Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come - Eternal Messenger – An Anthology 1970-1973 [Esoteric Records/ Cherry Red - 2021]
Eternal Messenger is an impressive CD boxset charting the career of Kingdom Come- the 1970’s prog/psychedelic/experimental rock band that was fronted by Arthur Brown- who will be known to most as his big late 60’s rock single "Fire".The five-CD set takes in the bands three studio albums- Galactic Zoo Dossier, Kingdom Come, and Journey. plus Two CD’s worth of jam/live material, and a great selection of bonus tracks. With the set getting topped off with a thick glossy inlay booklet, and a fold-out poster. The set appears on Esoteric Records- Cherry Red’s prog focused sub-label, and it is one of the labels most classy looking/ thorough boxset yet.
Each of the five CD’s come presented in card slips, with two of these been mini gatefolds- recreating the original album artwork. The forty-eight-page booklet- is both colourful and highly informative, as we get some great stills of the bands wacky stage get up, and Artur Browns very corpse paint like make-up. A twenty-four-page new write-up about the band from respected rock writer Malcolm Dome, reproduction of poster artwork, and full CD/ album credits. Also, there's a black and white glossy mini poster- on one side this features a Black metal like still of corpse painted Brown on a cross, then on the back lyrics for the band first album/ related images. The whole set comes packed inside a thick and glossy flip top box, and on its front recreates the neat/ before it’s time of Brown on the cross pic reproduced in grimly mood purple colour. Really a great, great looking set- which had clearly been put together with a lot of time/ love.
Brown's first band The Crazy World of Arthur Brown ran between the years 1967 and 1970, releasing just one self-titled album- this featured the big single "Fire". After the demise of his initial band-Brown worked with a few musicians on projects such as Strangelands, Puddletown Express, and (briefly) the Captain Beefheart-influenced Rustic Hinge- but none of these really lasted/ came to much. Then in 1970, he decided to form Kingdom Come- with the bands first line-up been Brown- vocals, Andy Dalby- Guitar, Lead Guitar, Vocals, Julian Paul Brown (no relation)- synthesizer, Michael "Goodge" Harris - keyboards, Desmond Fisher- bass, and Martin "Slim" Steer -drums. The projects focus was on creating a heady and at times darkly dada blend of rock- be hard, space-bound, psych, or experimental variations of the form. All topped with Browns up-front and at times dramatic vocals, which I guess you could describe as somewhere between Jim Morrison, forceful-wailing rock singer, the more playful side Ian Anderson, and even Tom Jones-like in a few places.
The set kicks off with the bands 1971 debut album Galactic Zoo Dossier. It appeared on Polydor, and it's fair to say it is a real trip of a record- moving, at points fairly rapidly between, organ fed hard rock-outs, weird effects and crazed prog-ness, dramatic and building piano-led rock, space rock, and general creative experimental/ theatrical rock. The album featured fourteen tracks, and it must have been a big shock to those who had just heard the "Fire" single, as it’s layered and shifting beast of an album- with is both unpredictable and darkly playful. Surprisingly for a debut album, the whole thing flows in a well-if-highly eventful manner, though there are highlights. There’s the weaving synth, organ and spacy effect lined “Space Plucks” with its whipping chorus groove and Brown’s bouncing-in-your head vocals. We have the churning dark psych-rock discordant of “Night Of The Pigs” with angularly darting guitar ‘n’ bass riffing, There’s the simmering bass, organ, weird effects, and grand theatrical vocal meets late sawing/splutter discord-meets spluttering effects of two joined tracks “Creep”, “Creation”. All making for a great opening sonic trip from the band. The CD adds in six bonus tracks- these are B sides/ singles.
Moving onto the second disc in the set the 1972 self-titled, this once again was on Polydor, and took in nine tracks. And this album really deepened the more wacky/ bizarre side of the band, with lots of disorienting samples, cut-ups, bizarre dialogue, amassed crowd sounds and other seemingly random drops into field recordings. The musical mix here is more a blend of jaunting & strange psych pop-rock, darting organ fed prog, theatrical rock, and experimental rock. The album is a little less consistent due to loads of weird sound/ elements littered about the place- but there is still good/stand out moments here. We have “City Melody” which kicks off with light opera backs and forths about being the captain of a ship, before kicking in a pacy Hammond organ and bounding guitar prog, then ending on squalling guitar oddness, church bell snippets, car horn noises, synth choppy ness, and fire engine sounds. There’s theatrical rolling piano, sing-song vocals, weird echo vocal effects of “The Teacher”. Or “The Hymn” which starts out with rising ambient organ, strange and cryptic talky vocals, and trippy waving piano keys, before bursting out into show tune meet epic rock track. You can certainly say it’s another eventful/ odd rock record, though you have to be in the mood to wade through a fair bit of weird stuff to get to firm/formal song-craft. This CD is finished off with three bonus tracks.
Next up on disc number three we have the bands final album 1973’s Journey- once again it appeared on Polydor, it featured seven tracks, and I guess you’d say it was the band most radical/ ahead of its time record, due to the use of drum machines, and early electro-rock stylings- all making it sound more 80’s bound than from the ’70s. Though this been Kingdom Come/ Brown- there are still odd/ quirky edges on display, thankful the weird/ random sonic flotsam and jetsam is thinned back to offer more song-based/ focused album- that said we often shift into almost tranced-out instrumental passages. Highlights here are the opening track “Time Captives” which moves from a stripped-back brooding and building electro beat start, onto a tolling and swirling blend of moody electronics, layered vocals, and atmospheric guitar tones. There’s a dramatic almost Egyptian like synth stab and stomp of “Gypsy” which later shifts into a blend of playful rock guitar work and snapping ‘n’ hissing beats. Or the bounding bass and guitar meets churning machine percussion and weird falsetto break-outs of the final track “Come Alive”. The CD is topped off with five bonus tracks, and these alternative album tracks/ B sides.
Disc number four is entitled Jam: The First Sessions, and it pretty much does what it says on the box. This set of recordings were made in the year 1970- and it sees the band finding their feet/ testing their sound out. The CD takes in nine tracks in all, and these go from tip-taping drums, meets grooving organ, and soaring rock vocals of “Jungle Dreams”. Onto the rolling/ cascading piano blues meets warbling soulful vocals of “The Finger”, though to jiving organ-led rock of “Beholdin”. There are some interesting ideas/ building blocks here, and it’s nice to hear the band getting to know each other- but more often than not the tracks feel a bit too jam-based/ lose for their own good.
The fifth and final disc in the set is entitled At The BBC 1971- 72, and once again it’s fairly self-explanatory what we have here. The CD takes in twelve tracks in, with nine of these never been released before- and we get a good selection of more manic/ pumped-up versions of album tracks the band recorded for the BBC. This is a nice final disc in the set, showing the band at their most animated/ urgent.
In finishing this wonderful well put together/ presented boxset, highlighting both Brown and his band’s need to playful push and stretch of the 70’s rock envelope. I’d say if you have any interest in the more theatrical and weirder/ wacky side of 1970’s rock you’ll most certainly be needing to pick up Eternal Messenger.Roger Batty