February 28, 2002

Ed's Underground

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Not many people know it, but before David Gilmour took the helm of Pink Floyd, the band was in the hands of a peculiar genius named Syd Barrett. On the Floyd’s first album, Barrett’s whimsical psychedelia set the tone, exploring bizarre fairy tale soundscapes. But it was not to last long; Barrett quickly became the era’s biggest drug casualty, his mind so fractured that he was phased out of the band in favor of Gilmour.

After Pink Floyd, Barrett released a pair of 1970 solo efforts before disappearing into obscurity. The sessions were fraught with trouble — 3 sets of producers were required to get some listenable output — but the end result of his first album was well worth it.

These 12 songs take a more restrained approach than the over-the-top psychedelia of early Pink Floyd. Most tracks are just Syd and his guitar, with some overdubs added later. “No Good Trying” is a bristling rocker built on a bed of whining feedback, with Syd’s melancholy vocals fitting in perfectly.

“Here I Go” is an acoustic number, with Syd telling a touching and fun story about getting a date with his ex-girlfriend’s sister. On “Octopus,” one of Barrett’s best post-Floyd songs, Syd intones nonsensical lyrics over a rollicking but sinister backing. On the other end of the spectrum is “Love You,” a silly Beatlesque tune with tinkling barroom piano and Syd spitting out a rapid stream-of-consciousness love ballad.

Though the whole album demonstrates Syd’s broad range and somewhat warped sensibilities, certain cuts pointedly show just how bad a shape he was in at this point. The off-key “If It’s In You” starts with a series of false takes before Syd finally gets it (somewhat) right. But novelties like this are rare, and most of the album just shows that, despite whatever setbacks he may have had, Syd was still the same songwriting genius he’d always been.

Archived article by Ed Howard