Release Date: 24th June 2022
Label: Magnetic Eye
Format: CD / Vinyl / Digital
God of Hellfire seeks salvation? A mixed chalice of fire, brimstone and promise from Arthur Brown.
Amongst the plethora of plaudits polished off in favour of fellow octogenarians Paul McCartney and, to a lesser extent, Brian Wilson, both 80 years young within the last month, somehow the same birthday of one Arthur Wilton Brown seems to have missed the front pages.
Why so, I wonder, thinking he could show his peers a finer fettle than they sometimes can muster, thinking, at least, from a physical point of view. Like most, I can’t help but thinking of the God of Hellfire, dressed in next to nothing, maybe some paint, a flaming headpiece precariously balanced atop his head. And, yes, that may have been, gulp, 1968, but his subsequent career trajectory has seldom not involved taking off his shirt and screaming maniacally, often on a flat bed truck. This has been both with his Crazy World of, with Kingdom Come, the entirely bonkers group he next led, or his ongoing solo career, in and out the company, variously, of such fellow mavericks as Hawkwind, The Pretty Things, The Stranglers and The Prodigy. Time is definitely not seeming about to wither him, nor stale his infinite variety. As this release, released on the date of his four-score birthday, demonstrates, even if, for infinite variety, read more of the same, writ large.
Billed as by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, it is absolutely that territory that opening track Gas Tanks fulfils. After some ambient noodling, a sturdy rhythm track of bass, drums and piano kicks in, topped by swirling Hammond of the style that would have you swearing Vincent Crane were still with us. Brown’s characteristically stentorian voice is present and correct, unchanged over the intervening decades, screeches and all. I am transported. It is terrific, although it may help to have been there first time. Eighty, schmeighty. A wonderful start, especially when some extravagantly ’70s flute tootles in. Obviously this segues into the next track, Coffin Connections, which starts with a frankly risible opening spoken narrative: “Come out the toilet with your hands up and put down that bag of crisps….” Hmmmm, OK, nothing much against type here, and it continues in the same vein, indulgent nonsense, with all manner of cross-channel hopping studio chicanery and after-dubbed trademark laughter. It’s short, though, and the, this time, very Floydy Rick Wright organ is quite lovely. (Those who feel sleighted by my faint damns, hell, no, this Arthur, this is what you get…)
Going Back is more full on Hammond organ, the vocals more grandiose than ever, and the whole something Greg Lake would have given his carpet up to carry off. Play loud, with the hints of saxophone riffery dipping into the precious few gaps in the sonic barrage. Glorious and ridiculous in equal parts. A title, Once I Had Illusions (Part 1) never augurs well, but hang on in there. Some acoustic guitar beckons in some further sonic soundscape, as Arthur intones a close relative of gospel staple, Motherless Child. Except he is bemoaning his own peculiar lot: “Sometimes I feel there is no blood in my veins”, a hymn to whomsoever a God might sing, with more tooting flute calisthenics. His voice tortured, it is curiously effective, the repeated guitar motif a capable tonic alongside. “Sometimes there’s no one to pray to….” Indeed. A hypnotic trance of a song, it is entirely believable as the cold and dark pre-dawn worries of any ageing icon. Walking bass then picks up the pace, the song getting altogether gloomy and grisly, bodies hanging from tree and the like, piano now repeating the same guitar lick. By now you are probably wondering who is putting it altogether with the maestro. Astonishingly, all the backing, and the production is one Rik Patten, of whom I know little, except he has worked with Brown before.
I Like Games is a blues and harp holler, again over acoustic guitar, very John Lee Hooker. Doesn’t really go far, but goes that short distance well, the singer sounding now like Tom Jones on pcp. Suddenly the idea of Brown crooning Delilah, or, even worse/better, Jones singing Fire enters unbidden. Next track, Shining Brightness, strays little from a bluesy template either, at least once the seagulls are out the way, the vocals now filtered for a megaphone effect. The organ masquerades as vibraphone, well and engagingly, shimmering electric power chords, organ and, mainly, the bass, propelling the song forward. I am enjoying the wallpaper more than the furniture on this one here, if you catch my drift. Finishing off with stream of consciousness gobbledegook, this is the first one I want over before it ends. So when The Blues And Messing Around starts, I’m ready, it a strangely Beatle-y blues, perhaps courtesy the guitar tone. And if Brown sounded like Jones on the last one but one, hell, this time he really is him, channeling the full Pontypridd. With that terrific stuttering Tourette’s piano style of much classic blues, it is a belter, even if I have no idea of what he is banging on about. A lovely Hammond solo also, becoming a guitar solo that takes that Harrison tang fully and further on.
Long Long Road, the title track, is probably the most thoughtful song here, an elegiac anthem, with a cigarette lighter waving build. It’s as if he is justifying all that has come before, setting out his preparation for St Peter, as he manfully chews the scenery in a wondrous OTT bravura performance; Brown by Jim Steinman? It is true it has taken a few listens for this work to settle into my head, but each listen gives it – and he, greater credibility. In the right place and the right time, it could be a great single. Or closing a big screen blockbuster. And if the lyrics of the closer seem familiar, indeed they are, being the Part 2 of Once I Had No Illusions, very much a reprise, Parnell playing tricks with the arrangement, needing open ears to catch all the playfulness now offers on bass and the piano. Why the repeat? I don’t know, but on reflection, why not.
An exuberant and life affirming release, there is more potency and promise here than, dare I say, his aforementioned contemporaries. i don’t know if Brown will be at Glastonbury this weekend to celebrate. It wouldn’t surprise me, tucked away on a distant field, maybe on the back of a truck, but, you know, I’d leave Sir Thumbsaloft, at the Pyramid, in an instant to find him.
Here’s that title track: