Most longtime [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Pink Floyd[/lastfm] fans know the song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was written about one of the band’s founding members, [lastfm link_type=””]Syd Barrett[/lastfm], who’d left the group in 1968 due to some combination of metal illness, the pressures of pop stardom, and/or excessive drug use. One of the great tragic stories of rock ‘n roll, Syd only recorded two additional solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, before moving into his mother’s home and staying entirely out of the public eye until his death in 2006.
Barrett’s songs are plenty odd, yet stories of acid and instability aside, he was no mere oddball. Syd was a rock ‘n roll visionary for his use of distortion, feedback, echoes, and other experimental techniques, all of which became trademarks of Pink Floyd’s sound for the life of the band, and of the psychedelic era as a whole. He was also a superb songwriter.
EMI just issued a single disc retrospective of Barrett’s recording career, An Introduction to Syd Barrett, that brings together remastered material from both his Pink Floyd and solo recordings, some of them remixed for this release.
Barrett’s wrote or cowrote all the songs on Pink Floyd’s first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which is far more pop-focused, even whimsical, than later epics like Dark Side of the Moon or Animals. Songs like “See Emily Play” and “Apples and Oranges” are catchy gems built on bouncy melodies and quirky, clever lyrics that are good fun, even if they doesn’t make much sense. The album paired these doses of tripped-out sonic sunshine with grinding, pulsing instrumentals like “Interstellar Overdrive,” that show off an intense, darker side of the band’s psychedelic experimentalism. In other words, darkness and light are never far apart. To be sure, the dirge of “Overdrive” isn’t an anomaly, you can hear it right in the driving rhythm that underlies “Arnold Layne,” Pink Floyd’s very first single.
Barrett’s career in Pink Floyd was brief; he became nearly impossible to work with, live or in the studio, and he was eventually replaced by an old schoolmate of his, guitarist [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]David Gilmour[/lastfm].
Barrett did, though, turn around and record two solo albums between 1968 and 1970, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, more or less picking up where songs like “See Emily Play” and “Mathilda Mother” left off. Only now when you listen to them, especially knowing the state of his mind at the time, the songs seem to delve even deeper into the mad, mad world that only Barrett himself may ever have truly understood (the rest of us should probably stop trying).
Whether or not you feel Barrett’s solo recordings are brilliant, they’re certainly unique, often fun, and, at the same time, deceptively challenging. Not for all the wacky wordplay, but more for the multilayered moods that weave in and out of the melodies and lyrics of songs like “Baby Lemonade,” “Octopus,” “She Took a Long Cool Look,” and “Terrapin”–the latter carrying a streak of sentimentalism more sincere than it may at first appear.
This new Syd Barrett compilation was executive-produced by David Gilmour, who also plays bass on one of the remixed tracks, “Here I Go.” The word “remix” feels like a strong one, but the work here is actually not overbearing at all; these new mixes feel reverential to Barrett’s original material, and perhaps most important of all, like they’re organic and in the right place.
As the first CD collection to knock down the borders between his Pink Floyd and solo recordings, An Introduction To Syd Barrett is a potent reminder of this psychedelic visionary’s influence and the strange draw his songs still possess.
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