Barrett (along with Ray Davies and Robert Wyatt) was one of the first singers to give...
Peter Marsh 2002
Syd Barrett is probably more talked about than listened to these days, though he remains a seminal influence on British indie psychedelia and countless of wannabe Pipers at the Gates of Dawn. This compilation brings together most of the material from his two official Harvest albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, plus a few tracks from the outtakes collection Opel. There's little of the acid fuelled guitar abuse that drove Barrett's contribution to Pink Floyd's first album, and whereas Barrett-penned Floyd singles like "See Emily Play" and "Arnold Layne" had been superbly assured slices of Brit psychedelia, here the songs are looser and more exploratory. Barrett (along with Ray Davies and Robert Wyatt) was one of the first singers to give English rock a uniquely un-American voice, and his lyrics here owe much to a literary tradition that takes in Edward Lear, William Blake and Hilaire Belloc. Surrealism, pastoral whimsy and a strain of bedsit melancholia run through many of the songs here, and again a peculiarly English obsession with wordplay (see "Octopus" for details).
Though some of the performances (particularly those drawn from Opel) show evidence of Syd's well documented instability, the songs themselves are sharply honed and transcend their sometimes erratic delivery. "Baby Lemonade" and "Gigolo Aunt" are as catchy as Legionnaire's disease and show that Syd's talent for writing great pop songs hadn't died with the Floyd's "Apples and Oranges", while "Dominoes" is exquisitely melancholic. Completists will want this set for the previously unavailable "Bob Dylan Blues" (appropriate in the year of Bob's 60th birthday and containing the immortal lines; 'I've got the Bob Dylan Blues My hair and my hat's in a mess But I don't give a damn about that'), and for others it's a good place to start.