ARTHUR BROWN: FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF LIGHT (1979)
1) Storm Clouds; 2) Nothing We Can Do; 3) No; 4) Bright Gateway; 5) Timeship; 6) Come And Join The Fun; 7) Stormwind; 8) Storm; 9) This Is It; 10) Tightrope; 11) Balance; 12) Faster Than The Speed Of Light.
Two years after the paths of Crane and Brown had briefly crossed during the sessions for Chisholm, the two gentlemen fell into each other's arms again, this time for a fully-fledged collaboration — apparently, at the urge of Klaus Schulze, with whom Arthur made some recordings and toured a bit in the late 1970s. For a long time, the resulting album was very hard to find — the pressings were limited, Schulze's German-based label was small, and by the time somebody even started thinking about transferring the results to CD, the mastertapes had been lost. Apparently, the recent re-release managed to locate the original tape, so look for it — I am reviewing a semi- crappy vinyl rip here, and laziness prevents me from locating a better version. That, and the fact that the music just isn't good enough to make me crave for a better version.
Not that it's an undeserving album or anything. The design is as follows: a loosely conceptual album or even a «pseudo-rock opera», centered around one of Brown's favorite topics — surrealistic travel, be it in the sci-fi, medievalistic fantasy, or psychedelic register — played completely (or almost completely, I'm not altogether sure) without guitar participation, although Crane's numerous keyboards are still augmented by a normal rhythm section (no drum machines), brass players, and a small symphonic orchestra. In a way, this is sort of a brave return to the aesthetics of Kingdom Come (after two fairly «normal» albums in a row), but there is also a big difference — other than the lack of guitar, it seems that the «story» elements here were at least as important, if not more important, for Brown, than the accompanying music.
And so, Faster Than The Speed Of Light is sort of a cross between Kingdom Come's fantasy worlds and the «normality» of Brown's 1975-77 period. The brief interludes here function the same way they would function in a Broadway musical, and the actual songs weave together classical influences, shades of R'n'B, and some «operatic pop» for good measure. Since the orchestration never takes center stage, most of the music is relatively low-key, so prepare yourself for a bit of quiet, inobtrusive, «off-Broadway» music theater. If you prepare yourself well enough, it might even sweep you off your feet and take you along on its journey — although, frankly speaking, I would define those chances as close to one in a hundred.
The actual tunes are, indeed, theatrical rather than musical. Actually, when they get closer to «real music», the effect can be repulsive: ʽNothing We Can Doʼ, for instance, fuses its funky keyboard riffs with silly-sounding disco choruses, and the point of ʽThis Is Itʼ is to play kiddie marching muzak on trendy synthesizers (all the while pretending to share Arthur Brown's revelatory powers with the listeners — not easy to be convincing when the music itself is in the camp of ʽItsy Bitsy Spiderʼ). But such tracks as ʽTimeshipʼ, announcing the start of the journey, ʽStormʼ, which tries to brew the appropriate atmosphere from a set of jerky keyboard parts and «stormy» strings, and the title track, with its anthemic brass-dominated coda, are at least curious, if not tremendously effective.
Overall, the album just doesn't seem to have enough energy to satisfy the expected requirements. The lack of guitar harms the proceedings: many of these songs are, by nature, fast and dynamic, and Crane, as good as he is at writing memorable keyboard riffs and overlaying all the parts for maximum effect, cannot provide all the tension by himself — especially disappointing in the light of limp, pro-forma orchestration produced by people who probably thought that they were simply paid for a technical job. The «concept» is nothing special for those who are already familiar with Kingdom Come — in fact, most of those who are already familiar with Kingdom Come will probably think of Faster Than The Speed Of Light as a «lite consumption version» of Galactic Zoo Dossier. The writing as such, though, is quite decent: Brown and Crane still remember how to tackle a variety of styles and sometimes shuffle them over the duration of one track.
From an optimistic standpoint, Faster ultimately deserves a thumbs up — it's a serious piece of art that still conveys Brown's usual work aesthetics: do your own thing against all odds, but never make it look like straightforward nostalgia. However, I couldn't honestly recommend it to anybody but the most dedicated fan of Arthur Brown — and by «most dedicated», I mean neither the «heard ʽFireʼ on the radio a month ago and loved it» type nor the «Kingdom Come were the greatest, man, nothing ever comes close» type, both of which are the easiest types of «Arthur Brown fans» imaginable to my imagination. No, you'd really, really have to care a lot about Arthur Brown as a spiritually endowed human being to like this.
Check "Faster Than The Speed Of Light" (MP3) on Amazon