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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Arthur Brown: Galactic Zoo Dossier


ARTHUR BROWN: GALACTIC ZOO DOSSIER (1971)

1) Internal Messenger; 2) Space Plucks; 3) Galactic Zoo; 4) Metal Monster; 5) Simple Man; 6) Night Of The Pigs; 7) Sunrise; 8) Trouble; 9) Brains; 10) Medley: Galactic Zoo / Space Plucks / Galactic Zoo; 11) Creep; 12) Creation; 13) Gypsy Escape; 14) No Time.

As Vincent Crane broke up with Brown to pursue his own preferred trail of madness that would lead him to Atomic Rooster, a variety of mental institutions and, finally, an overdose of pain­killers, Arthur was left without an anchor, and, for a while, floated here and there without much success or purpose. The next anchor ultimately arrived in the guise of one Andy Dalby, a wander­ing guitarist with impressive chops and (presumably) some songwriting abilities. In between the two, Brown and Dalby formed Kingdom Come, later to be known as «Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come», to distinguish it from still another Kingdom Come — which is why their records will be covered here in the Arthur Brown section and not under K. In any case, Kingdom Come was even more of a Brown-controlled vision than Crazy World, where artistic duties were distributed more or less equally between Brown and Crane.

By the time the band, consisting of Brown, Dalby, and a «revolving door»-type variety of rhythm sections, keyboardists, and what-not, had taken its first shape, prog and glam were the hottest new thangs around, and Brown was perfectly willing to cash in on the fad, not the least because, after all, he was the godfather of both, to some extent. But where some people went for «prog», con­centrating on the complexity of the music and somewhat downplaying the stage image, and others went for «glam», dazzling audiences with super-eccentric rock theater tricks, Brown decided to go for both at the same time. His would be a «rock theater extraordinaire for the advanced music lover» — something that is already reflected a bit in the first album title of Kingdom Come: Galactic Zoo Dossier is a title way too posh even for Yes or Genesis, and way too tongue-twis­ted even for David Bowie.

Conceptually, there is one big problem with Kingdom Come: for this project, Brown attempted to take himself and his fantasies more seriously than he used to in 1968, when he was just a delici­ous madman in a burning helmet, using fire as a simple allegory for you-know-what. The three albums of Kingdom Come, on the other hand, have been said to constitute a conceptual triptich of sorts, where Brown is supposed to deal with Humanity, Mortality, Animality, Spirituality, Mora­li­ty, and Paranormality. Problem is — when you have a guy who, just three years ago, declared himself to be the god of hellfire, it is highly unlikely that people will want to take any of his sub­sequent messages with the same degree of seriousness as he might claim to have invested in them. Certainly not if he continues to deliver them in the same overwrought, over-the-top, bombastic manner with schizophrenic overtones. In short, there is a good reason why people chose to have Roger Waters and David Gilmour as their mentors, and mostly ignore Arthur Brown.

Galactic Zoo Dossier, therefore, was doomed from the start — «serious» music listeners passed it by due to too much eccentricity and whimsy, while the less patient listeners, naturally, found nothing that could qualify as an instantaneously memorable hit. The one track here that comes pretty close to the demands of 1970's rock radio is ʽSunriseʼ — a slow, stately, epic that democra­tically alternates between Brown's prophetic hair-in-the-wind wailings and a series of melodic guitar solos that eventually shoot up to glam-rock heaven. But even ʽSunriseʼ has little to remem­ber it by other than Brown's singing (which everyone is already familiar with) and Dalby's solo­ing (which is climactic / cathartic / etc., but in a rather textbook-ish blues-rock manner).

Everything else is just weird, sometimes for the sake of weirdness, sometimes for the more noble sake of breaking boundaries, but rarely staying in place long enough to «rock» the senses or «pu­rify» the soul. Riffs, jams, solos are constantly interrupted by insane (or inane) dialogs, screaming, electronic effects, phasing, speeding up, moving from channel to channel, disappearing in one place and reappearing in another — like on a particularly crazy Mothers of Invention record, but with less inherent humor, more forced psychedelia.

Your overall reaction to the album will probably coincide with the reaction to the first track, which encompasses everything about it — good and bad. Starting off with a minute of stoned dialogs about the Lord and immortality, ʽInternal Messengerʼ sets up what looks like a terrific groove — a big lumbering riffwave crashing on a bedrock of tortured, choking organ chords — only to go on and waste it on one of Brown's pompous «sermons», after which the song turns into a relatively wimpy blues-rock jam, heavy on guitars and organ, but never advancing beyond what many, many other people were capable at the time (remember Steamhammer? well, even if you don't, the second half of this song here still sounds like them).

And this problem keeps recurring. Instead of going truly symphonic, like Yes, or radically avant­garde, like King Crimson, these guys play a sort of «ambitiously mad R'n'B» where the themes aren't fleshed out well enough to be emotional stunners and the solos / jams aren't kick-ass or «kick-soul» enough to place the band on the level with first-rate competitors. Case in point: the final «sprawler», ʽGypsy Escapeʼ, a seven-minute musical journey through dirty organ pumping, angry blues-rock licks, signature changes, and mood variation... and what? Nothing. There was no anchor, and the gypsy escapes faster than it takes me to remember him (her?).

The album does leave a bizarre aftertaste. Brown's presence, no matter how obnoxious the man can be at times; the desire to try out almost anything that they can lay their hand on in the studio, nostalgically reminiscent of the atmosphere of the early days of the Jimi Hendrix Experience; and the boundless ambition oozing out of every hole — these things command respect. But when it comes to the «meat» department, it turns out that looney madman Vince Crane was a real «meat­man», whereas seemingly sane guitarist Andy Dalby is, on the contrary, just a butcher. As Brown admits himself, "I've had a little intellectual placement in a very near corner of my mind" (ʽSim­ple Manʼ) — well, Galactic Zoo Dossier is right in the middle of that intellectual placement, but transplanting it into intellectual placements for other people turned out to be downright impos­sible, and I think I know why.

On the other hand, if you don't think too much about it, but try and let yourself get carried away by the moment — who knows, there might be a nice, thick apocalyptic aura just waiting out there to engulf you. Few people made mad progressive albums in the early 1970s. Bizarre, twisted, yes; idealistic, ambitious, yes; mathematically calculated to reflect Apollonian beauty, for sure. Ga­lac­tic Zoo Dossier, on the other hand, could have been made by Syd Barrett, had he not been consumed by substances so soon, and gone on to develop and improve as a musical artist, instead of just retreating into the dementia. So, all things considered, this is still a unique experience in its own way, and I grudgingly advance it a thumbs up while waiting for the exploding helmet to ar­rive in the mail.

Check "Galactic Zoo Dossier (CD)" on Amazon

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