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
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 risqué, 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.
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.
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.