Syd Barrett, The Madcap Laughs

There must be some term, somewhere, to refer to the contemptible yet commonplace vicarious pleasure derived from observing someone's descent into madness. Indeed, Syd Barrett's slipping grip was long the stuff of prog rock folklore and this album unfailingly captures every oozing pustule of it. The songs veer from childish ("Terrapin") to compositionally disorganized ("No Good Trying", "Here I Go", "Feel") to monotonous ("Long Gone", "Late Night") to lyrically meandering ("Dark Globe," "She Took a Long Cold Look"), though honestly much of this album fits well into any or all of those dubious categories. A few gems stand out, such as "Love You" for its tinkling whimsy (until it tangles up at the end), the Hendrixy "No Man's Land" and shades of "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" in the bafflingly short James Joyce-penned "Golden Hair," and "Octopus" at least seems to start and end on something you can get your arms around, but even these feel like unpolished stones waiting for the producer's final pass rather than finished tracks. Not that the production could have done much with them: Barrett, through both his naturally difficult personality and his worsening psychological state, managed to get both Pete Jenner and Malcolm Jones to the point they wouldn't work with him further, and only former Pink Floyd bandmates Roger Waters and David Gilmour could coax out any level of consistency. No, the real fault lies with EMI, who thought they could make a few quid off this sort of musical road fatality; listen to him almost disintegrate on tape in the interval between "Feel" and "If It's In You." These songs are the evidence of a tragic man plummeting away from reality and I just can't endorse a cynical gawk at another human being's uncomprehending downward spiral. The later reissues add various works-in-progress as bonus tracks; you would be forgiven for finding them as inscrutable as the originals. (Content: no concerns.)