Psych-rock icon Arthur Brown celebrates his 80th birthday with a new album

If I were forced to subscribe to any wild theory circulating on the Internet right now (we won’t say the c-word), it wouldn’t be about lizard people, a flat Earth, anything “secretly staged by crisis actors,” organized religions, or UFOs. It would be that a God of Hellfire lives and flourishes here on this planet as a for-real deity. This divinely blazing being is widely recognized under the human name Arthur Brown, but to me he’s an effortless pioneer, a visionary, and yes, even an otherworldly lord of the highest order. With his glass-breaking operatic voice, the flamboyantly experimental singer-songwriter broke out of London’s late-60s rock scene with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, a manic, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins-inspired R&B group best known for their 1968 single “Fire” (in various forms or lineups, they’ve continued to make records on and off ever since). Brown later explored more varied sounds, including futuristic electronics with his 70s band Kingdom Come and avant-garde synth music on the 1982 solo LP Requiem—neither of which the world has caught up with yet. I can be pretty cynical about new releases by even the most beloved legacy artist, but from the get-go, heads will recognize Brown’s new album, Long Long Road, as an epic future classic. Opener “Gas Tanks” (a term on the minds of everyone hemorrhaging petrol money) starts with a collage of electronic swells, birdsong, and other mysterious sounds, then gives way to a pounding organ-led groove of Hellfire God proportions. This righteous cut evokes vintage Brown and puts his proggy tendencies on brilliant display: flute parts, tricky pin-drop changes, and of course his unearthly falsetto vocals. The track blends into the mellow and irreverent spoken word of “Coffin Confessions,” which segues into the Hammond B3 gospel glory of “Going Down.” 

Long Long Road feels like a concept album: the tracks all flow into each other, and together they seem to hint at a theme of aging and roads traveled. Brown is entering the final phase of his career, after all—this LP comes out on June 24, his 80th birthday. The downer “Once I Had Illusions (Part 1)” treats a snaking guitar line with swirling backward effects, while the acoustic-guitar number “I Like Games” betrays an abstract but rootsy Captain Beefheart influence that shows off the versatility of Brown’s voice, which veers into low ’n’ gritty blooz tones. The variety continues on the jazzy, vibes-accented “Shining Brightness,” which is dense with trippy sonic details and chunky fuzz guitar. The album’s title track and first single, “Long Long Road,” is ironically my least favorite here. It feels like a commercial ballad with chart aspirations, and it just doesn’t fit Brown’s talents or this album—especially considering that it precedes the ominous, progressive closing track, “Once I Had Illusions (Part 2).” It runs past six minutes, with dark, ruminative lyrics (“Sometimes I feel there’s no blood in my veins”) and an approach to the blues that’s not quite like anything we’ve heard before—no mean feat.

Long Long Road is a definite must-have for every Brown fan; the main conundrum is deciding between formats. The release will arrive as a fancy box set whose many delights include a 48-page hardcover art book, an LP, two CDs, and four art prints, all hand-numbered and signed by Brown. The art book (which comes with the two CDs) is also available separately, and it comes with liner notes by Brown and two exclusive studio recordings. For those without such deep pockets, it’ll also be released on 180-gram red vinyl and as a Digipak CD—but I gotta admit, I want it all!

Arthur Brown’s Long Long Road is out 6/24 via Bandcamp.

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