Tuesday 9 July 2019

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown - Gypsy Voodoo (2019)

Country: United Kingdom
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 26 Jun 2019
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Sometimes it seems like the world contains only two kinds of people in the world: those who have heard of Arthur Brown and those who haven't. Maybe a third makes sense too: those who thought he was a novelty singer who had a big hit with Fire and never did anything else ever again. Well, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, in its original form, only lasted four years, from 1967 to 1970, so had ceased to be before I was even born, but his name just won't go away.

Even today, my son was showing me some Avatar videos, the Swedish band who will be supporting Babymetal on their upcoming American tour, and Johannes Eckerström looks like yet another vocalist who took a page from the Arthur Brown playbook, even if he translated it through Marilyn Manson. Without an Arthur Brown, there wouldn't be an Alice Cooper, something the latter has freely acknowledged, let alone a Marilyn Manson or any of those black metal bands in corpsepaint.

But hey, image isn't everything. Given that the Crazy World of Arthur Brown is apparently back with a new album, something that shocked me until I found out that they've been back since 2000 with a consistent line-up, how do they sound over half a century after Fire? Well, given that some of you only know that one song and the rest of you have never even heard of Arthur Brown, I'd better get imaginative.

If I suggest that Brown was and is a showman, you're probably thinking about a stage show, but it filters into his style. Everything is a production, the way it was with creators such as Screaming Jay Hawkins or Dr. John the Night Tripper and continues to be with Tom Waits today, so that you can't separate their songs from their performances and you're not likely to want to.

Radiance, for example, is less of a song and more of a happening, with Brown playing the spirit guide as we commune on acid. It's a real change for the album, which had been varied but rock-oriented in its first half. The second features songs like Love and Peace in China, a political song that ends in spaced out territory too, both in the sense of acid and aliens. The Kissing Tree is more poetry translated into music, a direction that describes much of the second half. These are much more akin to Spontaneous Apple Creation, the strangest song on that first Arthur Brown album from 1968, than its most famous track.

Talking of which, Brown also reprises the double act of Fire Poem and Fire from that album, in a reinvention of each that expands them and updates them. The former, sans its original fanfare intro, is performance art narration without associated visuals. The latter is both better and worse than the version we know, oddly given that fresh takes of old material tend to either suck or succeed wildly.

This take is less energetic but more mature, less urgent but more textured, less wild but more inventive. Brown himself clearly has far less breath to work with and he doesn't remotely have his old range or power, but he's aged with a knowing twinkle in his eye. The lack of heavy organ work from Vincent Crane, who went on to form Atomic Rooster, turns out to be a huge deal but the new arrangement isn't without a set of new discoveries. I liked it.

The question is how much I liked the rest of the album. Gypsy Voodoo has a rocking Dr. John vibe, while The Mirror sounds like an attempt at a David Bowie style. The King is the most playful of a bunch of playful songs here. These are interesting and set the first half into a particular mindset. And then the second half goes somewhere completely different, back into the sixties and into innerspace, if not outer space.

Coherence really isn't the album's strong point but, frankly, I doubt that Arthur Brown cares about that too much. I'm sure there are reasons why he doesn't front the Completely Straightforward World of Arthur Brown and that is one reason why he's as welcome in 2019 as he was in 1968.

And, as I mentioned, he's actually been back for a while. The band was only around for four years in its original incarnation but Brown reformed it in 2000 and it's remained in place with a consistent line-up ever since. Nobody's left the band in that time, though Nina Gromniak was added as a third guitarist in 2011. I'd be really interested in seeing how this band plays live nowadays!

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