ARTHUR BROWN: VAMPIRE SUITE (2003)
1) Introduction; 2) Vampire Club; 3) SAS; 4) Africa; 5) Maybe My Soul; 6) In This Love; 7) Confession; 8) Vampire Love; 9) Completion; 10) Divers; 11) Re-Vamp Your Soul; 12) Isness Is My Business; 13) Stay.
Arthur's fascination with vampires comes as a surprise, and perhaps a disappointing one. He'd never expressed tremendous interest in the subject before — or have I missed something? — yet there he is now, once again crediting «The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown», this time, for a complex, relatively plotless story of the fates, characters, and habits of vampires in the modern world: the story itself comes as a fifty-minute «audiobook» reading on the bonus CD (which I, honestly, had no will or patience to sit through), while the first and main CD acts as a «rock musical» loosely based on the story.
But I mean, vampires? Isn't a concept album about vampires a bit too kitschy even for the likes of Mr. Brown? Shouldn't it be relegated to the likes of Alice Cooper? (And, speaking of Alice, the Vegasy glitz of the opening number, ʽVampire Clubʼ, quickly brings on memories of ʽWelcome To My Nightmareʼ). Moving away from all those concept albums about space travel and humanity's post-apocalyptic fate into the realm of bloodsucking, garlic strings, and silver bullets?
I must admit it is a little anticlimactic, what with the vampire subject beaten so firmly into the ground and all. But at this point in his career — come to think of it, at any point in his career — Arthur couldn't really care less about the particular referential topic of his creativity. His meager sales and near-negative recognizability (how many people in the world would know or remember that he was still alive in 2003, let alone making records?) would not increase or decrease depending on whether he was writing and singing about vampires or about superstring theory. And if the guy likes vampires, well, why not garner a bit of inspiration from vampires if it helps make some decent music?
The project is no longer acoustic — a serious musical needs more than an acoustic guitar and some aboriginal Australian woodwinds, after all — but neither is it «rock'n'rollish»: pianos, electronics, and a heavy brass section matter much more on this album than distorted electric guitars. It does, indeed, in many respects recall different stages of Alice Cooper's career (be it from the Welcome To My Nightmare period, the DaDa period, or some of his recent records), but the bluesy and R'n'B-ish shades are all unmistakably Brownian.
Curiously, the best stuff here are the soulful numbers — songs that make me forget all about the context and just freely enjoy the music. ʽMaybe My Soulʼ, for instance, is one of the most uplifting R&B anthems in the man's career — with a glorious buildup from verse to chorus, excellent «old-school» brass parts, and a totally triumphant vocal delivery for a sixty-year old eccentric white male with a complicated medical history. And then, immediately after the exuberant optimism of ʽMaybe My Soulʼ, on comes the cold shower of the desperate soul-blues ʽIn This Loveʼ, an equally impressive stunner. Vampires? Maybe if you tune in to the lyrics very closely, but all I hear is exuberance in number one and desperation in number two.
The «kitschy» numbers do not work quite as well, but ʽVampire Clubʼ is still a nice and catchy Vegasy romp; ʽVampire Loveʼ is supposed to tele-transport you to 1997, the age of "those synthesizers and drum machines", Arthur gleefully ironizes in the introduction to the song (but why 1997, I wonder? the track does sound somewhat 1997-ish, but wouldn't 1987 be a better bet for such a «nostalgic» trip?) — and it is a cool mix of rhythmic catchiness and absurd theatricality, not to mention Arthur's old penchant for combining the uncombinable, such as modernistic synthesizer loops and very old-school organ solos. And the retro-funk of ʽAfricaʼ is quite hard to get out of your head once it gets around to the "Africa, the cradle of civilization" chorus (even if "Afr-EEH-ca", with the accent on the second syllable, gets a bit annoying after a while).
The only true misstep comes at the end: Arthur has a long and dubious tradition of recycling his old (or not so old) material, and ʽStayʼ here is a remake of ʽGabrielʼ from the last album, with the precise acoustic rhythms replaced by mushy keyboard atmospherics, the steady drums replaced with machines and «tribal percussion» scattered all over the place, and the grinning, sarcastic vocals of the original forgotten in favor of a sterner, less humorous delivery. Not a very good ending for an album that does have its fair share of strong moments.
The whole thing never sounds as «unusual» as Tantric Lover, and does not look nearly as convincing — a half-labour of love at best, compared to its predecessor. But the well-balanced mix of humor and seriousness, the stylistic diversity, the never-ending freshness of the vocals, the refusal to bow to modern terms and conditions, all of this means one thing: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown is still alive and well, and you do not need to be a loyal follower of this guy for thirty-five years in order to enjoy it. Yes, a thumbs up by all means — I am glad, though, that the record never had a werewolf sequel (although, come to think of it, the idea of Arthur Brown howling at the moon should be quite natural).
Check "The Vampire Suite" (MP3) on Amazon