Syd Barrett

Syd Barrett was the creative force behind the original lineup of Pink Floyd. When his behaviour became too erratic, often attributed to schizophrenia and the use of psychedelic drugs, the group recruited David Gilmour as a live replacement. The group hoped to keep Barrett as part of the group as a songwriter, but the last straw was when Barrett turned up to practice with a new song named ‘Have You Got It Yet?’ Barrett changed the melody and chords of the verses on every run through, frustrating Roger Waters, who stormed out and vowed never to play with Barrett again.

While Barrett was ousted from Pink Floyd in 1968, his shadow still hung over the group – themes of mental illness were prevalent on 1973’s blockbuster Dark Side of the Moon, while 1975’s multi-part suite ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’ was a tribute to their departed leader.

Meanwhile, Syd Barrett spent a year out of the limelight, until EMI and Harvest Records persuaded him to record a solo album. 1970’s The Madcap Laughs has rough edges, but it’s surprisingly entrancing, and sold well enough to justify a followup, Barrett, released the same year. The album was less successfully, both critically and commercially, and Barrett abandoned the music business, concentrating on visual art before his passing in 2006.

Syd Barrett Album Reviews

Favourite Album: The Madcap Laughs

The Madcap Laughs | Barrett | Opel

The Madcap Laughs

1970, 9.5/10
After Barrett was fired from Pink Floyd in late 1967, there were attempts to record him as a solo act. The initial sessions were not a success – Barrett instead embarked on a trip around Britain in his mini and ended up in psychiatric care in Cambridge. But by early 1969, Barrett was in better shape, and contacted EMI to resume his solo career. The album sessions were chaotic – Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Roger Waters became involved near the end of the project. Soft Machine’s Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper, and Mike Ratledge overdubbed instrumentation on a couple of tracks – following Barrett’s loosely played

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn showcased two different aspects of Pink Floyd, length space rock jams and succinct pop songs. The Madcap Laughs focuses on the latter, although it eschews the nursery rhyme lyrics of Barrett’s Pink Floyd work for more personal songs. Some of the Gilmour produced material is raw – in particular, ‘If It’s in You’ includes a rough false start with Barrett stammering. Gilmour stated at the time that “Perhaps we were trying to show what Syd was really like. But perhaps we were trying to punish him …”

But despite some rough performances, The Madcap Laughs is an amazing showcase for Barrett’s impeccable pop sense – these songs are often extraordinarily well-written and shine through despite the sometimes amateur presentation. It’s often stripped back, and songs like ‘Golden Hair’ , a pretty adaptation of James Joyce lyrics, are beautiful. But more often it’s goofy fun, with wordplay like ‘Octopus’ and ‘Love You’.

It can be a tough listen at times, but there are some exemplary pop songs on The Madcap Laughs, and it’s well worth the effort.

Barrett

1970, 5.5/10
A month after the release of The Madcap Laughs, Barrett was back in th studio, with Gilmour and Richard Wright producing. Barrett’s accompanied by a constant band this time, with Wright on organ, Gilmour on bass, and Humble Pie’s Jerry Shirley on drums. The resulting album is slicker and less disjointed than its predecessor, but it’s also completely lacking its magic – there’s not much to Barrett beyond a few nice tunes.

Most of the nice tunes are front-loaded onto the beginning of the record – songs like ‘Baby Lemonade’ and ‘Dominoes’ are pretty, although a fair share of the melodic interest is coming from Gilmour’s twelve string guitar. The most memorable piece though, is the closing ‘Effervescing Elephant’, a child-like animal fable where Barrett’s accompanied by a tuba. Trainspotters often enjoy the bizarre lyrics of songs like ‘Wolfpack’ and ‘Rats’, but there’s not enough happening musically for them to rate alongside his best work.

Perhaps it was recorded to quickly after The Madcap Laughs, but Barrett is disappointingly flat after its predecessor’s brilliance.

Opel

1988, not rated
I’ve never heard this collection of outtakes, but I’m listing it since Barrett’s discography is so small. It’s compiled from the sessions for Barrett’s two solo records, with eight previously unreleased songs and six alternate versions. It would have been more interesting if it had included the legendary Pink Floyd outtakes ‘Scream Thy Last Scream’ and ‘Vegetable Man’ as originally planned, but the band vetoed their inclusion.

Five Best Syd Barrett Songs

Octopus
Golden Hair
Love You
No Good Trying
Effervescing Elephant

Back to 1970s Album Reviews….

3 Comments

    • I Don’t agree with the reviewer above
      That Barretts 2nd solo album was a disappointment
      But then most syd fans say they like the madcap
      Better. They say that even though it was sparcely arranged and pretty wacky stuff
      Thats what made it great
      ‘Syd was basically left to his own devices
      On madcap laughs
      And thats what made him great’
      That’s the basic theory
      They say the 2nd album was too controlled
      By the producers
      Gilmore and Wright trying to make a proper album for him
      But the songs were weak.
      Thats what most barrett fans say
      Even Gilmore says there were less great songs to work with on the 2nd album
      But I don’t agree
      Its true that most barrett fans do like madcap over barrett
      I do love the madcsp.laughes
      But personally I like the barrett album better
      I think its got some really great songs
      That are classic barrett
      Like baby lemonade, dominoes ,
      Gigalo Aunt , Wolfpack and effevessing elephant
      …and it has its share of off the wall crazy
      Jems like rats and Maisy , which seems to be about a dead person buried with her diamonds and emeralds….”beyond reproach’
      And probably one of his most beautiful , lonely ballads wined and dined
      I also love that its barrett, Wright and Gilmore
      Playng together
      Along with J. Shirley on drums
      So its pretty damn close to pink floyd playing
      Together
      And it was recorded right after P.F. did the movie more album. ..and was just starting atom heart mother
      So it sounds like the movie more soundtrack in alot of places cause I guess that’s how they were playing at the time
      On the instrumental sections of the barrett album in the parts of the songs
      Were syds not singing
      I swear if you close your eyes you could be listening to the movie more soundtrack
      Its souds like it could be from the same sessions as the pink floyd movie more soundtrack
      And that, my friends is pretty cool and
      Pretty amazing when you think about it
      Robin Hitchcock is in my camp
      And hes a complete barrett fanatic
      (Check out his song Cynthia mask… that song gave me chills the 1st time I heard it ..it sounded to me like a new syd barrett song just came out )
      Mr Hitchcock credits syds 2nd LP Barrett
      As changing his life and influencing his whole style of songwriting forever
      I love both albums though
      Syd was one of a kind
      There will never be another syd barrett.

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