Led by rock’s most famous "acid casualty," Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd (named after Delta bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council) in the late ‘60s was totally different from the ‘70s Pink Floyd we’re all familiar with. Back then "the Pink Floyd" (as they were then known) were the U.K.'s premiere "underground" band who were best known for the highly improvised, extended sonic explorations that comprised their theatrical live shows. Musically they were dominated by singer-songwriter-lead guitarist Barrett, though other band members played important roles as well; Roger Waters with his surging bass guitar and vocal effects, Nick Mason with his unconventional mallet heavy drum sound, and especially Richard Wright with his hauntingly moody, dreamy keyboards. Produced at Abbey Road studios by Beatles engineer Norman Smith (famously, at the same time The Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper's), who molded the band's extended sonic explorations into something a bit more palatable for mass consumption, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, named after a chapter in the classic children's book The Wind In The Willows, is a defiantly dated, fascinatingly schizophrenic album. On the one hand, there are several trance inducing "space rockers" such as "Astronomy Domine," "Power R. Toc H," and "Interstellar Overdrive," but there are also more conventionally pretty folk-ish songs such as "Matilda Mother" and "Chapter 23," as well as several whimsical nursery-rhyme like numbers such as "Flaming," "The Gnome," "The Scarecrow," and "Bike." Barrett's overly enunciated, highly British vocals may take some getting used to, and in fact I sometimes find his child-like naivety to be more than a bit annoying, but I've grown to appreciate the album over the years (I flat-out disliked it at first), and can see why many consider it among the all-time psychedelic rock masterpieces. I can still take or leave some of side two, which focuses more on Barrett's overly "whimsical" side, and "Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk" is a bit of a sloppy mess, but I've grown to really like the majority of the album, beginning with "Astonomy Domine," which is probably the album's best track. With its otherworldly effects, edgy guitar, and hauntingly strange harmonies, this song is late '60s "acid rock" at its very best, and "Lucifer Sam" is another strong track, with its memorably sparse, angular riffs (I may not be crazy about Barrett's lead vocals but he was one heck of an original guitar player without an ounce of convention to his playing), atmospheric keyboards, and oddly hooky vocals. The lovely "Matilda Mother" (actually sung by Wright sounding like Barrett) showcases Barrett's strong songwriting and his/Wright's strong instrumental capabilities, while "Flaming" is both the album's most annoying and catchy track (damn I can't get Barrett's "yippee" vocals or Wright's carnival-esque keyboards out of my head, so I guess I'll concede that I like it). The unutterably strange "Pow R. Toc H" sees the band veer into avant garde territory (those who considered Floyd a U.K. equivalent of The Velvet Underground were not too far off the mark), with generally good results, and "Interstellar Overdrive," a near 10-minute instrumental, was their signature early song and the centerpiece of their live show. For this studio version, Smith double tracked two entire performances on top of each other, and the end result is mostly magnificent, with Barrett's great chugging riffs leading the way and the band showing how to deliver non-blues influenced (rather they had a jazz-like spontaneity), moody, mysterious, improvisational, and most of all epic space rock. Of course, the rest of the album, with Barrett's folksier side coming to the fore along with lyrics about scarecrows and gnomes and the like, is less interesting to me, though I'm sure that when taken together with the rest of the album they'd make a fascinating case study about Barrett's already deteriorating mental state. Pity that the band's big earlier singles, "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play" (more about them later), couldn't be included, but at least "Bike" ends the album on a high note. After all, I'm a sucker for harpsichord, and though this one has more of Barrett's childlike whimsy that I'd long grown weary of, it does have a fittingly "out there" fadeout, and for all I've complained about this album, on the whole I do sincerely appreciate its complete and utter uniqueness (song structures are rarely linear and choruses are few and far between). That said, for all its virtues I for one far prefer the Roger Waters-David Gilmour led version of the band.
A Saucerful of Secrets (Capitol ‘68) Rating: B+
Although he appears on a couple of tracks here (maybe more) and wrote and sang one song, Syd Barrett's erratic behavior due to the onset of drug induced madness led to his dismissal. And it's hard to believe now, but few people at the time believed that the rest of the band could survive and prosper without him. Of course, it helped that his successor, guitarist David Gilmour (Syd's school chum), would become the dominant musician and singer in the band, but that would happen later as his contributions to this album were fairly minimal and it would be awhile before he would blossom. In the interim, Roger Waters and Richard Wright provided most of the songs here; on Piper Wright was clearly the second guy behind Syd, but it soon became apparent that Waters' stronger personality and emerging songwriting capabilities (particularly as a lyricist and overall conceptualist) made him the more ideal candidate to replace Syd as the "leader" of Pink Floyd. Anyway, A Saucerful Of Secrets, which features one of the best of band friend Storm Thorgerson's many classic Pink Floyd album covers, is a successful transitional album which showed that life after Syd was a viable career option. Fittingly, given that man would soon walk on the moon, the album contains even more songs that could be called "space rock," but the overall vibe is more controlled, less schizophrenic, and frankly less charming than on Piper. "Let There Be More Light" starts the album with a strong spacey Waters effort that's led by its swirling bass riffs and which features Gilmour and Wright on lead vocals. Then again, the vocals are a bit buried, as the focus is on the music, which surely qualifies as "mood music" but which is good mood music just the same, with some impressive guitar on the fadeout. Wright's dreamy, alternately pastoral and spacey "Remember A Day" is another enjoyable effort that features Syd on slide guitar, though Wright's later "See Saw" delivers drippy, light psychedelia that's quite boring. For his part, Waters also delivers "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun," the album's one true classic track which conjures a uniquely ethereal mood. Wright shines as does Mason on this almost ambient track, on which Waters' vocals are whispered as again the focus is on the haunting music (those xylophones or vibraphones or both hit the spot). "Corporal Clegg," the first of many anti-war Waters rants, is incredibly atypical as the band tries their hand at pop, and while I wouldn't call it a good song per se, I do get a kick out of it in a "so bad it's good" sort of way; when those catchy kazoos chime in I can't help but crack a smile. The multi-sectioned, 12-minute title track, a co-write with the whole band, is an interesting experiment albeit not one I'm in the mood to listen too often. Almost a sound collage rather than a song proper, its eerie keyboards build up to an imaginary war, which occurs during its effects-laden mid-section which is a bit of a jumbled mess; the aftermath, with its funereal organ and memorable chants, is the highlight. Finally, "Jugband Blues," which like "Corporal Clegg" veers into music hall/vaudeville territory, is a poignant Barrett song that provides a fittingly insane finale to the album and Syd's Pink Floyd career. Of course, Syd's spirit never fully left Pink Floyd, and they would be haunted by his spectacular downfall for years afterwards, which would inspire some of the band's best music. Indeed, Pink Floyd would go on to many bigger and better things than A Saucerful Of Secrets, which is still a largely enjoyable album with its own considerable charms.
