When the Pink Floyd pioneer, Syd Barrett, died in the summer of 2006, a planned tribute concert didn’t take long to formulate. Less than a year later, Madcap’s Last Laugh featured Robin Hitchcock and Chrissie Hynde paying tribute to the former Pink Floyd frontman, along with his former band members.
When the former Britpop darling with Blur and an animated hero with Gorillaz, Damon Albarn, took the stage to perform his own tribute, he chose an appropriately bizarre and unique song from Barrett’s catalogue.
‘Word Song’ is an unwieldy sketch of a song that Barrett created. Despite its simplistic arrangement, the way that the song unfolds would befuddle any traditional rock musician. Mostly a single-note melody reciting a seemingly random assortment of words, the song was originally recorded during the tale end of Barrett’s eponymous second LP and would eventually find its way to the compilation Opel released in 1988.
Barrett had a tendency to play whatever chords he fancied at the time, and ‘Word Song’ is no exception. There are extended periods where the progression doesn’t change, holding a single chord on the single melodic note to create a drone of sorts. Other times, Barrett haphazardly throws in chords that are clearly not a part of the home key of the song. It all serves to properly illustrate the incredibly creative and chaotic mind that Barrett retained even at his lowest points.
Albarn’s version brings a playful bounce to the original’s folky guitar arrangement, turning the tune into the deranged children’s song that it perhaps was always meant to be. Albarn’s monotone recitation of the song’s verses retains the detachment of Barrett’s performance but also the strange whimsey that Barrett managed to infuse into every single one of his songs.
Ultimately, it’s a fitting tribute to a singular presence in psychedelic music, proving that the arrangement and instrumentation of a Barrett song doesn’t have to be a full-on freak-out in order to retain the buoyant and vibrant qualities that made Barrett such an unmistakable talent.
Check out Albarn’s performance of ‘Word Song’ down below.