ARTHUR BROWN: REQUIEM (1982)
1) Chant / Shades; 2) Animal People; 3) Spirits Take Flight; 4) Gabriel; 5) Requiem; 6) Machanicla Masseur; 7) Busha-Busha; 8) The Fire Ant And The Cockroaches.
Second time around, though, he got it right. I remember falling in love with this record years ago, and it still sounds just as awesome as the first day I heard it. Arthur Brown's Requiem, a concept album about the nuclear end of the world, released at exactly the right moment — the height of Cold War tension in the early 1980s — might, indeed, be his masterpiece, arguably bested only by Crazy World, and is definitely near the top positions on the list of «most underrated albums ever», considering that the total number of people who even know about its existence, let alone actually listened to it from start to finish, must still be somewhere in the two-digit range.
What makes Requiem so awesome? One and one thing only — a sense of purpose. For the first time in his life, perhaps, Brown seems at least as interested in conveying an atmospheric message as he is in cavorting around for crazy experimentation's sake. And this immediately translates into a quantum leap from Speak No Tech — an album whose main purpose was to answer the question of whether it is possible to record an art-rock experience with the sole aid of synthesizers. It was. But the results weren't tremendously exciting. So now here is an upgrade of that task: is it possible to record an art-rock experience with the sole aid of synthesizers, and see to it that it becomes tremendously exciting?
Yes, it is. Requiem is not as densely packed with synth overdubs as Speak No Tech — it prefers to thrive on packages of simple, «brutal» synth riffs and aggressive electronic percussion rather than colorful, but digitally incompetent sonic paintings. It has more of a stern, industrial, claustrophobic flavor to it as well — fully appropriate for an album about the consequences of a nuclear Holocaust. I am not sure as to which of the two records pumps out the larger number of raw «hooks», but the ones on Requiem definitely pack more punch and make more sense than the ones on Speak No Tech.
Odd enough, it is not a «scary» album, as could be thought of any piece of art that aims to deal with the issue of humanity destroying itself. «Arthur Brown» has always rhymed with «eccentric clown», and Requiem is no exception: most of its numbers are garish and overwrought, if not downright comic (ʽMachanicla Masseurʼ). But it is not the alleged «terror» of Requiem that makes it so treasurable — on the contrary, it is its satire, glitz, buffoonery, and, at times, traces of deep humanity. It is, in some ways, much more difficult to write a funny and exciting album on the end of the world than a scary and depressing one.
Robotic synth-rockers, such as ʽAnimal Peopleʼ and ʽMasseurʼ, discard with the «coldness» of Kraftwerk and tackle their subjects with intelligence and irony. ʽBusha-Bushaʼ, subtitled ʽThe Last Man On Earthʼ, is a great thematic vehicle for one of Arthur's trademark «nervous breakdown» simulations, with ideally matching paranoid synth chords to boot. On the other side, ʽSpirits Take Flightʼ is populated with light, playful loops and solos, generating a cute psychedelic breeze that would be completely out of place on a «serious» end-of-the-world record, but here feels quite at home.
Because Arthur Brown's post-apocalyptic world, believe it or not, is quite a fun place to be. It is populated with merry ghosts and friendly robots, and even the cockroaches and the fire ants, at the end of the day, are cool enough to join in an uplifting pop chorus. Even Brown's solemn prayer of salvation (the title track) somehow emits optimism rather than despair (well, the main mantra does go "the missile is dead, the missile is dead", after all).
Some might find the idea disturbing — who let a reckless clown like that deal with such a touchy subject? — but it's not as if Brown's purpose here was to convince people that it is OK to detonate the bomb just because life will be more fun in the aftermath. It's more like: «let's try and create the everyday living atmosphere of the post-nuclear world» — where the remaining old and the emerging new forms of life are competing for survival. To that end, it's a unique perspective: with most people bent on painting the horrors of it all, Brown is going for «fantasy realism» — the horrors are really only there in the moments of death and destruction, and then it's business, er, life as usual again. In between all the AIs and the cockroaches and the fire ants and Archangel Gabriel, that is.
Obviously, all the endless synthesizers can technically get annoying at a certain point, but, unlike Speak No Tech, Requiem does not sound dated for one moment — quite the opposite, it presages and previews a lot of later developments in the electronic business, exactly because, despite having been recorded in the first years of the Electronic Age, it does not care one bit for following old or new trends: this is just crazy Arthur Brown, given an exciting artistic idea and a bunch of digital mechanisms to carry it out, and he does not have to memorize the latest Ultravox album to carry it out.
Emotionally intriguing, intellectually stimulating, Requiem continues to get its well-deserved thumbs up, and I strongly urge everyone to check it out — at the very least, «boredom» is a reaction that cannot be associated with this record objectively. One might question whether it really achieves its set goals, or whether those goals deserve being achieved in the first place, but definitely not whether the artist himself had a lot of fun or was driven by inspiration while trying to achieve them. Personally, I just think Requiem is cool — certainly one of the least predictable and typical requiems ever made.