More (Capitol ‘69) Rating: B-
This soundtrack album to the Barbet Schroeder directed film about star crossed lovers undone by drugs shouldn't really be judged as a proper Pink Floyd album. Recorded quickly on the fly for a better payday, this album has its moments but is ultimately a minor Pink Floyd album that features too many lightweight numbers and a fair amount of filler, even if the filler is generally interesting. Now firmly entrenched as the band's leader, Roger Waters wrote the majority of these 13 songs, certainly most of the best ones, while Gilmour takes on an increased role in terms of singing and guitar soloing if not songwriting. Self-produced as the band sought more freedom (one reason why doing this soundtrack so appealed to them), the album starts strongly with "Cirrus Minor," a pretty, pastoral scene setter that exudes a calm serenity (like their labelmates The Beatles, Pink Floyd were masters at using sound effects, and this track's birdsong calls are perhaps its most commented upon characteristic). Almost its polar opposite, "The Nile Song" actually sees Floyd in hard rock mode as Gilmour is unleashed, and it's another album highlight, as is "Cymbaline," an epic pop number that also manages to be both moody and hauntingly beautiful, as per usual with Pink Floyd at their best (Waters' cynical nature also comes to the fore, which would become another band trademark). Other enjoyable songs are the tinkly, lullaby-like "Crying Song," which unsurprisingly provides cinematic mood music (it being a soundtrack and all), "Green Is The Colour," a pretty, fragile acoustic guitar, piano, and flute set piece, "Main Theme" and "Quicksilver," a pair of prototypically trancey space rock instrumentals, and "Dramatic Theme," another Gilmour guitar showcase as he was beginning to flex his muscles. Alas, elsewhere we get so-so experiments (the wild jazz of "Up the Khyber," notable for being the lone Mason/Wright songwriting credit in the entire Pink Floyd discography; the focus is on the drums and keyboards, naturally), slight segues (the exotic, bongos-led "Party Sequence" plus "A Spanish Piece," featuring a hilariously bad Spanish accent by Gilmour), and forgettable space fillers (the mediocre blues "More Blues," which is about as creative and exciting as its title). Also, "Ibiza Bar" is so similar that it almost amounts to a reprise of "The Nile Song," making it somewhat redundant even though it's still nice to see Pink Floyd kicking ass in such a straightforward, unfussy manner. On the whole, this album is primarily for hardcore fans and completeists, as the soundtrack format let them widen their net and try new things that they likely wouldn't have included on a proper Pink Floyd album. The end results are predictably less cohesive and more inconsistent than usual, but for all its faults More is still a pleasant if insubstantial listen for the most part.
Ummagumma (Capitol '69) Rating: B+
Everything about this album is weird, from its cover (another Hipgnosis classic) to its title (apparently British slang for sex), its structure (more about that in a second), and finally its actual contents. A double disc set, Ummagumma is comprised of an excellent live disc that represents Pink Floyd’s “space rock” peak (despite “Interstellar Overdrive” being dropped at the last minute), followed by a second studio disc that ranges from very good to truly awful. Feeling that the band had abandoned their experimental roots, Wright suggested that each band member write and perform their own solo compositions, most of which would be pretentiously divided into several sections. The rest of the band agreed, and the end result, again produced by Norman Smith, is the band’s artiest, most experimental, avant garde, and flat-out “out there” album. The live disc is early Floyd at their best, featuring four long songs that at least equal (“Astronomy Domine,” “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”) and in some cases (“Careful With That Axe, Eugene,” “A Saucerful Of Secrets”) obliterate the studio versions. These versions are stranger, wilder, longer (sometimes considerably so), sometimes slower, faster, or louder, at times hypnotically pretty and otherworldly, other times frighteningly creepy and intense (and still otherworldly). The album begins with an 8-minute “Astronomy Domine” on which the absence of Syd is noted but not missed, as Gilmour ably picks up the slack, while “Careful With That Axe, Eugene,” previously only available as a b-side, then commences and is the album highlight. It starts all mellow and atmospheric, with Wright leading the way which is often the case on this disc, while the dreamy vocals act almost as another instrument. About halfway through Waters unleashes a psychotic, bloodcurdling scream as all hell breaks loose during a rocking jam section where Gilmour's guitar takes over before the song chills out again, providing a perfect lead in to a "Set The Controls...” that's almost twice as long as the original. Sure, there's some padding, but as per the studio version this is again exemplary "head music" that non-stoners can also enjoy. As for “A Saucerful Of Secrets," this version has a lot more energy and also more guitar while sounding much less like mere background music; it's denouement is truly majestic with Wright and Mason especially shining. The second disc is admittedly much less impressive, in fact I hardly ever listen to it, but it has its moments as well, even though Pink Floyd are clearly a band who are greater than the sum of their individual parts. Wright and Gilmour were themselves rather dismissive of their own contributions, Gilmour in particular admitting that he "bullshitted" his way through his contribution and that he was no lyricist (in fact he asked Roger to help him with the lyrics but Waters refused in keeping with the spirit of the project), but I think they've been too hard on themselves. Wright's 4-part instrumental piece "Sysyphus" is hit and miss, being less successful in its noisier, more atonal moments (part 3), but its dramatic mellotron-enhanced swells (parts 1 and especially 4, which also features horns and gothic chants) and pretty classical piano (part 2) are quite enjoyable. Waters' summery, pastoral "Grantchester Meadows" is a nostalgic highlight that's notable for its acoustic ambiance and special effects (songbird calls, water splashing, a fly buzzing and being splattered!), even if it's over-long at 7+ minutes. Alas, his overtly experimental "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict" (the song title is the best thing about it) is the type of annoying "song" you only need to hear once (if that), and Mason's solo drum experiment ("The Grand Vizier's Garden Party") is as yawn inducing as you'd expect (that's his wife Lindy providing the pretty flute intro and outro). Fortunately, Gilmour's piece "The Narrow Way" is better; part 1 is a mellow (mostly) acoustic showcase, part 2 gets heavier and weirder, and part 3 is along with "Grantchester Meadows" the only proper vocal song on this disc. Gilmour may be right about his prowess as a lyric writer, but at least the song is aurally pleasing, with good guitar and surprisingly good drums too (played by Gilmour!). So, on the whole there's much to like on this album, along with a decent amount to dislike. The wonderfully moody, droning space rock on disc one alone is worth the price of admission, and though the second disc sees the band somewhat directionless, they're talented enough songwriters and musicians to pull it off better than I expected given how flawed the premise was in the first place. Though markedly different from one another the solo songs still fit the Pink Floyd mold, and though Ummagumma is at times unutterably weird, it's often fascinatingly so, and if nothing else it offers a truly one of a kind listening experience.
