It's been 15 years since Ayers' last CD, but he remains tack-sharp — well, as sharp as you'd expect from a guy who consumed a ton of drugs back in the day. As co-founder of '60s psych-rockers the Soft Machine, Ayers was the charming voice of curiosity and observation within the band. He eventually settled into the role of libertine truth-seeker, influencing many artists over the years — several of whom (like former Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and members of Teenage Fanclub) appear on The Unfairground. Ayers' storytelling recalls Richard Thompson at his cheeriest, while tunes like "Wide Awake" employ buoyant strings and a full chorus of backing singers. The title cut even includes a circus-style calliope. Fitting, since Ayers surveys a kaleidoscopic arcade of love on this colorful album.