ARTHUR BROWN: ZIM ZAM ZIM (2014)
1) Zim Zam Zim; 2) Want To Love; 3) Jungle Fever; 4) The Unknown; 5) Assun; 6) Muscle Of Love; 7) Junkyard King; 8) Light Your Light; 9) Touched By All; 10) The Formless Depths.
One thing at least we know: as of the 2010s, Arthur Brown remains remembered and admired enough to successfully conduct a crowdfunding pledge campaign in order to raise the money for his next album. A very nice thing to know — especially considering that the album itself, despite having been recorded and issued as promised, has probably received 1,000,000th share of attention compared to any recent release by any of the day's moronic «superstars». Yes, Arthur Brown has been relegated to the top back shelves of the musical world, but as long as he has a small bunch of people offering support, this will not prevent him from putting out good art.
Once again credited to The Crazy (rather than The Amazing) World of Arthur Brown, Zim Zam Zim continues Arthur's surprisingly consistent streak of records that nobody ever listens to. In fact, it might even be his most consistent set of tunes in the 21st century — no mean feat for a 72-year old guy. The fact that he's been so crazy and isolated all these years actually helps, because the songs, once again, are timeless, paying no heed whatsoever to any modern developments (he does mention his iPod in one song, but then even Steve Jobs invented the iPod so that he could put himself some Bob Dylan and some Bach on it), and all for the better.
The title of the album already suggests a phantasmagoric circus experience (the normal way of life for Arthur Brown, that is), as does the eerie album cover, as does the opening track with its grumbly brass fanfares, deep harmonies, and booming message by the maniacal herald himself. Apparently, Zim Zam Zim is a state of being that preceded even The Big Bang, to which we are being invited or, at the very least, of which we are going to be informed. Big news for most people, table talk for Mr. Brown.
However, if you think that the album is going to be wildly psychedelic and ultra-other-worldly-dimensional, that is not the case. All the songs are a little whacky as far as Arthur's singing is concerned, and many of the tracks feature unconventional arrangements, but the chief point here, I think, was on integrating a wide variety of different styles — to put it philosophically, explore the amazing diversity of forms postdating the solitary state of Zim Zam Zim. "In my heart all forms of life are joined", quoth Mr. Brown, and that includes such forms of musical life as ska, rumba, blues, folk, rock, jazz, and noise. Above all of that, his voice still rings out loud and clear, and it can be sentimental, aggressive, or just plain crazy whenever he wants — and he sure as hell don't sound like a 72-year old. Must be all these mystical mushrooms.
Melodically, most of the tunes are fairly traditional, but it helps makes them more memorable, and then there are all the different angles. ʽWant To Loveʼ has a basic ska bounce to it, bu the percussion sounds like the Nibelung anvils, and the brass, strings, and accordeon cobwebs in the background are quite a wond'rous combination. ʽJungle Feverʼ is a minimalistic boogie-blues piece that echoes back to John Lee Hooker, but the guitar is processed in a way that makes it sound closer to a Jew's harp, and the accompanying wildlife sounds truly give the impression of a crazy old man lost in the jungle, strumming his instrument and going more and more ga-ga with each passing moment. ʽThe Unknownʼ sounds like a long-lost outtake from Tom Waits' Rain Dogs (Brown even gets a credible rasp-and-gurgle going for the chorus, although he probably has to live for 72 more years to catch up with Mr. Tom), but far more densely arranged (background vocals, whistles, very busy and melodic piano line, etc.).
If you are on the lookout for a good strong punch, ʽMuscle Of Loveʼ offers an opportunity — nothing to do with the Alice Cooper song or album of the same name, in particulars, but just as dark, sarcastic, and glammy as Alice at his most theatrical. The chorus ("don't wear no hat, don't wear no gloves, all you wear is your muscle of love") should probably have a sexual interpretation (Brown's Tantric practices are never obsolete), but it is the song's nagging brass riff that offers the most sexual imagery of it all — and the track's complex, sense-thrashing, somewhat jungle-like percussion arrangement heats things up even further.
There are occasional moments of heartwarming beauty (ʽLight Your Lightʼ), occasional moments of surprising musical complexity, hearkening back to the old Journey days (ʽTouched By Allʼ), and a chaotic, percussion-wild conclusion (ʽThe Formless Depthsʼ) that might, perhaps, have been more formally impressive with a larger budget, but even so, it is curious to learn how one may paint the be-all-end-all state of the universe with nothing but tribal percussion, a little electronic grunting, and some primeval yodeling. I probably wouldn't have imagined it like that myself, but I do tip my hat to the effort — and to the album in general, which really gets the easiest thumbs up I remember giving to Brown since Requiem. Highly recommended if you can find it, and reason enough, I guess, to keep sending in those pledges as long as the old «muscle of love» still retains a modicum of potential energy.