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Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith—4   

 
Released: 1967

1) Freak Street  2) You Don’t Need Money  3) Ageing Raver  4) In A Beautiful Rambling Mess  5) All You Need Is  6) What You Have  7) Circle  8) Highgate Cemetery  9) Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith

 

Sophisticated Beggar” showed so much promise that Roy Harper was signed by Columbia to record “Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith,” his second album.  With a major label’s budget, Harper was able to use orchestration on this album and experiment with his sound in hopes of impressing his new bosses and expanding his audience.  He was successful at neither as everything about this record is a little off-putting, including the album cover, which features a then very risqu, just born baby, complete with umbilical chord.  While “Beggar” had a restrained madness that only occasionally popped out, this record is utter craziness.     

 

An acoustic folk song with a Middle Eastern rhythm, “Freak Street” opens the album and lives up to its name with interesting time shifts, well-placed orchestration and a genuinely absurd atmosphere.  Unfortunately the rest of the album doesn’t live up to the intrigue of this first track.  You Don’t Need Money” bounces along with childish lyrics and tries to be as insanely ideal as the opening song, but falls a little flat.  It seems like Harper tries to fit too many musical ideas in this song and squeezes far too many lyrics in each line.  Aging Raver” sounds like the 60s and groves like a Monkees song.  It would be an alright tune at two and a half minutes, but at over four, it is just too long.

 

In A Beautiful Rambling Mess,” like the opening track, is another well-titled tune.  Harper uses orchestration again to team with his guitar for a “beautiful” melody.  However, the “rambling mess” portion ruins the song as he trades singing lines with spoken word throughout the verses.  It is interesting, but not really agreeable.  No song from his first few albums can match the splendor of “All You Need Is,” Harper's response to John Lennon's classic "All You Need Is Love."  A timeless vocal melody teamed with perfectly restrained orchestration and brilliant guitar playing make this song one of his absolute best. 

 

In each of the first five songs, Harper packs too many words per one line.  He tries to jam in as many thoughts as he can and it makes the songs sound rushed and a little disconcerting.  He shies away from this technique with What You Have,” and does manage to quiet things down with soft singing and calm acoustic picking, but the song as a whole is too long and dull.  It towers above the subsequent Circle,” however.  This tune brings back the lunacy, with its eleven minutes of sheer wackiness, and might just be the worst overall song that Harper has ever written.  It begins with a normal sounding acoustic melody, but suddenly, the music stops.  Harper tells a rambling story that makes absolutely no sense with cars beeping and the television playing in the background.  After this long-winded and incoherent speech, the track features an acoustic chord section, an orchestrated part in which Harper packs about sixty words into a single minute of music, and a Spanish style guitar solo.  This entire tune is jumbled and horrible, and Harper claims that as soon as he recorded it, even he hated it.

 

Highgate Cemetery” does nothing to make the album better.  Supposedly about hopping a cemetery wall to look at Karl Marx's grave, it features Harper pointlessly chanting monk style for two and a half minutes.  Eh!  The title track begins in a haunting fashion with Roy singing in a sinister voice about the existence of God and religion.  It eventually picks up the pace and features drums and an old sounding circus organ to very fascinating results.  But Harper ruins the intensity completely when he stops the song abruptly to act out some ridiculous story complete with different voices all played by Harper.  The man is insane.  Absolutely insane.  Who would stop such a personal and passionate song to tell a confused, brainless story?  What a shocking and bizarre way to end an album…I don’t know what to tell you except that I doubt Harper was faking insanity in the army.                    

 

Harper has since complained that this record was rushed and came out too early, and it is obvious that this is a huge let down after his first album.  His attempts at long song suites fail, but these tracks did eventually pave the way for “I Hate The White Man” and the entire album, “Stormcock.”  I suppose you could label this a transition album as Harper tries out different ideas, searching for his sound, but it is far from his best, and an album that Harper himself has called " a skeleton in my closet."  If it wasn't for the elegant "All You Need Is," this album would be the worst in Roy Harper's entire catalog.

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