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The Madcap Laughs—9


Released: 1970

1) Terrapin  2) No Good Trying  3) Love You  4) No Man's Land  5) Dark Globe  6) Here I Go  7) Octopus  8) Golden Hair  9) Long Gone  10) She Took A Long Cold Look  11) Feel  12) If It's In You  13) Late Night 


The Madcap Laughs” is unlike anything ever recorded.  Each song is engaging on its own, but few are fully realized.  They each have amazingly catchy phrases, solos, melody lines, or lyrics, but rarely do these bits and pieces come together in a segment, let alone one complete song.  As a result, hardly anything on the record remotely resembles a “normal” tune.  It seems that in the fragmented state he was in, Syd Barrett would (or could) never play a song the same way twice, and so even with having four separate producers working on the tracks and employing many notable backing musicians, there are still five tracks that only have Syd, playing alone on his acoustic guitar, drifting into madness. 


The record opens with the fairly simple “Terrapin.”  It is a slow, meandering acoustic blues, featuring Syd’s most depressed singing on the whole album.  His guitar tone is interesting, and the song should be boring, creeping along for five minutes, but his high-pitched electric fills, and vacation resort strumming are just intoxicating.  The swaying calmness, however, grudgingly gives way to the absurd “No Good Trying.”  One of the two album tracks that the underground jazz-rock group (and former Floyd rivals) Soft Machine played on, this psychedelic masterpiece is just about the most bizarre sounding track I have heard.  It tries its ass off to have some semblance of structure, but really just pushes itself forward, tripping over its untidiness.  Barrett sounds flat and the music is lost, with that high-pitched guitar playing at random, and backwards splashes flowing in and out.  Nothing really fits at all…ninety percent of the song literally sounds like each instrument was recorded without having any idea of the chords or tempo…as if someone just said play, without giving the band any direction. 


While “No Good Trying” is clearly out-there, “Love You,” the other number Soft Machine played on, is the first real glimpse of madness.  It is a cabaret-like circus song where Syd changes his pacing and meter within each stanza, but somehow manages to keep the tune moving.  It is all ragtime fun, with a fascinating middle instrumental section, but things seem not all together right.  The ending is so abrupt and the mood so clown-smilingly eerie that it freaks me out.  Things aren’t lightened by the downright spooky “No Man’s Land.”  In fact, the mood takes on a more sinister feeling with this dirty, bass dominated rocker (here, Quiver’s Willie Wilson handles the drumming and Humble Pie’s Jerry Shirley plays bass).  About halfway though, things come to an almost halt, and Syd mutters out incomprehensible phrases in his monotone, heavily accented voice overtop of the sludgy, wild backdrop.  Like the Beatle soundscape, “Revolution #9,” this is anything but soothing…in fact it isn’t really music…just cluttered noise, as muddled as Syd’s fragile state. 


Sadly, “Dark Globe” does have a melody of sorts…and because of this, it is one of the most disturbing songs ever captured on tape.  The first track to be completely solo, Syd sings out of tune while forcefully strumming his acoustic guitar in and out of time.  His voice is just so stark raving loony.  Literally…this is just a madman with his guitar, singing out for help: “My head kissed the ground, I was half the way down, treading the sand, please, please, please lift a hand.  I'm only a person with Eskimo chain.   I tattooed my brain all the way.  Won't you miss me?  Wouldn't you miss me at all?”  It is almost indecently harrowing and disconcerting, but somehow the tune manages to be catchy…so you find yourself singing along with this ridiculous, deeply personal offering and feeling slightly on edge while doing so, like you just laughed out loud and pointed at Siamese Twins attached at the head that you saw on the street.


In what had to be purposely sequenced, “Here I Go” follows.  This is the most normal sounding song on the entire album with charmingly straightforward lyrics dealing with the break up of The Pink Floyd:  “This is a story 'bout a girl that I knew, she didn't like my songs, and that made me feel blue, she said: ‘a big band is far better than you…’  Wilson and Shirley accompany Barrett again, and this is just a humorous, impossible to hate, quirky little love song, hoping that you might think Syd was just putting you on and that he was actually pretty together.  Octopus” doesn’t let that illusion go on for very long though…  Produced by David Gilmour and Roger Waters, this is truly a great, great song: catchy and entertaining.  As good or better than anything on “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” it was released as a single and should have charted with its choppy rhythm and wacky lyrics.  The middle “Not Fade Away” inspired break is unexpected and perfect, but the way he annunciates the lyric is off-putting…just screaming out with so much crazed passion, not even caring if he comes in at the right time. 


The less than two-minute “Golden Hair” is a James Joyce poem Barrett put to simple music when he was a teenager.  His beautiful voice shows that he was capable of singing in tune, and the typical Floydian background production noises spruce up this bleak sounding, but still filler track.  The threatening mood is continued with “Long Gone,” a terrific, dark acoustic folk song built on a descending riff, featuring a hair-raising Richard Wright organ backdrop.  The harmony vocals on the chorus are particularly worthy of note, and the entire song is a menacing winner.  She Took A Long Cold Look” is a slightly happier sounding, extremely short, demo-like wandering acoustic piece, complete with Barrett pausing briefly to turn a page of his notes and ending with Syd embarrassedly saying “A bit short.”  An engineer’s voice introduces the next number “Feel.”  Similar to the previous track, this is a short acoustic number that distinguishes itself by utilizing a strange echo effect on some of the lyrics.  Syd, again goes in and out of time (and in and out of tune) so much that it doesn’t seem like he actually knows what he’ll play next…almost like he is just trying on different chords to see what might go with his voice. 


The most bizarre and horribly disturbing moment on the entire record is the false start and studio banter leading into “If It’s In You.”  In many ways, as disturbing as “Dark Globe,” Syd actual sounds even madder here…with his missed cues and “yum, yummy, yum, don't, yummy, yum, yom, yom” lyric.  He’s just strumming along, out of his gourd, singing out for all he is worth, and it really leaves you feeling cold.  I mean…toys in the attic—this guy is crazy, and not in a happy way.  Why did Gilmour and Waters leave such a take on the finished album?  The closing “Late Night” is the oldest tune on the LP, with its backing track originally recorded by Peter Jenner in Abbey Road shortly after the official break up of the band a year before the rest of these tracks were recorded.  It is the only tune to feature Syd’s slide guitar and sounds like Belle and Sebastian, with its deep vocals and unsettling, but catchy melody.  The lyrics desolately offer a small glimpse into Syd’s psyche and tell a great deal about the making of the album, and the breakdown of its author: “Inside me I feel alone and unreal.”


The Madcap Laughs” is a hard album to listen to often because it goes beyond music.  Knowing Syd Barrett’s history, it is virtually impossible to sit and try and enjoy the record as entertainment, or even as a work of art because it is just so real—so relentlessly real.  But that’s what makes it one of the most compelling albums in history.  You probably won’t like it, but you really should listen to it at least once.  In all honesty though, it is the sort of thing that maybe should never have been let out… kind of like nude pictures of Mandy Moore.  You’re glad you’re looking at them and wish you could see more (because she is so undeniably attractive), but when it gets right down to it, you’re embarrassed that you invaded her privacy and ashamed that you got cheap thrills by witnessing something so intimate from a girl that doesn’t deserve to be exploited.            
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