Album Review: Arthur Brown – Long Long Road

I’d like to think that everybody knows the song 1967 hit ‘Fire’ (but then again we now live in a world where Paul McCartney is bafflingly seen by some as an unknown chancer hanging onto Kanye West’s coat-tails).

The long haired proto-Alice Cooper with a flaming chalice on his head roaring the words: “I am the God of Hellfire and I bring you…” remains one of the most enduring iconic images of the sixties. Such immortality comes at a price however, and Arthur Brown was once categorised as a one-hit-wonder and consigned to the ‘Where are they now?’ file. Surely this was a huge error and those willing to delve “furthur” could find more of the same? 

Despite being a mere tot in 1967, in later years I came across an obscure, battered double album containing material from 1968 to ‘72 entitled, ‘The Lost Ears’. It was a glorious canon of Hammond-driven psychedelia and was awash with Arthur’s trademark falsetto, but also wildly experimental in places and featuring arguably one of the first recorded uses of a drum machine. Its other strange quality was that it seemed to defy the imposed time limits of the vinyl format, and somehow managed to cram hours of wonderful and bizarre music into each of its four sides. 

‘Requiem’ from 1982 was another revelation, where Arthur embraced the emerging electronic zeitgeist of the time. It was awash with frantic sequencers and displayed a mastery of the style when Pet Shop Boys still had stabilisers on their synth-bicycles.

Clearly this was an artist who hadn’t gone away. Like many from the sixties, subsequent decades hadn’t always been that kind or accepting, and the stories for those willing to delve were as mind-boggling as the music (a painting and decorating partnership in Texas during fallow years, with Jimmy Carl Black from The Mothers of Invention called ‘Black & Brown’, long-standing explorations into esoteric Gurdjieff philosophy), not to mention the massive blueprint he’d left behind for heavy rock artists to appropriate in octave-defying falsetto vocals, and freakish facial make-up. 

Arthur Brown is now eighty years old and his past dalliances with Jimi Hendrix, Hawkwind, the Floydian London UFO club scene and Psychedelia itself seem to have only galvanised him into an unstoppable force. His voice can still reach its legendary dizzying heights effortlessly but has matured even more into a gravely gravitas that embodies the raw blues he’s always embodied, and in it you can hear the seed of Cave, Waits and a whole generation of hard-bitten troubadours.

Throughout his vast canon of work he’s always fearlessly dived into that eternal bubbling swamp of good and evil known as ‘Rock ’n Roll’ (maybe it had other arcane names before), like Robert Johnson, Screaming Jay, The Cramps and a host of others. 

This latest album, ‘Long Long Road’ sounds just like that, a cinder-scorched path of sin, redemption, joy, pain and every other human experience in-between. Arthur Brown has reached this far and is here to bear testament by the blistered red-hot soles of his feet. Thanks to him, the Netflix soundtrack generation that have followed in his path have had the luxury of walking on cooler coals.

I could go into the merits of individual tracks, but each time I listen I get drawn into the seamlessness of it, blues, swamp-house harmonica, bar-room boogie, screaming guitar psychedelia. There are not many places Arthur hasn’t been in his eighty years. A lifetime’s experience crammed into every track, and it sounds like he’s only just getting warmed up. Astonishing.

Long Long Road is out now on Prophecy Productions / Magnetic Eye Records.

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