Acoustic Sounds

Syd Barrett

The Solo Works of Syd Barrett



Syd Barrett

Label: Third Man Records/Legacy

Produced By: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Malcolm Jones, Syd Barrett, and Peter Jenner

Engineered By: Jeff Jarratt, Mike Sheady, Peter Mew, Phil McDonald, Tony Clark, and Peter Bown

Lacquers Cut By: Warren Defever (Third Man Mastering)

By: Dylan Peggin

December 16th, 2023



“The Solo Works of Syd Barrett” Brings Together the Crazy Diamond’s Back Catalog

Pink Floyd’s ex-frontman is the focus of Third Man’s latest vault package

Within the world of true artists, Syd Barrett was a national treasure. His inventive guitar work and whimsical wordplay elevated Pink Floyd’s direction away from their embryonic Stones-esque R&B roots. The sole Floyd album under Barrett’s leadership, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, resides in good company with Sgt. Pepper and others for being one of the defining albums of the Summer of Love. Non-album singles like “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play” demonstrated Barrett’s ability to compact with pop sensibilities the psychedelic freakouts heard at London’s UFO Club. Despite the profound musical impact Barrett made during England’s psychedelic summer, a troubling case of speculated lysergic misuse and psychosis places him in the “tragic hero” category. His erratic on-and-off stage behavior forced his exit from Pink Floyd in early 1968. While his ex-bandmates pursued film soundtracks, avant-garde experiments, and concept albums, Barrett set out on his own musical voyage.

Released at the turn of 1970, The Madcap Laughs was the culmination of 18 months of aborted sessions and various attempts to coax Barrett back into a creative realm. The nature of his earlier work with Pink Floyd trades for a more rootsy approach. Songs like “Terrapin,” “Love You,” and “Here I Go” have an old-timey swaying vibe, which makes them still evermore charming. “Dark Globe,” one of Barrett’s signature solo compositions, is featured, and “Octopus” is equally adventurous both lyrically and musically to be compared to his older work. Throughout the album, the arrangements range between featuring a full band, consisting of members from The Soft Machine, to the sparseness of Syd’s unaccompanied acoustic guitar and vocals. The more produced tracks feature elements of extreme distortion, backward guitar, and dense layers of instrumentation, consistently providing a level of inventiveness. The Madcap Laughs at moments gives listeners a “fly on the wall” atmosphere with the inclusion of studio banter and false starts. It’s the album that overall represents Syd best, warts and all.

Eleven months later, a follow-up, Barrett, was delivered. Aided by the backing group of Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Richard Wright, the album is a more straightforward effort. Barrett features some of Syd’s most analytical lyrics, dissecting concepts like the weather, romance, dreams, anguish, and animals. Despite his varying mental state, Syd still had clear-as-day ideas, such as the reversed guitar solo on “Dominoes” intentionally recorded with the tape running backward; it’s a clear indicator of a mad genius. He even tapped back to his Floydian whimsical prose with a pastiche of Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children for the lyrics of “Effervescing Elephant.” Barrett is a bold venture to display Syd’s artistry in a more polished style. 

Shortly after releasing his two solo albums, Syd retired from the music business. He returned to his hometown of Cambridge and lived his life reclusively. In 1988, EMI sifted through the cupboard of unreleased tapes and released Opel. Essentially an “odds-and-sods” album, it brought together leftovers from the sessions of Madcap and Barrett, alternate takes, and demos. It’s scathing how songs like “Swan Lee (Silas Lang),” “Milky Way,” and the title track were left off the albums, the latter being one of Barrett’s undermined crown jewels. Alternatively, “Clowns and Jugglers” (an early rendering of “Octopus”) and “Wouldn’t You Miss Me” (an alternate take of “Dark Globe”) are intriguing companions to the versions familiarized on the original records. Opel is a fitting bookend that brings together various curios for devoted Barrett fans to feast their ears on. 

Jack White’s record label, Third Man Records, hosts a subscription series called The Vault. For the quarterly price of $75, subscribers receive exclusive vinyl and have access to merchandise and various discounts. In an attempt to branch out beyond focusing on Jack’s numerous projects, some Third Man vault packages have centered around artists like Captain Beefhart, Johnny Cash, Carole King, and Miles Davis. These artists generally have loyal fanbases, and Third Man does a service catering to audiences beyond their typical reach. Each of Syd’s albums have been out of print on vinyl for ten years and never been pressed domestically since the 1970s. As a result, the announcement of Vault #57, The Solo Works of Syd Barrett, is a huge deal.

The Solo Works of Syd Barett brings Syd’s three albums on vinyl together for the first time in a box set. The slipcase cover, consisting of a Barrett portrait drawn by artist Greg Ruth in a continuous line, is captivating to the human eye. Each respective album’s artwork is replicated faithfully to how they appeared on original pressings (a minor gripe is “Side One” being listed twice on the back cover of Madcap, but it could be much worse!). Whether it be for contractual reasons, Third Man did away with using the original Harvest center labels and included their own Tesla coil label design, which adds an element of uniqueness to the overall package. Each LP is pressed on colored vinyl appropriate to the color scheme of each album and cleverly named after the song titles (Madcap on “Golden Hair” vinyl, Barrett on “Baby Lemonade” vinyl, and Opel on “Milky Way” vinyl). The bonus 7” includes David Gilmour covering “Dark Globe” and a jazzy rendition of “Dominoes,” which is a fitting tribute from the one Pink Floyd member who consistently aided Barrett in spearheading his solo career.

Third Man’s in-house operations apply to this release, being pressed at Third Man Pressing and mastered by Third Man Mastering’s Warren Defever. These pressings sound more lively and dynamic than the 2014 Parlophone pressings I owned previously. Defever’s mastering does not hold back any kind of restraint, as everything sounds forward and direct. Syd’s acoustic guitar is rich in tonality, and each mix offers layers of transparency to magnify each aural nuance. Well-pronounced bass, crisp highs, and an in-depth soundstage are everything one wants from a dynamically well-mastered record.

Three albums pressed on colored vinyl with a bonus 7” in a hardback slipcase box for $75 is a tremendous bang for the buck. Given the exclusivity of these Vault packages, I hope each of Barrett’s albums receives standard black vinyl treatments and remain instated in Third Man’s evergrowing catalog. These albums are worth the exploration.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: TMR-944/945/946/949

Pressing Plant: Third Man Pressing (TMP)

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Multi LP


  • 2023-12-17 02:57:53 AM

    Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

    Third Man is brilliant to do this format. I really want this now! (I need a therapist > vinyl.)

  • 2023-12-17 01:59:19 PM

    Jason Molina wrote:

    Excellent review. Let's not forget Warren Defever is also the incredibly creative mastermind behind 4AD record's His Name Is Alive, whose unimpeachable catalog are certainly due a remaster/reissue.