For a recluse, Syd Barrett - the still-beating heart of Pink Floyd - is sort of ubiquitous.
Even as his old band returns with a new Columbia album the No. 1 selling "The Division Bell," which has reestablished them as the reigning grandpas of loopy space music, Barrett's name keeps coming up.
The first single from "The Division Bell" includes a live b-side tribute to Syd: Floyd performing "Astonomy Domine," a Barrett masterpiece which was recorded for Pink Floyd's 1967 debut "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn."
Too, Capitol Records has released a 3-CD box set, "Crazy Diamond," that includes "The Madcap Laughs" and "Barrett" Barrett's only solo albums after getting booted from Floyd but before he disappeared from recording. Also featured is a third disc of unreleased material and rarities called "Opel."
These CDs are simply astounding. Gone is the punky psychedelia of the early Floyd singles Syd wrote, like the breakthrough "Arnold Layne" "Apples and Oranges."
While these late 1960s recordings seem deeply influenced by the Beatles, Barrett's new music was much heavier. His whimsy had developed into pop songcraft of the highest order. There is a resonant, vaguely elegiac tone throughout; but in no way is this morose flower-power stuff.
In fact, believe it or not, Syd sounds tough, and incredibly modern. The whole of "Barrett," in particular, could fit easily in college-radio rotation.
Capitol has lovingly repackaged all three LPs, with generous bonus tracks, a big full-color booklet with great groovy pictures of Floyd when they were mod, even new album cover art.
Those bonus tracks are another pleasant surprise: The stripped-down, in-studio glimpses are more enjoyable than they are anthropological. Barrett is almost scary on solo takes of "Baby Lemonade" and "It's No Good Trying."
"The Madcap Laughs" includes tracks produced by fellow Floyds David Gilmour and Roger Waters. "Barrett," on the other hand, was done sans Waters.
By now, Gilmour has gotten used to working that way. He's just released his
second album with the band's former bassist and principle songwriter.