Atom Heart Mother (Capitol ‘70) Rating: A-
Another atypical Pink Floyd album that’s unlike any other, Atom Heart Mother again proved that Pink Floyd were a band who weren’t afraid to try new things, and it has to be one of the oddest #1 albums ever (those crazy Brits; in the U.S. it wasn’t nearly so successful). Maybe it was that striking picture of the cow on the cover (“the ultimate picture of a cow” immodestly mused Thorgerson), which had nothing to do with the albums contents (unlike say A Saucerful Of Secrets) that made the album such an improbable success (the exclusion of the band’s name added an intriguing air of mystery as well), but regardless none of that really matters now. Besides, in some ways the cow does fit, as Pink Floyd ditch all attempts at space rock and most attempts at experimental atonality for a far more earthbound, pastoral sound, particularly on the folksy shorter pieces written by Waters, Wright, and Gilmour, respectively. Still, fine though those three songs (“If,” “Summer ’68,” “Fat Old Sun”) are in their modest ways, what you think of Atom Heart Mother will largely depend on what you think of the two longer group compositions. After all, the title track is a nearly 24-minute, six-part suite that occupies all of side one on the vinyl version of the album, and it’s also the primary reason that Atom Heart Mother is known as Pink Floyd’s most “prog” album. Later on, the band themselves would be dismissive of this collaboration with arranger Ron Geesin (who himself considered this recording to be only of demo-like quality), feeling that it was but their training ground, a trial run, for better things (such as “Echoes”), but “Atom Heart Mother” has its supporters as well, yours truly among them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s seriously flawed and given all the guest musicians there are times when you can barely recognize Pink Floyd, who were clearly still searching for their own identity. The song sometimes lacks structure and seems all over the place, there are too many lulls for my taste, and yet the band (with a major assist from Geesin, the orchestra, choir, and so on) came through with a song that is flat out interesting. Many of these instruments don’t seem to belong together, and yet the majority of this grandly symphonic, rock-classical fusion works for me, simple as that. The title track starts with the “Father’s Shout” section (0:00-2:54), which is most notable for its majestic horns. “Breast Milky” (2:55-5:26, and yes some of the sub-sections have goofy titles) has pretty, mournful violins and a lovely, emotional Gilmour guitar solo, then “Mother Fore”(5:27-10:12) is where the alternately angelic and spooky choir chants come in along with Wright’s celestial keyboards and later Mason's drums. During the “Funky Dung” section (10:13-15:29) the group jams in low-key fashion with Gilmour’s guitar leading the way; Wright then takes over again as strange chants join the fray before dramatic horns again occupy center stage. Unfortunately, the sound collage beginning to the “Mind Your Throats Please” sub-section (15:30-19:13) loses the plot, but only briefly, as more gorgeous guitar, various sounds coming at you from all directions, and powerful horns (probably the best thing about the suite along with Gilmour’s superb guitar playing) lead into “Remergence” (19:14-23:43), which reprises previous song features (blaring horns, mournful violins, sad/soulful guitar, and gothic chants) one final time for a suitably epic ending. Whew, just describing the basic characteristics of that song was exhausting, and listening to it can be as well, but for all its flaws I find new things to appreciate each time I hear it, so I can’t help but give it an enthusiastic thumbs up despite my misgivings. As for the more modest middle of the album, I've always considered "If" to be something of an overlooked gem, and it's always had major sentimental value for me as well since my college roommate and bud Kevin used to play this on a mix tape he made back in the day; he died suddenly from a heart attack several years ago, and I always think of him when I hear this song. Even without that I like this song, though, mostly for Waters honest, self-analytical lyrics and Gilmour's flowing guitar as his classic sound was being more firmly established. Wright's "Summer '68" is also really good, with more personal lyrics (about shagging a groupie, apparently) and a perfectly pleasant melody prominently featuring piano/organ and horns, while Gilmour's "Fat Old Sun" is quite Kinks-y (many have remarked on its similarity to The Kinks' "Lazy Old Sun") and is another low-key winner, with another notable extended Gilmour guitar solo. None of these comparatively modest, defiantly British entries are classics but all are easily enjoyable, unlike "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" (named after roadie Alan Stiles), which the band dismiss as a pretentious failure and this time I agree with them. Maybe the idea of recording a guy making breakfast sounded good on paper, but in reality not so much! The actual musical parts, featuring keyboard noodlings and some pretty if nondescript guitar, aren't much to write home about either, though the last few minutes aren't half bad. Of course, by then we're into too little, too late territory, but at least this regrettable 13-minute dud of a finale is sequenced last on the album, meaning that I can (and charitably will) consider it a bonus track. Fortunately, I find the rest of Atom Heart Mother to be a fascinating if obviously flawed one-off album. I'll never listen to it as much as their later classics, but I suspect I'll always return to this album semi-regularly, as it offers a singularly satisfying and utterly unique listening experience. P.S. Different pressings of the album may list different section times for the title suite. Actually, most versions don’t break the suite out into different sections at all, which is fitting as it’s is meant to be listened to in its entirety.
Relics (Capitol '71) Rating: B+
This compilation album, released to capitalize on the improbable success of Atom Heart Mother, contains five songs that already appeared on previous albums along with six non-album singles and b-sides, including one previously unreleased track, "Biding My Time." From Piper we get "Bike" and "Interstellar Overdrive" (they should've included an alternate version of the latter song given the many that are lingering around, plus both songs sound much better within the context of Piper), from Saucerful we get "Remember A Day" (very good but "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" would've been better), and from More we get "Cirrus Minor" and "The Nile Song" (no complaints there though the additional inclusion of "Cymbaline" would've made More more or less irrelevant). Also included is the studio version of "Be Careful With That Axe, Eugene," which is still good and spooky but pales compared to the Ummagumma version, "Paintbox" (previously a b-side to "Apples and Oranges," which isn't included here), a typically pleasant Wright song notable for its disillusioned lyrics and Mason's strong drumming, and Waters' "Julia's Dream" (previously a b-side to "It Would Be So Nice," also not included), sung by Gilmour and which is indeed dreamy, primarily due to Wright's mellotron. As for "Biding My Time," it's strangely jazzy and then strangely rocking, as Gilmour's guitar tangles with Wright's trombone (!!!) on an extended jam ending. The end result is an intriguing oddity, and I suppose you could say that about this album on the whole. Really, the main reason to own this album is for two singles that had yet to appear on a Pink Floyd full-length album, these being the early Barrett classics "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play." The former eccentric number (produced by soon to be legendary folk producer Joe Boyd) is certainly one of the best songs ever written about a cross-dresser, and it manages to be wonderfully psychedelic, poppy, and 100% British, while "See Emily Play" is arguably even better, being both a quintessential "Summer Of Love" psych-pop song and the song that made Syd a pop star, which was the beginning of the end, really (like on most of the early songs, Wright is the standout musician besides Barrett, it should be noted). Anyway, these two songs are complete classics, but the rest of Relics could've been better, as several of its songs work better within their original surroundings and there are a few non-album tracks that could've been included instead, such as the two a-sides mentioned earlier and also Barrett's "Candy and a Currant Bun" and the Waters/Gilmour collaboration, "Point Me At The Sky" (the a-side to "Be Careful With That Axe, Eugene"). Actually, these songs do appear on another compilation, but sadly The Early Singles is only available as part of the Shine On box set; maybe when it's also released as a standalone album, as it should be, I'll give that album a proper review and discuss those songs in more detail. Until then, Relics is probably still the best place to obtain "Arnold Lane," and "See Emily Play," and plus a bunch of other songs that don't matter nearly as much, either because they’re not as good or they also appear elsewhere.
