Monday, April 16, 2007

Arthur Brown

@ Gorge Starostin's Review
Arthur Brown is usually regarded as a flash-in-the-pan one-hit wonder, one of the most typical symbols of the swingin' London eccentricity around the times of Flower Power. It's not surprising: for a brief moment in late 1967/early 1968 the man was really big, and in a way, he managed to achieve public notoriety such as Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd (with whom he was very tightly artistically connected) could only hope to achieve, with a big hit under his belt ('Fire') and his debut album, or, to be more exact, the debut album for his band, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, selling pretty well. However, I guess that the main attention at that time was usually paid to Brown the image-maker rather than Brown the music-maker - his proto-glam theatrical shows, with his bizarre robes, helmets, fire plays and face paint, got him the most publicity, and as a result, with the swingin' Sixties over, he found himself cynically discarded as nothing but a nostalgic reminder of that epoch. Since early 1968, Brown has made at least about a dozen albums, working in other bands or as a solo artist, yet it's hard to imagine a less commercially successful art-rocker - none of them ever grated even the lower sections of the charts, and you'd be hard pressed to find enough info on them even at all-encompassing sites such as the All-Music Guide (whose "biography" of Arthur, sure enough, concentrates on the Sixties period and pretty much ignores everything that came afterwards). That's a doggone shame, because Arthur Brown, when assessed as a long-term artist, is certainly much more than just 'The God Of Hellfire'. He's one of the rare breed of artsy gentlemen who can, all through their career, actually combine serious pretentions and complexity with general melodic accessibility, not to mention a solid sense of humour. Brown actually started out in the early Sixties as a white R'n'B crooner, and his love for classic R'n'B, soul, and blues permeates his entire career, starting from the second side of Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and ending with the lovable "educational" covers album he recorded with Jimmy Carl Black more than twenty years later. At the same time, Brown is an avid experimentalist. In the late Sixties, this experimental side would be reflected in his fierce psychedelic recordings and his arrogant scenic image. Later on, he became obsessed with electronics, and while not everybody knows it, he was actually one of the pioneers of the movement, relying heavily on atmospheric grumpy Krautrockish synthesizers and primitive drum machines from as early as the beginning of the Seventies. He then proceeded to work with Electronics Maestro Klaus Schulze on several of his projects, and his hard-to-find early Eighties albums, whether you like 'em or not, certainly sound like nothing else recorded at the time. And again, at the same time there's always a sensitive and tradition-based side to Arthur - as reflected on his pretty 'normal' 1975 album Dance, for instance, or on the already mentioned collaboration with Jimmy Carl Black. He's definitely got one of the better voices in the business; not too strong, but always expressive and soulful, and while some may disagree, I think he's one of the more credible R'n'B interpreters among the white population. So, both sides combined, Arthur Brown is definitely a unique figure, and well worth getting to know - that is, if you can find at least something by the man. I do notice, though, that Arthur tends to polarize people: just about any reactions to the man I've ever seen could be categorized as either complete adoration or absolute disgust. If pressed to choose, I'd select "adoration" as my answer, but, of course, Arthur does have his limits. For one thing, he's easily the most, or one of the most, pretentious artists on Earth, never coming shy of constructing some other mind-boggling universalist we-see-it-all conceptual album, and in those cases where the pretentions aren't immediately dissolved by a healthy injection of some hilarious tongue-in-cheek comment, this can be pretty bad. He isn't much of a composer, either: my suspicion is that for actual melodic ideas, he's been always heavily dependent on his collaborators (such as Vincent Crane in The Crazy World, for instance), and that his main talent lies in his role as overall "director" of the projects he's been involved in, as well as lyrics interpreter. But whatever you think of the guy, there's nobody in rock music sounding exactly like him, and that's to be accounted for. I have yet to hear an Arthur Brown album I could call "generic" or "thoroughly uninteresting", whatever my exact reaction might be. If you ask me, it's high time somebody made an effort to actually reinstate the man and give him his due - even if Arthur has been partially guilty of it himself, seemingly losing any interest in self-promotion since the days of The Crazy World (thus, his early Eighties albums were pressed in extremely small numbers, like a thousand copies or something). I don't rate him too high (high 2, low 3, something like that), but he's been pretty doggone consistent, and you'll definitely meet more praise on this page than, uh, otherwise, so let this be my lil' heartfelt tribute to the long-forgotten God of Hellfire. =>>>>>>>>>>>

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