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 follow-up, Barrett, released the same year. The album was less successful, both critically and commercially. Barrett abandoned the music business, concentrating on visual art before his passing in 2006.
Syd Barrett Album Reviews
The Madcap Laughs
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.
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 too quickly after The Madcap Laughs, but Barrett is disappointingly flat after its predecessor’s brilliance.
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
No Good Trying
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