Meddle (Capitol '71) Rating: A
Self-producing for the first time, Meddle is the album on which the band first truly found the sound for which they're primarily remembered for today. This is also the album on which it really became apparent that the band got very lucky when Gilmour replaced Barrett, as he proves to be a great singer and guitarist whose fluid, melodic, and emotional guitar tone is firmly established here (though in fairness his playing was great on Atom Heart Mother as well). His confidence as an emerging songwriter was also growing, and Meddle is the album where the Gilmour/Waters songwriting partnership first fully flowered, though the album is also a true group effort, and a sparkling one at that, even if it has one of their weaker album covers and it sold poorly in the U.S.; as usual up until this point, it did better in the U.K., peaking at #3. Anyway, the album begins with the mostly all instrumental, surprisingly hard rocking "One Of These Days," a firm fan favorite and live staple whose best characteristic is its driving bass riffs (played by Waters and Gilmour). Wright's keyboards add color, there are impressive stop and start dynamics, Gilmour adds a classic high-pitched screaming guitar solo, and its various effects (wind noises, the electronically manipulated lone lyric of "One of these days I'm going to cut you into little pieces") show the band's increasing mastery of using the studio as another instrument. The next four songs were never played in concert, but three of them are underrated gems that any fan of classic period Floyd (which began in earnest with Meddle) should enjoy. The dreamy, melancholic "A Pillow Of Winds" is notable for Gilmour's lovely acoustic/electric slide guitars and typically strong vocals, "Fearless" has a great little groove and more smooth as silk Gilmour vocals and fine guitar work (the "You'll Never Walk Alone" coda with the choir is a cute touch too), and Waters' sing songy "San Tropez" is a tuneful, lightly jazzy pop number that's highlighted by Wright's classy piano solo. These pastoral, summery songs see Pink Floyd at their most relaxed and accessible, but let's face it "Seamus," which is primarily remembered for Steve Marriott's dog barking, is the type of novelty joke number that you can listen to once and skip thereafter. Fortunately, it's quite short, and the next song, the 23-minute, multi-sectioned masterpiece "Echoes," is something else entirely. This song, another full band composition like "One Of These Days," has all the elements that make Floyd great, simple as that, and no description I can give will do it justice. From its echoed piano intro onward, the band proceeds to deliver spacey headphone music along with more grounded folksier sonic explorations, both jam-based and song-centric sections, and lots more besides in one of the definitive Pink Floyd songs, period (it's especially beloved by the prog-heads). Among the song's notable characteristics are Gilmour and Wright's gorgeous, haunting harmony vocals, Gilmour's alternately mournfully lovely and soaringly intense guitar leads as he solos extensively, Wright's keyboards which lead some of the jazzy, jammier sections while Waters' driving bass propels the more rocking parts along with Mason's drums, and of course the band's requisite special effects which are just as important as the band's actual musicianship. Granted, for all its brilliance it must be said that the song drags a bit at times; their later greatest hits album Echoes actually trims the song to about 16 minutes and it works just fine. (P.S. The best version of this song is arguably on the Live At Pompeii film but that's never been formally released on cd and it probably never will be.) Still, if you cut out the boring parts then "Echoes" is arguably the best thing that the band ever did, as it offers a fascinatingly original and utterly intoxicating world that's all its own. On the whole, with two all-time classic tracks, three underrated, endlessly playable album tracks, and only one short stinker, Meddle was the first Pink Floyd album that I could wholeheartedly love. It was the album where they first found their identity, where Gilmour became the dominant instrumentalist, and it began in earnest their creative prime. With the foundation for greatness already in place, a tightening of ideas, even stronger songwriting, and superior production yielded an even greater masterpiece.
Obscured By Clouds (Capitol ‘72) Rating: B+
But first came this album, another quickie soundtrack to another Barbet Schroeder film. Although better than More, in many ways Obscured By Clouds is the black sheep from the band's classic period, being quite overlooked because let's face it it's surrounded by far more substantial works. Which is not to say that this album isn't impressive or enjoyable in its own right, because it is, being an extremely consistent, song-driven effort (unlike other recent efforts, only two of these ten songs exceed five minutes), even if in many ways it's a transitional effort that paved the way for the smashing success of The Dark Side Of The Moon. This album is notable for featuring extensive songwriting contributions from Gilmour (who at least co-composed seven songs) and Wright (five songs) in addition to Waters as per usual (9 songs). Gilmour's extensive guitar soloing and Wright's swirling keyboards also anchor many of these tunes, four of which ("Obscured By Clouds," "When You're In," "nn," "Absolutely Curtains") are instrumentals; this is a soundtrack album, after all. Actually, the last part of "Absolutely Curtains" features a chant by the Magupa tribe (in an early example of "world music" by a rock band), but that doesn't work nearly as well as the instrumental part. The best of the instrumentals are probably the droning title track, a nice guitar piece, and "Mudmen," which features Wright's swirling keyboards as Gilmour's soulful guitar memorably cries out. As for the vocal tracks, all of them are quite good, actually, though there's a reason that none of them became enduring concert favorites. "Burning Bridges," one of two songs here co-written by Waters and Wright (their lone other collaboration would be the more enduring "Us and Them"), is a melodic mid-tempo number with bright Wright keyboards; the other Waters/Wright tune, "Stay," sees Wright delivering a coldhearted look at love (I mean lust), likely with a groupie, accompanied by a liquidy Gilmour guitar solo. "The Gold's In The..." is a convincing riff-driven glam rocker with atypically flashy drum fills and guitar soloing, while "Wot's...Uh The Deal?" (let's face it this album is also notable for several ridiculous song titles) is a simple, singable highlight with a prototypically ear pleasing Gilmour lead vocal (as per usual by now, he is the primary lead singer on the album), lilting harmonies, pretty piano, plus another melodic guitar solo. "Childhood's End," inspired by the classic Arthur C. Clarke science fiction novel, is an obvious precursor to "Time" (if not nearly as good) that contains more swirling keyboards and guitar soloing; it's also notable for being the last song that Gilmour would write lyrics to until after Waters left the band. "Free Four," a lightly funky rocker, would become a minor U.S. hit, thereby paving the way for the spectacular success of Dark Side, and it was also the first of many future songs to address the wartime death of Waters' father when he was but a baby. Anyway, Obscured By Clouds is a minor Pink Floyd album, but it's one that's consistently listenable and easily accessible, as the band considerably tightened up their approach to songwriting. At times more aggressive and straightforwardly rocking than usual, other times dreamy or seemingly influenced by West Coast folk, this album should especially appeal to fans of David Gilmour's guitar playing, which is showcased throughout. Note: 1972 also saw the band perform six songs in an empty ancient Roman amphitheater in Pompeii, Italy. The venue provided the perfect ambiance for the band's haunting music, and the resulting concert film, Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii, is a must-see video if you can find it.
