8 September 2008
Beyond the Wildwood - A Tribute to Syd Barrett
Year of Release: 1987
This is the second CD I ever bought, fact fans... I was faithful to vinyl for rather a long time.
The Tribute album was a distinctly late eighties/ early nineties phenomenon, but is a concept which still continues to trundle along to a lesser extent to this day. At one point, it was very difficult to look through the CD section of just about any cult artist without seeing a tribute album dedicated to them. The majority of them were completely rush-recorded gash by various unsigned bands you'd never heard of and almost certainly would never hear from again. In their aims to produce tribute albums to artists, some indie labels (because it was almost always indie labels) mistakenly assumed that XTC or REM were going to take time out of their busy schedules to bang out a version of a Captain Beefheart song for their compilation. Usually they were sorely mistaken, and the best they could manage was some band from Ipswich called Oh No She's Got A Zygote! The resulting version of "Electricity" would then sound like a bunch of buskers using Casio presets to recreate the Theremin noises, whilst somebody who had never even sniffed a trumpet in their lives honked on it in the background for the sake of it.
Whilst a lot of tribute albums were therefore a waste of perfectly good beer or grubbage money, you can point the blame for the trend squarely in the direction of this particular CD, which was one of the very first ones out of the traps. And, in truth, it's not half bad. Where most of the artists had the advantage with Syd's output is that - as Mr Smee rightly points out above - the foundations for his solo output were very stark and sparse in the first place. Therefore, if some psychedelic-influenced eighties indie band wanted to flesh out the original vision, they could.
Plenty chose not to, however, and what this CD reveals is something I've been arguing for a long time - that the boundary between twee/ C86 indie-pop and sixties psychedelia is sometimes wafer thin. The Television Personalities were always sixties kids at heart, but nothing quite prepares you for their version of "Apples and Oranges" which is significantly different from (but equally impressive as) the enjoyably messy original. Their cockernee mod take on the track makes it sound like "Parklife" ahead of the time. Then there's Plasticland's rather jaunty (but significantly inferior, I'm sorry to say) version of "Octopus".
Light years ahead of the artists I've just mentioned, though, are The Mock Turtles with their frankly startling version of "No Good Trying", which sounds like something from the early seventies before glam found its feet and the last effects of psychedelia were still lingering. It's a swaggering, camp beast of a track, and one which may surprise many who only know them as the one-hit wonders from the mobile phone advert. Also up there with the best is Paul Roland with his haunting hymnal version of "Matilda Mother" and The Shamen* who take "Long Gone" to new menacing, creepy conclusions.
There's a lot of guff on the CD as well, I'm afraid to say, and The Soup Dragons can hang their heads in shame for pissing on the Syd party - their attempt at "Two of a Kind" adds little to the original Peel Session version, which was never one of Syd's finest moments anyway. In fact, there is still debate about whether he wrote it at all, or if it's the work of another Floyd member. What Noise's version of "Rats" also probably seemed like a very hip and progressive piece of sample city mayhem at the time, but has dated horribly since - full credit to them for trying to do something different with the original material, though, even if the end result does sound like some kind of perverse attempt to create a hip-hop version of a Syd track on a Fostex machine in a damp abandoned warehouse. You've got to give it a go, I suppose...
Syd Barrett albums never go out of print (although there's a lot of material left in the can which really deserves to also see the light of day) but this tribute album did disappear off the shelves a number of years ago. I don't think it's an essential part of your Barrett collection, but it's certainly worth owning for some of the better moments, which may get you wondering what else could be achieved with some of his more threadbare moments, and who else in the present day could put their own skewed interpretations on his work. I can think of plenty of possible contenders.
(*Hands up who managed to forget that The Shamen launched themselves as a psychedelic revival band before releasing their Ebeneezer Goode assault much later in their careers?)
1 The Mock Turtles - No Good Trying
2 Plasticland - Octopus
3 SS-20 - Arnold Layne
4 Paul Roland - Matilda Mother
5 Fit and Limo - Long Cold Look
6 The Shamen - Long Gone
7 Opal - If the Sun Don't Shine (Jugband Blues)
8 The Ashes in the Morning - Baby Lemonade
9 Lobster Quadrille - Wolfpack
10 Paint Set - Golden Hair
11 Tropicana Fishtank - No Man's Land
12 TV Personalities - Apples and Oranges
13 Soup Dragons - Two of a Kind
14 Green Telescope - Scream Thy Last Scream
15 Chemistry Set - See Emily Play
16 What Noise - Rats
17 Death of Samantha - Gigolo Aunt
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