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Cleopatra (CD, LP)
Granted, it may have arrived too late for Halloween, but Monster’s Ball still manages to revive Arthur Brown’s reputation as rock’s grandest ghoul, courtesy of a baker’s dozen songs flush with monstrous mayhem. Brown, as many might remember, once billed himself as “The God of Hellfire” courtesy of his Pete Townshend-produced novelty hit “Fire.” After riding that initial wave of fame, he managed to reinvent himself as the helmsman of Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come, an early ‘70s ensemble that blending prog and posturing, earning Brown a respectable reputation in the process. He’s since made other appearances as well, performing with The Who, Hawkwind and Carl Palmer’s tribute to ELP, all the while sustaining his demonic designs and bringing his frantic operatic vocals to bear in whatever outlet he’s allowed.
A new album finds him resuscitating that madman persona, but now, at age 80, he comes across as a rather odd mash-up of Bobby "Boris" Pickett and Alice Cooper, an artist confined to a clownish persona and his novelty niche. Nevertheless, it’s all in good fun, and given a selection of songs that fit neatly within a maniacal motif — Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam,” Cream’s “I Feel Free,” ELP’s “Karm Evil #9: 1st Impression, Pt. 2,” and, of course, his own signature anthem “Fire” — Brown manages to maintain a sinister stance. He’s hardly alone, thanks to an impressive array of special guests, among them, guitarists Steve Hillage and Snuggie Otis, classic. Keyboardist Brian Auger, members of Vanilla Fudge, Deep Purple, Hawkwind, the Damned, and the Stooges.Otis. Still, this is Brown’s brouhaha and it finds him to living up to an otherwise looney legacy.
Given Brown’s cartoonish image, Monster’s Ball is best described as a guilty pleasure, escapist entertainment that finds him still capable of hitting the high notes while employing a strident shriek and a falsetto, revisiting the wacky routines and bolstering his comedic credence with such tellingly-titled offerings as “Bucket O’ Blood,” “Zombie Yelp,” “The Monster Hop,” “Curse of the Hearse” and “Mad Witch.” It’s all about pose and pretense, but within Arthur Brown’s still-crazy world, it all still finds a fit. And ultimately, it finds this Monster’s Ball making for a grand good time.
— Lee Zimmerman