Syd Barrett – An Introduction to Syd Barrett [Harvest, 2010]

Syd Barrett - An introduction to Syd BarrettThe late Syd Barrett was the creative fulcrum of the first line-up of Pink Floyd. While the Floyd embraced the emergent genre of prog-rock after his 1968 departure, Barrett engaged in music far less easy to categorise and with far less commercial success, before drifting into complete inactivity after two albums.

This release compiles together for the first time Barrett tracks from both his Pink Floyd days and his solo career. Previously unreleased 20-minute instrumental Rhamadan can be downloaded by purchasers via a dedicated webpage. This will all go down well with his fan base. Not so likely to provoke universal appreciation is the remixing of five tracks and the overdubbing of a new bass part on one cut by Barrett’s ex-Floyd colleague David Gilmour (although as production member on both Barrett’s albums, if anybody has the right to make the latter call, he probably does).

The six Pink Floyd tracks (which naturally include his two most famous songs, Arnold Layne and See Emily Play) are far smoother than Barrett’s post-Floyd selections but far less likeable, being rather chilly and know-it-all. Solo, Barrett had an erratic charm, demonstrated by Here I Go, a good-humoured denunciation of a girl who had the bloody cheek to prefer big bands to his songs. However, what we now know about Barrett’s psychological deterioration also makes that erratic nature borderline disturbing. His wobbly mental state seems reflected in his melodies, which by now frustratingly wander in and out of catchiness (Love You, Dominoes, Gigolo Aunt). The false starts and the dialogue between Barrett and his producer that begin If It’s in You are symptomatic of the chaotic nature of Barrett’s talent, as is the fact that on the take proper his singing is painfully out of tune.

Barrett has often been bracketed with Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green in that he was the leader of a band that went on to far greater success without him after he became an LSD casualty. Green, though, was infinitely more talented as an instrumentalist, singer and composer. That Barrett would not be as well-regarded as he is if it weren’t for the myth-making seclusion in which he spent the bulk of his life is proven by An Introduction to Syd Barrett, a compilation that is discomforting in more ways than one.

Sean Egan

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Originally published on BBC Music.

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