The Dark Side Of The Moon (Capitol ‘73) Rating: A+
Often cited as Pink Floyd’s masterpiece, this album perfected a smooth, commercial sound that they had been striving at for years. In fact, the band themselves seem to consider every prior album as being merely the training ground that led to them being able to make this album, which marked the end of their apprenticeship as the band were now making music that was easy to connect to emotionally as well as being aurally pleasing. As such, the album became the band's big U.S. breakthrough, where it sold many millions of copies and enjoyed the longest Billboard chart run ever. Despite being a loosely based concept album (main themes include madness, aging, paranoia, death, and greed), The Dark Side Of The Moon is more song oriented than previous efforts, and is renowned for the warm, crystalline sound quality provided by engineer Alan Parsons and mixer Chris Thomas. Prime Pink Floyd qualifies as perhaps the ultimate album band (virtually all of their albums should be experienced as a whole), and here they deliver some excellent songs that cohere together magnificently as one big listening experience (one that's best appreciated through headphones). Indeed, many of these "songs", virtually all of which are (over)played to death on classic rock radio stations, are inseparable from one another: rare is it that you'll hear "Breathe" without it being bookended by "Speak To Me" and "On The Run," "Us and Them" is typically followed by "Any Colour You Like," and it is unthinkable to play "Brain Damage" without "Eclipse." Although perhaps some of the many sound effects (the ominous footsteps on “Time,” the cash registers on “Money”) and spoken word asides aren’t quite as innovative and fresh sounding today as when the album was first released, the melodic, hazy songs seem destined to stand the test of time (besides, many of the effects are really cool). Although the band, with Waters taking sole control of the lyrics and all band members (even Mason) contributing to the music, were at the top of their game, several inspired guest performances greatly add to the overall experience. Among the unsung heroes are saxophonist Dick Parry, who solos extensively on "Money" (where he wails) and "Us and Them" (where he provides a mellower, smoky vibe), Clare Torry, whose incredible improvised vocal wails on "Great Gig In The Sky" give me goosebumps, and several female background singers (who give the album a soulful, gospel element), chief among them Doris Troy, whose transcendent soul diva vocals help make "Eclipse" one of the most stirring album finales ever. Then again, the whole album is pretty much one big highlight, beginning with "Speak To Me," which briefly but cleverly introduces the rest of the album, much like what "Overture" did on The Who's Tommy. The dreamy "Breathe," with its pretty organ and piano, soulful lead and slide guitar, and unerringly pleasant Gilmour lead vocal (with Wright on harmonies), then leads into "On The Run," an interesting instrumental that's more a synth-led sound collage than a proper song. The epic "Time" is an all-time classic, from its hauntingly hypnotic introductory passage (most notable for its chiming clocks, approximation of footsteps, dramatic riffs, gorgeous tinkly organ, and booming echoed drums) onwards, when Gilmour chimes in with an aggressive lead vocal before Wright settles things down on the mellower, melodic chorus, with help from those female background singers mentioned earlier. The icing on the cake is Gilmour's tremendous guitar solo, one of his best ever, and the high quality continues on the already mentioned meditation on death, "The Great Gig In The Sky," which by all means shouldn't have worked (how did they even think of it?) but which did, and spectacularly so. I suppose the song from this album that I'm most sick of is "Money," but that's the fault of unimaginative radio programmers, not Pink Floyd, because it's another classic track with those catchy cash registers, memorably cynical Waters' lyrics, and great soloing from both Parry and Gilmour, whose solo is typically intense and emotional, reaching a screaming high-pitched peak. Although it has its more intense moments too and lyrically tells a darker story, "Us and Them" is musically incredibly mellow and melodic, almost ambient, even if maybe it's a little on the long side, especially when you factor in "Any Colour You Like," which is really just a little synth and guitar-led (not surprisingly as Gilmour and Wright are the dominant musicians and singers on the album) jam session but a good one. Finally comes "Brain Damage," the lone lead vocal (though he has plenty of help on the chorus) by Waters, who puts you in the head of a lunatic, likely Syd again, thereby foreshadowing the main theme of Wish You Were Here. I should note that the laughter always cracks my father up, and that many people think that this song is actually called "The Dark Side Of The Moon," but anyway, when coupled with "Eclipse," it provides a truly majestic climax to a masterful album. Even the simple yet iconic album cover is perfect (Hipgnosis rebounding big time from the last two disappointing efforts), and as an added bonus the album inspired one of the coolest rock myths out there, that the album synchronizes with the visuals in the movie The Wizard Of Oz (google "Dark Side Of The Rainbow" for details).
Wish You Were Here (Capitol ‘75) Rating: A+
Supposedly the sessions for this album were difficult and unproductive, but you'd never know it by the finished product, as Wish You Were Here was an amazing follow up to their breakthrough album that I actually prefer to Dark Side (well both are brilliant but I listen to this one more often). Although not quite the spectacular commercial success of Dark Side or The Wall, the album has also sold many millions and all of its songs are familiar radio standards to any "classic rock" listeners. Again the band uses studio effects, synthesizers (played by Waters as well as Wright), and female backing vocalists (Venetta Fields and Carlena Williams this time) effectively, and the album's melancholic mood music provides an interesting contrast to Waters' often-angry lyrics. Containing only five long songs (really four since "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is split into two different songs, each with several parts), this album is dedicated to Syd Barrett, the band’s leader during their formative years who never recovered from too many LSD trips. Although it unsettlingly chronicles his descent into madness, while also addressing their (or at least Waters') antagonistic attitude towards the music industry, this sad and beautiful album is also remarkably touching. Both parts of the extended song suites “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” that bookend the album are spaced out, atmospheric pieces perfect for a lazy day, featuring gorgeous synth washes prominently along with Gilmour’s fluid, supple, unforgettably mournful guitar. Parts I-V unfold languidly, in no great hurry, and this near-perfect song is all about its soulful, emotional soloing. The vocals don't even arrive until shortly before the 9-minute mark, but when they do they deliver one of the band's most memorable vocal hooks, with lyrics that directly address Syd, who haunts the album and in an odd coincidence actually showed up at the sessions, albeit so fat and changed in appearance that they didn't recognize him at first! Dick Parry again provides another memorable cameo, adding some classy sax to the fadeout, which leads into the chilly, effects and synthesizer-heavy “Welcome To the Machine,” which tells the story of Barrett’s rise to prominence and the accompanying music business exploitation that played no small role in leading to his current condition. “Have A Cigar,” the album’s most rocking song, is another great tune lambasting the music industry (most famously via its sarcastic "oh by the way, which one's Pink?" line), and is buoyed by the perfectly ragged lead vocals of guest singer Roy Harper, more big synths, and some more excellent guitar work from Gilmour, who solos extensively throughout the album. Unsurprisingly, this album is Gilmour and Wright's favorite Pink Floyd album, as both instrumentalists shine throughout, plus it turned out to be the last Pink Floyd album that musically was truly a collaborative effort, as the next three Pink Floyd albums would be increasingly dominated by Waters. Anyway, the muted fadeout of "Have A Cigar" into the muted intro of "Wish You Were Here" is a cool production trick, and seemingly every prospective guitar player at some point or another tries out the eloquent acoustic intro to the latter tune. Simply put, "Wish You Were Here" is one of my favorite songs of all-time, and it represents the absolute peak of their pastoral, folksy style. Led by the aforementioned guitar and arguably Gilmour's greatest lead vocal as well, the song movingly tells of how Syd has been missed since his exile (even if his ouster from the band was necessary), but like with many songs this one can be given its own interpretation. Personally, it never fails to make me misty-eyed and think of past relatives, pets, and friends (particularly Kevin again as we used to listen to this album together on an almost daily basis) who I myself have lost. "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI–IX)" seems almost anti-climactic by comparison, but even though it's more jam-based and less essential than Parts I-V, it's still a great song that provides a certain symmetry to the album, even if perhaps it also makes the album seem slightly padded out. Still, although the album is perhaps (slightly) less than perfect, it's still an easy A+, as Wish You Were Here provides a warm, heartfelt tribute to a fallen comrade while also working as a truly wonderful listening experience.
