hour, and politely stayed through to the end. Like Shel Silverstein, he peppers his stories, songs, and poems with mystical wit, the occasional political jab, and a whole lot of thinly veiled sexual innuendo -- this is the late '60s -- but lacks the poet's mischievous forked tongue and utopian prescience. Brute has a reputation for on-stage physicality, and there are moments here where the audience must be taking in a spectacle that listeners can only imagine, as there is nary a moment of quiet observation, but for the most part the whole affair is nearly impossible to connect with. Popular culture loves its jesters and Brute Force is more than happy to wear the funny hat, but the immediate experience provided by Extemporaneous is one of uncomfortable fidgeting -- not unlike listening to a Neil Hamburger stand-up routine -- and its success depends entirely on the listener's sense of the absurd and overall artistic stamina. [In 2004, Rev-Ola reissued Extemporaneous with exhaustive liner notes from writer Steve Stanley and Brute himself, as well as five bonus tracks, including the singles "World...," "Tapeworm of Love," "Vicky," "Nobody Knows What's Goin' On in My Mind but Me," and the legendary "King of Fuh."]

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