THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN — The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (review)

THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN — The Crazy World of Arthur Brown album cover Album · 1969 · Proto-Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
Arthur Wilton Brown may not be a household name compared to the likes of other 60s pioneers such as The Doors, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix or even Led Zeppelin, but has probably had just as much influence on countless other artists who followed in his footsteps after he set the world on "Fire" (as well as his head) with his pioneering proto-prog, proto-shock rock and proto-metal wizardry that he conjured up with his very first artistic expressions in THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN. This was the band name as well as the name of the self-titled debut which remained the band's only album until a reunion would find new life starting with 2000's "Tantric Lover" (excluding the archival release "Strangelands" in 1988). The rest of his output was released under his own name with some guests appearing on the bill along the way. While musically paving the way for many more to follow, this charismatic shock jock of horror is more remembered for his live eccentricities that earned them the title as one of the most shocking performers of the psychedelic rock scene.

While starting out somewhat normal growing up in Whitby, England and studying philosophy and law in Leeds later in life, the 60s offered BROWN the chance to nurture his wild side as he became one of the most outlandish and flamboyant figures to have emerged from the psychedelic rock era which included his famous head dressing that he would ignite and perform fully aflame during his live performances. This outrageous behavior is what got him noticed and still remembered some half century later, but during the day it also got him in a lot of trouble with self-inflicted injuries, property damage run amok, apocalyptic shocking material and to top it off was booted off the Jimi Hendrix tour for his reckless shenanigans. Not content to simply light his head on fire, he would also strip naked and let it all hang out so to speak, a feat that got him arrested in Italy and banned from even setting foot on stage in other parts of the world. THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN seemed like the perfect descriptive moniker for this unhinged lunatic.

All of these wild man antics naturally caught the attention of record companies as well and BROWN signed on to Pye Records where he and bandmates Vincent Crane (Hammond organ, piano), Drachen Theaker (drums) and Nick Greenwood (bass) would record and release their one and only self-titled album in 1968. The album received a bit of a boost due to The Who's manage Kit Lambert sitting in as producer with Pete Townsend on associate production. The album was a surprise hit on both sides of the Atlantic when the first single "Fire" catapulted to the #1 spot in the UK and shot all the way up to the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 not to mention significant success all over the planet. The album musically was based in the catchy pop hook laden psychedelic rock of the era with an energized with a groovy bass line, bombastic organ soloing and BROWN's four octave vocal range including an over the top falsetto that would give birth to the heavy metal style of Rob Halford in Judas Priest, King Diamond in Mercyful Fate and Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden.

Stylistically THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN album was laid out like a rock opera which included a more commercial side one followed by a slightly more experimental side two. The album was basically built around the concept of the first single "Fire" laid out in poetic prose and ambitious musical delivery, although the full rock opera effect was truncated and tamed due to the technological limitations of the day, the band more than made up for this lack of album ambitiousness with their lavish live settings where BROWN engaged in numerous costume changes and donned his famous face paint appearance that would also prove influential with artists such as Alice Cooper, Kiss, King Diamond and the entire black metal world that would essentially adapt the entire BROWN playbook and adapt it to the modern day. The album, while not a fully fledged opera, nevertheless provided a prototype of progressive rock hot on the heels of The Beatles' "Sgt Pepper's" album and remains one of the key pivotal albums in ratcheting the rock paradigm into more sophisticated levels of musical mastery.

THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN album is flawless in how it creates the perfect atmosphere with the keyboard rich opener "Prelude / Nightmare" which finds a dreamy flute being replaced by a groovy bass driven rock beat and heavy organs offering a spooky overtone to the classical virtuosity that Crane dishes out. For the most part BROWN sounds a lot like Frank Zappa in vocal tone but had the ability to drop to extremely low bass notes and then whizz up the scales to hit high falsettos and blood curdling screams. He had the perfect intuitive drive of how to alternate singing, narration or just knowing when to just scream his ass off. There are even moments that sound like Robert Plant well before Led Zeppelin was even in its infancy. Some tracks are connected with orchestrations with some such as "Fanfare / Fire Poem" creating a tension building interlude that connects the opener to the powerhouse single "Fire" a track so catchy and built on unexpected changes that an unsuspecting public was defenseless against its persuasive charm. The album was primarily written by BROWN and Crane but includes two covers in the form of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You" and James Brown's (no relation!) "I've Got Money."

The intensity of this CRAZY WORLD period was too much to sustain and like a super nova star simply exhausted its fuel supply not too long after getting started. Due to all kinds of mishaps and creative differences, the band completely fell apart during the tour. Firstly, Theaker was morbidly frightened of airplanes and could not tour. He was replaced by Chris Farlowe and then Carl Palmer but everything else turned south very quickly and the band called it quits. But like a super nova that explodes, it created the star seedlings to spawn new life elsewhere. After disbanding, Carl Palmer would join Vincent Crane to form Atomic Rooster, Theaker would join Love and then Rustic Hinge while Nick Greenwood would join up with Steve Hillage to form Khan. BROWN himself would create Kingdom Come as well as pump out a few solo albums during the 70s. The influence of this one shot band though would extend to the present day in the trifurcated tree that extends into progressive rock, shock / glam rock and heavy metal. No small feat for a short lived but over the top act that was only in operation for a mere few years. The band is legendary but the album is a mesmerizing as the tracks offer many moods, tempos and dynamics to keep it enthralling throughout its entire listening time that offer a mature mix of psychedelic rock, R&B and pop with classical touches.

While perhaps the overall sound is dated as it could never be mistaken for anything other than the time period it was created with it's somewhat cliche organ sounds, psychedelic rock constructs and album layout, THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN does exactly what it is supposed to and takes the listener back to the year 1968 and delivers a collection of ten tracks that still sound as interesting as they must've back then. While rooted in the psychedelic rock sound of the era, this album implements interesting creativity in the nooks and crannies that must've driven the record company CRAZY! If BROWN hadn't been constricted by external forces this album may have been far more progressive, far more outlandish and the CRAZY turned up several notches, but even as it stands, this is a brilliant display of the late 60s underground scene that just happened to spawn a surprising top 10 hit around the world. The 2010 remaster is well worth the price of admission with a bonus CD that includes the B-sides of the singles as well as demos, mono mixes and a few extras. Even today, 50 years later after its release, THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN sounds fairly unique with BROWN's eccentric vocals standing out. This is a true classic.
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