Animals (Capitol ‘77) Rating: A
In the year of punk Pink Floyd delivered this lyrically bleak and nihilistic Orwellian allegory, though musically of course the band was worlds apart (and in my opinion far superior) from any of the punk bands who made such a point of professing their hatred of Pink Floyd (we often hate our superiors, don't we?). Though somewhat overlooked by the masses, as is every Pink Floyd album aside from Dark Side, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall, come to think of it, Animals is a firm favorite of many a Floyd fanatic. Certainly Waters likes it, as the album is lyrically, compositionally, and even vocally (Gilmour sings parts of "Dogs" but that's it) dominated by him, and though it's supposedly not a Gilmour favorite it nevertheless features some of his finest guitar playing. Alas, despite some notable musical contributions poor Wright was being phased out; it would be 17 years before he would receive another songwriting credit on a Pink Floyd album, and here the band have dispensed with harmonies, female backup singers, and Dick Parry as well as their sound is comparatively stripped down this time out (though sound effects are still present). Which is fitting, for the focus is definitely more on Waters' increasingly direct lyrics; though the music is also often outstanding, it's hard not to notice colorful, vivid imagery such as “bleating and babbling we fell on his neck with a scream, wave upon wave of demented avengers....,” or the equally uplifting “so have a good drown, as you go down, all alone.” Lyrically, the albums themes center around dogs (the amoral, shady businessmen who are determined to get over in this dog eat dog world), pigs (the power hungry ruling class), and sheep (the pathetic masses who exist to be exploited by the dogs and pigs). Again, cheerful stuff, but thankfully the album begins and ends with "Pigs On The Wing," a pair of extremely short but sweet acoustic love songs to Waters' then wife which provides a more optimistic ray of hope amid the surrounding gloom while also providing the album with a certain symmetry, as (the admittedly far more substantial) "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" had done on the previous album. The heart of the album lies in its three middle songs, all of which are over 10 minutes long, with "Dogs" stretching out to a whopping 17 minutes. Fortunately, though the synth soloing is a bit slow going (but still agreeably atmospheric) at times, this often-spectacular song more than earns most of its minutes. Alternately mellow and heavy, peaceful and unsettling, the song is above all else a Gilmour tour-de-force on guitar, as he dominates several memorable solo sections, whether adding graceful acoustic picking, high-pitched soaring guitar tones, or bluesier, more adventurous effects-laden acrobatics. With its eerie synthesizers and intense guitar stabs, "Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is even better and is the album highlight for me, as it's one of their most memorably atmospheric (a word that applies to much of the album), heavily riff-driven, and vocally hooky ("ha ha, charade you are") songs ever. Like the ending of "Dogs," this song is rather hard rock at times, and it showcases Waters and Gilmour at their absolute best, with the latter effectively using a wah-wah pedal to help the song achieve an awesome air of menace. Though not quite as spectacular, "Sheep" (which is reminiscent of "One Of These Days") is another surprisingly heavy and unsettling number that carries its 10+ minutes extremely well. Propelled by its driving rhythm, this track grooves impressively, and Waters' high-pitched vocal whine is effective as it is throughout the album, though he's certainly more of an acquired taste than Gilmour or Wright in that department. Perhaps this one strikes me as more of a padded out studio jam, but I still find it extremely enjoyable for the most part, as it features excellent playing from all involved, particularly Gilmour as per usual. Anyway, you could argue that Animals’ songs are relentlessly grim lyrically, and overly pretentious and long-winded musically, but I find them consistently fascinating and thoroughly engaging. Really, despite having a much lower profile (the album "only" sold a few million this time), I consider Animals to be only a slight drop-off from its surrounding albums, and as an added bonus it boasts arguably the best Hipgnosis album cover of them all.
