The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown

The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown (Polydor '67, '91) Rating: B+
This band and album are among the seemingly infinite number of minor yet important footnotes that makes the world of rock music such an interesting place. If Arthur Brown and company are remembered at all it’s for two reasons: their hit single “Fire,” with its hilariously over the top intro (“I am the God of hellfire!”) and catchy keyboard-led melody, and Brown’s theatrical stage antics. Sporting flashy psychedelic outfits and face paint and topping things off by lighting his helmet on fire, Brown could arguably be called the first “shock rocker,” and he undoubtedly influenced the likes of Alice Cooper, Kiss, and Marilyn Manson. What’s such a pleasant surprise is how strong most of the rest of this album is beyond “Fire,” completely “out there” yet quite accessible, though it practically screams “1967!” and won’t appeal to everybody as a result. Before I go any further, I should point out that whoever handled this reissue completely botched it by putting the 5 “bonus tracks” first rather than last, so songs 6-10 are repeats of the first 5 songs but in stereo rather than mono (I agree with Richie Unterberger when he says “although the mono mixes lack the full-bodied power of the stereo ones, they're marked by some interesting differences, especially in the brief spoken and instrumental links between tracks"). Of course, simply starting the album on song 6 easily rectifies this problem (or skipping songs 6-10 if you prefer the mono versions), and the first 5 proper songs, which form something of a concept suite, what with its not entirely comprehensible themes about hellfire, damnation, spirituality, and the like, are extremely enjoyable if in a dated sort of way. Vincent Crane’s moody, swirling organ dominates the band’s sound along with Brown’s surprisingly soulful voice, which can get rather hysterical at times, recalling the high-pitched shrieks of Ian Gillan. Drummer Drachen Theaker adds somewhat sloppy but driving jazz-tinged rhythms along with bass player Sean Nicholas, and the band rocks hard enough and adds enough details (such as occasional horns and/or orchestration) that I rarely even realize that the band doesn’t have a lead guitarist! (such a thing is rare enough today but was unheard of for a rock band back then). Alas, the concept-less second side is considerably less impressive, though their cover of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” is the best I’ve heard outside of Creedence Clearwater Revival's version. Unfortunately, “Spontaneous Apple Creation” is an experimental filler and their cover of James Brown’s “I’ve Got Money” is likewise unimpressive. Finishing up the track list, the lighter pop of “Rest Cure” is appealing enough if rather lightweight, while “Child Of My Kingdom” attempts to end this one-off album in an epic manner, though for all its moody strengths this atmospheric (if somewhat twee at times) ballad doesn’t register very high in the memorability department. Still, the hits here clearly outnumber the misses, and this album is easily recommendable for the first side alone. I’d be tempted to give the album points due to “historical significance” as well, but the butchered remastering job and the fact that the band’s acid-enabled music is something of an acquired taste offsets that thought. Still, a very interesting and often quite entertaining period piece this one is. Note: The Who's Pete Townshend is listed as the albums “associate producer.” Note #2: Carl Palmer, later of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer fame, joined the band on tour after this album due to Theaker’s fear of flying. That lineup didn’t last long, however, as Palmer and Crane soon left the band to form Atomic Rooster.

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