After leaving Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett ventured briefly back into the studio to make a couple of solo albums. Occasionally listening to these recordings seems like voyeurism, as his mental state was clearly becoming more fragmented. But the first of these, "The Madcap Laughs" shows many signs that there was a remarkable songwriter left.
He had the help of former Floyd colleagues Dave Gilmour and Rick Wright in the studio to buff things up a bit. But most of the songs are just centered on Syd and his strumming guitar. His lyrics and simple tunes have a lot of the childlike innocence and inspired imagination that made Pink Floyd's "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" such a unique work. There's some deliciously simple love songs, such as the "Oh baby, my hair's on end about you" of "Terrapin", and the breezy "Love You" with its "Ice cream, 'scuse me, seen you looking good the other evening". "Octopus" is a stream of consciousness which holds up well next to the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus".
But of course there's a dark side to Syd's airy strum-alongs, and his anguish is evident on "Dark Globe" with its howled "wouldn't you miss me at all". Syd clearly loses focus and inspiration on "She Took a Long Cold Look" and "Feel", while his out-of-tune singing on "If It's In You" is painful to listen to. The haunting "Late Night" is his finest moment here, aware as he is of his disintegration with "inside me I feel alone and unreal...".
It might be tempting to see this as a half-finished classic album. Not easy listening, but it's evident what could have been if Syd had managed to hold on to his mental health for a few years longer. It's a shame that in the age of CDs they feel obliged to cram the space with half-finished studio outtakes, which add little value even for fans.
May 2, 2004