The Wall (Capitol ‘79) Rating: A+
I'm stumped. How can I possibly do The Wall, which may very well be my favorite album of all time, and which I've listened to obsessively most of my life, justice? Well I guess I'll try, and don't get me wrong, I know that the album has it's so called faults (it’s pretentious and at times deliberately unpleasant, it’s unfocused as a concept album, etc.), but I wouldn't change a damn thing about it. Simply put, this album represents Roger Waters' peak as a singer (again he is the primary lead vocalist), songwriter, and conceptualist, as he dominates the proceedings even more than on Animals, though Gilmour still sings (the vocal contrasts between his smoothly pleasant voice and Waters' slightly hysterical high-pitched screams and whines is fascinating throughout), co-wrote three of the album's signature songs, plays quite a few classic guitar parts and solos, and in general helped shape the music. So did producer Bob Ezrin, who my guess is largely responsible for the album's stadium sized sound, increased theatricality (particularly "Vera/Bring The Boys Back Home" and "The Trial"), and bevy of studio musicians used, including guitarist Lee Ritenour, drummer Jeff Porcaro, Ezrin himself, and too many others to mention. Michael Kamen is on board to oversee the orchestrations, whereas actual band members Mason and especially Wright were being increasingly marginalized, with the latter actually quitting the band during the sessions, so at odds with Waters was he at the time. Whatever Waters' methods, you certainly can't argue with the results, as The Wall was a worldwide smash that sold countless millions and even contained a chart topping hit single ("Another Brick In The Wall: Part 2") as well as several other enduring radio tracks ("Mother," "Empty Spaces/Young Lust," "Hey You," "Comfortably Numb," "Run Like Hell"). As for the album's storyline, which for the most part consists of flashbacks, you can read about it on wikipedia, which does a pretty good job of summarizing what it's about, because it's the music that most mesmerizes me. For one thing, the alternately lovely and deliberately ugly sounding music is actually varied (not typically a Pink Floyd strength!), with stadium sized anthems, acoustic folk, piano pop, disco beats, creamy Beach Boys-styled harmonies, sad and lonely dirges, and Gilbert & Sullivan-esque operettas all occupying center stage at certain points. The band also cunningly uses special effects (dramatic airplane and helicopter noises, television smashings, megaphone shouted vocals, etc.) better than ever, while other songs are more simply executed but are equally moving and disturbing diatribes that describe the factors that have helped cause our young narrator’s troubled psyche (again, read wikipedia). In fact, the whole thing is a tour-de-force, with one magnificent song after another, even though many of the “songs” are merely short segues (or reprises) that are equally necessary parts to telling the overall story. Indeed, despite the inclusion of the amazing aforementioned popular songs, not to mention superb album tracks like "In The Flesh" (both versions), "The Thin Ice," "Goodbye Blue Sky," and "The Show Must Go On," among others, like all of Pink Floyd’s albums The Wall simply must be taken as a whole in order to get the full effect. That effect is wonderfully depressing and awfully addictive (I used to listen to it on a daily basis), and though some have criticized Waters for rock star whining, songs such as “Nobody Home” convincingly detail the at-times lonely lifestyle that accompanies long fatigue-filled stays on the road away from fan adulation and family. As for highlights, well for me the vast majority of the album is one big highlight, but certainly there are a few things that stand out, such as the children's choir on "Another Brick In The Wall: Part 2," which is also enhanced by Gilmour's elegant guitar solo. When Gilmour's guitar solo comes in on "Mother" it's simply a great rock n' roll moment, and the entirety of "Hey You" is wonderfully atmospheric and dramatic. And what can I say about "Comfortably Numb" beyond that it is simply THE Pink Floyd song? A true Gilmour/Waters collaboration like in the old days, what stands out most to me on this epic song are Gilmour's velvety smooth vocals singing Waters' wonderfully evocative and poetic lyrics; the orchestration is lovely, and of course the song climaxes with Gilmour's monumental guitar solo which is among the all time best, while Mason's explosive drum punctuations are incredibly powerful as well. Granted, there are some who consider songs such as "Don't Leave Me Now" and "Goodbye Cruel World" to be hopelessly dreary to the point of self-parody, and other songs such as "One Of My Turns," "Waiting For The Worms," and especially "The Trial" to be silly and over the top, and I can see where they're coming from. That said, I get a kick out of every single note on the album, virtually all of which I committed to memory long ago (so you might want to simply dismiss this review as the unobjective droolings of an admitted fanboy; your call). A hugely popular album with the stoner set, similar to Tommy, The Wall was also made into a strange movie, this one starring future Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof. Ensconced within a simple yet effective cover that brings to mind The White Album (another obvious precursor), The Wall was Waters’ most magnificent triumph and Pink Floyd’s last true moment of greatness together, though they would record one more album before the acrimonious breakup of the Roger Waters-led version of the band.
The Final Cut (Capitol '83) Rating: A-
This is a pretty polarizing album; I know one person who thinks it's the greatest album ever, and I actually obtained this album on CD a few years back because somebody I knew hated it so much that he was all too eager to give it to me for free. I like it a lot, even if it's a Pink Floyd album in name only. The album's subtitle (A Requiem for the Post War Dream by Roger Waters - Performed by Pink Floyd) says it all, and this time out the presence of Mason and even Gilmour is minimal, while Wright doesn't play on the album at all. After The Wall Waters had a falling out with Ezrin, and perhaps his disappointment over what director Alan Parker had done to the movie version of The Wall also led to Waters' assuming the role of a dictatorial tyrant. Rumour has it that Gilmour wasn't exactly inspired during this period too, but whatever the reason, Waters' was determined to make the album that he wanted to make. Unsurprisingly, despite being a #1 U.K. and top 10 U.S. album, this much-anticipated album became a comparative commercial failure, because frankly it has a more limited appeal due to its more direct, highly personal lyrics, plus it contains then-topical but now dated political themes such as the Falkland's War and the U.K.'s dire economic state. His divorce and of course his father's death are also discussed, as above all else The Final Cut is a bitter anti-war, anti-government diatribe. People often complain about the album's lack of hooks and melodies, but I think that there are plenty of engaging melodies (if not hooks), even if they're often based around low-key orchestrations (again overseen by Kamen), brass (ditto), moody understated keyboards (Andy Newmark), and occasionally saxophone (Raphael Ravenscroft, famous for his solo on Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street") rather than Gilmour's guitar. Gilmour only co-sings one song as well, but Roger sings with passion and tenacity throughout, even if he goes overboard with the histrionics at times. True, musically speaking the (again effects heavy) album is considerably less impressive and even more relentlessly bleak than Animals or The Wall, and it lacks that special sense of enigmatic mystery that is usually the band's calling card (again because this is more a Roger Waters solo album than a proper Pink Floyd album). However, The Final Cut features some of Roger Waters' finest lyric writing, and I find much of the album to be very powerful and moving, such as when he pointedly asks Margaret Thatcher "what happened to the post-war dream?" or when he laments the lost soul of a returning soldier ("now you're lost in the haze of alcohol soft middle age..."). Much of side one focuses on the sad post-war life of this returning World War II "hero," whereas what used to be side two is a bit more varied thematically, though again war and politics still tend to dominate. Musically, the more fully fleshed out songs, particularly the ones where Gilmour makes his presence felt ("Your Possible Pasts," "The Gunner's Dream," "The Fletcher Memorial Home," "The Final Cut," "Not Now John"), are the most fulfilling ones. And though Gilmour himself has been harshly critical of the album, saying that many of its songs were rejected from The Wall for not being good enough, it's better than any of the subsequent post-Waters' Pink Floyd albums helmed by Gilmour. Sometimes it is musically undistinguished, and it's not a "fun" album by any means, but The Final Cut is an often elegant, highly emotional, resolutely adult album by a true artist who was determined to deliver a true work of art.
