Back in the years of my Syd Barrett obsession, The Madcap Laughs never sounded sad. It was many things: erratic, whimsical, bizarre, brilliant. But it was never sad, not even when the melancholic slide guitar of “Late Night” brought it all to a wistful end. Exciting, excited years: not putting things in perspective and simply enjoying them for what they are.
It’s a bit different now. “If It’s In You” sounds painfully sad. Syd’s mental state becomes all too graphic, and when incompetent singing breaks into incoherent muttering and the music stops, you are left with an image of his face – confused, handsome, nibbled away by helplessness and LSD.
But the music? Well, the music restarts and a typically unfocused and quirky melody charms you with its disarming insanity. If you are unable to appreciate the man’s unique songwriting talent, there must be something missing in your heart. Something wonderful and essential. Because God knows The Madcap Laughs still sounds incredible, and if part of it is Syd’s troubled state of mind, then so be it. “Terrapin” is still the best mental house blues I know. “Love You” is so catchy and silly you have to be made of stone not to get caught up in the jolly vibe. “Octopus” is one hell of a messed-up single. “Golden Hair”, based on a James Joyce poem, is one of the most strangely beautiful pieces I’ve ever heard, and that’s coming from a big Chamber Music fan. Occasionally it will sound ecstatic, at times it will just come off unbearably sad.
Pretty much like the whole album. It’s like this feverish man lying on his sickbed and all the delirium coming out of his mouth are melodies. Genuine, unstoppable drivel of amazing melodies. Robyn Hitchcock took it seriously and built his whole career around this man. But The Madcap Laughs is what it’s all about, and the slightly demented vibe and the sense of sadness will not stand in the way of what is surely one of the most unique albums ever released.
P.S. There’s a good comment on YouTube under a “Golden Hair” video: “Imagine if Syd did a version of Finnegans Wake!” Fitting. Insane but fitting. Also, I wish I could hear that.