The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – Zim Zam Zim (Bronze Rat Records, 28 July 2014)
For those who may have missed the announcement, about two months ago, the highly influential and iconic Arthur Brown will be performing a series of live dates with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown — for the first time since that group’s earlier incarnation had disbanded after (or during, depending on which account of events you hear) a U.S. tour back in 1969! This new run of shows will be kicking off tonight(!), and we’ve got the details for you down in the comments section. But before we get there, I’d first like to call your attention to The Crazy World‘s newest album — 2014’s Zim Zam Zim …
While the recent announcement of upcoming American tour dates took me by surprise, I have to admit that was also the first time I’d been aware that the group had released a record this decade. It’s well-known that following the dissolution of the band most famous for their hit single “Fire” (as well as an excellent version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins‘ “I Put a Spell on You”), frontman Brown — certainly a kindred spirit of Hawkins in terms of powerful vocals and a commanding (and certainly bizarre) presence — had gone on to work with other groups, including Kingdom Come, and made guest appearances in other artists’ work, a notable example of which was in “The Tell-Tale Heart” from Alan Parsons Project‘s Poe-inspired Tales of Mystery and Imagination. But the news that the eccentric and enigmatic performer had reformed his original ensemble (although by now, the cast of supporting characters have all changed) and assembled an album of all-new material, had somehow slipped past me. And in case any of you out there might similarly have missed out on this exciting new release a few years back, we’re featuring it here today.
The singer, like the previously-mentioned Screamin’ Jay (who was highly influential early in Brown‘s career) or, to an extent, King Diamond (for whom Arthur had surely served as an influence in turn, including the striking face-paint and onstage theatrics), possesses quite a range of abilities and utilizes each song as a vehicle for showcasing this fact. The way the songs vary so widely in style, yet the vocalist remains comfortable — flourishing, in fact — in each of them, this album tends to call to mind other expert songwriters, such as Harry Nilsson.
While some of these compositions feature full-band arrangements (for example, the 80s-style, almost “China Girl”-esque “Want to Love”; the latter half of the title track; and “The Unknown” with its peculiar blend of swing-cajun-carribean styles, complemented by the fittingly peculiar turn of phrase in the chorus “I know the unknown and the unknown knows me”), much of the album is more sparsely orchestrated — the better to accentuate the real star of the show.
Two of the album’s best tracks are the soft and ballady “Assun,” where gentle acoustic guitar and strings support the powerful vocals, which here sound like they’ve been captured by some some kind of great, high-quality vintage studio mic, the sort of thing they just don’t make anymore, and “Jungle Fever,” where the singer is accompanied very simply, by a muted-plucked guitar part that comes across with a real old-timey, “cigar-box banjo recorded onto a wax cylinder” type of feeling.
In parts of “Jungle Fever,” near the end of “Zim Zam Zim,” and randomly throughout, Brown engages in the wild, acrobatic vocal antics made famous on previous works (such as “The Tell-tale Heart”), while the latter part of “Touched By All” exhibits impressive singing of a more traditional operatic style. But in more restrained moments the singer still manages to shine — the softer “Assun” has already been mentioned, but the album also includes a good bit of spoken word or poetic recitation rather than singing. Most of the title track, for example, as well as the first half of “Touched By All,” and especially on the excellent closing track “The Formless Depths.” Here, underscored only by an assortment of avant-garde percussion, the vocalist delivers his rendition of legendary horror TV host John Zacherle as he ruminates on suitably deep philosophical thoughts: at one point, The Crazy World‘s mastermind, who is currently celebrating half a century since the release his debut single as he kicks off this month’s American tour, intones, “You’ve reached your sell-by date; it’s time to die.”
Grab your copy of Zim Zam Zim in MP3/CD/Vinyl formats right here.
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