A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (Capitol ‘87) Rating: C+
After The Final Cut both Gilmour and Waters released solo albums that sold only a fraction of what even The Final Cut sold. Realizing that he had been building up the Pink Floyd brand over the past 20 years rather than the name recognition of "David Gilmour" (which certainly had its advantages in his personal life I'm sure), and that achieving significant solo success would likely be an ongoing struggle, Gilmour decided to reform Pink Floyd. Mason and Wright came on board as well (though the latter only as salaried employee), likely feeling that not only could they make some money, but that being in the band might actually be fun again without Waters' overbearing presence. Naturally Waters was outraged that they would even consider continuing as Pink Floyd without him; he was the band's unquestioned leader and resident visionary, after all, and since he had no interest in making another Pink Floyd album, naturally he assumed that this meant the end of Pink Floyd (forgetting I suppose that many had thought the same thing when Syd Barrett was forced out of Pink Floyd once upon a time). Thus commenced one of rock music's most acrimonious breakups, but Waters' nastiness about the whole situation only increased Gilmour's resolve to continue without him, and eventually A Momentary Lapse Of Reason was released enclosed within another striking Storm Thorgerson cover, his first for the band since Animals since he had fallen out of favor with Waters, naturally. Whereas Waters had dominated The Final Cut, this album is dominated by Gilmour, though quite a few outside writers and session musicians (Mason and Wright don't actually play much on the album) also helped assemble the old Pink Floyd sound, much to the chagrin of the bitter Waters who called the album a "forgery." Then again, a lot of session musicians had also appeared on The Wall, so that's partially attributable to the presence again of co-producer Bob Ezrin (session musicians being something of an Ezrin trademark). Unfortunately, Waters' songwriting is sorely missed, and the album's overly mechanized '80s production, replete with many a dated synthesizer part, doesn't help matters. The album has a few good songs: "One Slip" (written by Gilmour with ex-Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera) is melodic and catchy enough but pales when judged against previous highlights, the socially conscious "On The Turning Away" at least approximates the classic Pink Floyd sound and climaxes with an epic Gilmour guitar solo, and hit single "Learning To Fly," about Gilmour becoming a real life pilot as well as now piloting Pink Floyd, became the band's best known post-Waters track for good reason as its riffs and synths are quite catchy, the lyrics are actually good, and the chorus, with help from some soulful female vocalists, is easily singable. Elsewhere, the best I can say about this album is that it contains some pleasant if meandering atmospherics in light of not having many truly compelling songs, and that Gilmour's typically fine sounding guitar noodlings elevate otherwise undistinguished and overly long tracks such as "Yet Another Movie" (co-written with Madonna collaborator Patrick Leonard!) and "Sorrow." The worst I can say is that "The Dogs Of War" and "New Machine Part 1" (incredibly reprised for "Part 2" later on!) are easily among the worst Pink Floyd songs ever; the former tries to be dramatic but is totally overwrought and obnoxious, while the latter tunes are simply dreadful, though at least when taken together the two "New Machine" songs still take up less than two and a half minutes. On the whole, the mostly underwhelming and often quite boring A Momentary Lapse Of Reason was easily the weakest Pink Floyd album to date, though nobody seemed to notice as it was a significant commercial success, thereby proving that the Pink Floyd brand name was bigger than any individual band member. The accompanying monster tour, for which the band spared no expense, was a major success too, which wasn’t that surprising given the band’s hardcore following (among both males and females) and formidable live reputation. However, the resulting live album, Delicate Sound Of Thunder, is completely unnecessary; no surprise there, either, I suppose, when one considers that Mason and Wright were just getting acclimated again after being away from playing music for awhile, plus the visual aspect (spectacular light shows, giant inflatable stage props, interesting film projections) is a major reason why the Pink Floyd concert experience is just that, an experience.
The Division Bell (Capitol '94) Rating: B+
Seven long years after A Momentary Lapse Of Reason the band came back with the considerably better The Division Bell, which was more of a true band effort as Mason contributed much more and Wright was back as a full-time band member. Wright even co-wrote five songs, his first such credits since Wish You Were Here, and he also sang lead on “Wearing The Inside Out,” his first such showcase since Dark Side (!) and one of the album’s best songs to boot. Given Wright’s major contributions to their early albums as something of the band’s secret weapon, it was nice to have him back and fully functional, and the album on the whole, likely the band’s last studio album together as Pink Floyd, was a far more dignified exit than Lapse would've been. The album is far from perfect, as like many ‘90s albums this 66-minute effort suffers from cd-era length; many of these songs are far too long (there’s plenty of pleasant but not particularly inspired Gilmour guitar noodling, though the all-instrumental guitar piece “Marooned” is inspired), and there are too many songs given that some of them never really get going. Still, Gilmour (still very much in charge though he again gets assistance from Ezrin, Kamen, and assorted session musicians including old friend Dick Parry and several soulful female backing vocalists who are back in full force) largely avoids the egregious musical gaffes that plagued the last album, and new girlfriend (and future wife), writer Polly Samson, helps out with the lyrics which are much improved as a result. The album’s primary theme is, fittingly enough, a lack of communication, and the lyrics at times interestingly touch upon Syd (of course), their adversarial relationship with Waters who had a hard time reconciling their continued success without him to put it mildly, and Gilmour’s recent divorce and both his and Wrights personal renewals (Gilmour’s largely due to Samson). Musically, the album too often lacks immediacy (then again Floyd have never really been about immediacy) and hooks, but even at its worst it is rarely less than pleasantly soothing mood music. The album’s best songs tend to be its most intense ones and often feature the female backing vocalists prominently. For example, the funky, bluesy “What Do You Want From Me?” is a definite highlight, as is the environmentally conscious “Take It Back,” which features some Edge-y guitar, a nice flowing melody, and the female vocalists leading one of the album’s catchiest choruses. The ladies again enhance the tough “Keep Talking,” as does Gilmour’s wah wah soloing, and I also like “Coming Back To Life,” which is elevated by more extended Gilmour guitar soloing. However, the album’s absolute highlight is “High Hopes,” the atmospheric and dramatic 8+ minute finale that was the lone track I remember hearing on the radio back in the day. Then again, Pink Floyd has never been about singles, and for the first time ever for a Pink Floyd album, The Division Bell went to #1 in the U.S. and the U.K. , yet another spectacular commercial success without Waters. It’s still not a top-tier Pink Floyd album, but The Division Bell is quite listenable, plus it gave the band another excuse to put on an even more extravagant tour (I attended and it was great), and to release yet another live album titled Pulse. This album’s claim to fame was that it included The Dark Side Of The Moon in its entirety, but though it certainly was a significant improvement over Delicate Sound Of Thunder, my recommendation would be to simply buy The Dark Side Of The Moon instead. Obviously attempting to topple the Stones in the category of “most useless live albums,” the band later released Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980–81 in 2000, but again just buy The Wall instead. On a last more uplifting note, the three remaining Pink Floyd members finally reunited with Roger Waters onstage in 2005, providing the easy highlight of the massive Live 8 series of benefit concerts. It may have marked an uneasy truce (clearly Waters was happier to be there than they were happy to have him there) and been well over a decade past due, but better something than nothing and better late than never; the death of Barrett in 2006 and Wright in 2008 likely spelled the end of any future reunions, but with this enigmatic ensemble, one of the greatest rock bands of all time, you never know for sure. Note: Sure enough, The Endless River was released in 2014, but I found this largely instrumental album to be a disappointing final addendum to the band’s career, though the music works well enough as mere background music.
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