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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Arthur Brown: Tantric Lover


ARTHUR BROWN: TANTRIC LOVER (2000)

1) Paradise; 2) Tantric Lover; 3) The Bridge; 4) Circle Dance; 5) Swimfish; 6) Voice Of Love From A Magic Hat; 7) Gabriel; 8) Love Is The Spirit; 9) Heartaches From The Music Theatre Piece ʽAirʼ; 10) All The Bells; 11) Healing Sound; 12) Welcome.

If you have nothing better to do these days, hunt down Mr. Arthur Brown in one of his asylums and ask him the question: «Mr. Brown! How come Tantric Lover, your first recording of ori­ginal music in the 21st century, is credited to ʽThe Crazy World Of Arthur Brownʼ, even though that band was officially proclaimed dead thirty years ago, and you are the only remaining mem­ber?» Wait for the answer, and if it is anything like «why, man, many an Arthur Brown has roa­med through this world, but there has been only one Crazy World of Arthur Brown so far, and maybe some people will be careless enough to mistake my new album for the old one — and I do need the money, I'm all out of fuel for my helmet», feel free to add +100 to Mr. Brown's artistic karma. However, if it is anything like «well, see here, man, we just had all these groovy cats to jam with, and I thought, it's like the spirit of the old Crazy World was coming back, and I know we're all crazy but some are crazier than most...», please do the reverse.

Because, clearly, Tantric Lover does not sound anything like the old «Crazy World». And not only does it not try to sound like Crazy World, on the contrary, it does everything in its power to present Arthur in an entirely new light. For one thing, it is completely acoustic, with elements of world music represented by the extensive use of the kora (a West African harp) and the didgeri­doo, an Australian woodwind (and Arthur has a separate band member for each, although «Phil Brown» does not sound much like a good name for an Australian aborigine, if you ask me). For another thing... it is not all that crazy, to tell the truth.

What it is is simply a good album of inventive art-pop compositions in a range of styles and moods. Some R&B, some reggae, some folk, some blues-rock, a little of this, a little of that, all of it sort of connected with thin psychedelic vibes and a general peace-and-love sentiment. Very well recorded at that — praise the 21st century for something, at least — and the quiet acoustic arrangements allow Brown's voice to come through bright and expressive; actually, I think this is the first time ever that he gives it to us from so many different angles. Crooning, pleading, whis­pering, muttering, screaming, talking, goofing off, it's all here. You might hate the songs and the spirit, but the man couldn't care less — he must have had so much fun doing this.

Since this is still «rock theater», or, rather «unplugged theater» this time, Tantric Lover gets by on the strength of its humor and eccentricity, not on any kind of cathartic vibes — and its quiet, low-key nature will never allow us to recognize it as a lost masterpiece on the same level with Requiem. But, on the other hand, it also lacks those of Brown's trademarks that are the most prone to becoming annoying — the reckless, «anything-goes» experimentation, the permanent tone and signature shifts of Kingdom Come, even the general «look at me, have you ever seen anyone crazier?» attitude. And the kora / didgeridoo duets may be a novelty trick, but in our mo­dern potpourri of ethnic traditions, it can hardly look as surprising as, say, the drum machines on Kingdom Come's third album, or even Arthur's decision to take a red-hot synthesizer bath on Speak No Tech.

No, this is just a «nice little album» here. And the songs are surprisingly well written and per­formed. ʽParadiseʼ steals the opening riff from the Beatles' ʽI'll Be Backʼ and puts it back where it came from — into a Latin setting, that is — and works out a half-menacing, half-magical mood punctuated by occasional flourishes from the kora. ʽCircle Danceʼ is a catchy art-pop / blues-rock hybrid, irresistible when it comes to toe-tapping, tasteful when it comes to little bits of out-of-nowhere electric guitar soloing (yes, we can!), and goofy when Arthur begins to yodel (yodeling is bad, but Arthur is good). ʽSwimfishʼ is set to a Celtic waltz; ʽGabrielʼ (no relation to the ʽGab­rielʼ of Requiem) is slightly funky, spits out broken bits of slide guitar, and has Arthur doing his best Horned King impression (or was that Horny King?). He even delivers a convincing musical aria on ʽHeartachesʼ — with a fairly complex vocal part to be sung by a 60-year old.

This is definitely not ʽThe Crazy World Of Arthur Brownʼ — more like ʽThe Cozy World Of Arthur Brownʼ if you ask me. But first, he is wrong who would assert that Arthur Brown has no right to have himself a cozy world at this time in his life. And second, the more I listen to it, the more unsure I am about which one of the two worlds I like more. Of course, in 1969, Crazy World was on the cutting edge, whereas Tantric Lover did not make as much as the tiniest ripple when it appeared, and remains steadily confined to Arthur's microscopic hardcore fan base. But, just like Requiem, it is an album that could have a greater appeal — it is ten times as auth­entic, memorable, and pleasant as the majority of indie favorites from the same year. Yes, the title and the album cover are a bit stupid — they could make you suspect that an old dirty has-been is lurking inside — but do not let it get you off the track: Tantric Lover deserves its thumbs up full well, and I'd personally nominate at least ʽCircle Danceʼ for the average 2000s playlist (par­ticularly if this would mean kicking out one more Bright Eyes tune from said playlist).

Check "Tantric Lover" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Tantric Lover" (MP3) on Amazon

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