Doctors of Madness

Late Night Movies, All Night Brainstorms

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Discussing the writers he considered his peers, head Doctor Kid Strange cited Bob Dylan and John Lennon, then berated them both for going off the boil. It was lonely at the top. But Lou Reed, Bryan Ferry, and Steve Harley made interesting companions as well, especially if one places the Doctors of Madness in their true musical context and regards them for what they were -- the logical conclusion to that school of vicariously gruesome thought which sweeps from the paranoia of the Velvet Underground to the paradise of Roxy Music and onto the paradox of Cockney Rebel -- a pop group which sings of death and decay? How decadent. The Doctors weren't decadent. They were, however, dangerous, and in a pre-punk age when the rock epic ruled, Late Night Movies, All Night Brainstorms tore the rule book to shreds by taking it to its furthest extremes -- then kept going from there. And as punk began squeezing out of glam rock's urethra, this was the sound which drowned out the screams. On plastic, Brainstorms was sensibly divided between one side-long suite, two comparative vignettes, and a 17-minute marathon -- sensibly, because it is not an easy album to sit through at once. Both sides conjure up peaks of painful intensity: the concerto for earthquake bass, nerve-end violin, and fall-out siren which introduces "The Noises of the Evening," toward the conclusion of side one; the shattered and scratching fiddle which puncture the epic "Mainlines" at the end of side two. Taken individually, the effect is the musical equivalent of bungee jumping. Taken together, you suddenly realize that someone's cut the cord. Never have many albums been so aptly titled. Strange's lyrics are never less than cinematic and, if flashes of Bowie's similarly widescreen Diamond Dogs come to mind, that may have been an intention. But unlike Dogs, or Lou Reed's Berlin, or any of those other period charmers that are routinely described as depressing or doomy, the Doctors' vision has no escape hatch. The easy options of death or surrender are not available to Brainstorms' protagonists, and guilt is a luxury they will never afford. The most hopeful line on the entire album is, "We just have to sit back and hope for the best." The most chilling is, "The doctors know best." Yes, of course they do.

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