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Review: Pink Floyd – The Endless River

Earlier this year, when the news leaked out that there was a new Pink Floyd album on the way, there was a feeling bewilderment among fans, rather than excitement. It simply did not compute, as most people assumed the band was completely defunct. Since the death of Richard Wright four years ago, only David Gilmour and Nick Mason remained as ‘official’ band members, and the latter was never force as a performer nor a composer. And it was highly unlikely that former bandleader Roger Waters had reconciled with the others enough to record with them. So what was this new release to be? It seemed likely that it would just be Gilmour and Mason, like A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987), which is one of the worst-reviewed releases of the band’s long career.

A Momentary Lapse of Reason’s ill-advised inner sleeve

However, it was soon revealed that the album would be mostly made up of music recorded for, but ultimately rejected from, The Division Bell (1994). It was heartening that it would feature contributions from Richard Wright, but at the same time disappointing that music that didn’t make the grade 20 years ago was now considered good enough to release. Many fans were willing to give the record a try, as it was ‘new’ material, and possibly a chance to celebrate Wright’s life and work. But was this album worth reviving the Pink Floyd moniker for?

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Pink Floyd – Ten of the Worst

You generally find Pink Floyd listed among the “All-Time Great Bands”, but even ardent fans would have to admit that not all of the band’s output was stellar. I’d go so far as to say that some of it was downright awful. The band’s experimental nature, coupled with personnel changes, resulted in a back catalogue which is maddeningly inconsistent in terms of quality. In fact, they are about the only band that could have a Worst of compilation that would be as long as their Best of.

Seeing as the band’s albums are now available on Spotify, I thought it would be a good time to look back at some of Pink Floyd’s lowest points. I made a chronological Spotify playlist of ten of their worst tracks which can be found here. My explanations/justifications for my choices are below.

N.B. I decided to limit myself to only one track per album (which was sometimes difficult!)

The Gnome (From The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, 1967)

Syd Barrett, the original bandleader, specialised in psychedelic songs which were peppered with childhood imagery. Unfortunately, he went too far into whimsy and/or drugs with this ditty about a scarlet tunic-wearing gnome called Grimble Gromble. Incidentally, this song was recorded at roughly the same time as David Bowie’s infamous “The Laughing Gnome”. I wonder if both songs were about the same little fella.

A somewhat worse-for-wear Syd Barrett

A somewhat worse for wear Syd Barrett

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There’s a crazy urban myth regarding Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It’s been around coincidentally as long as the internet, and states that the album works as a sort of alternative soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz. The theory goes, that if you start playing the album at the same time you start playing The Wizard of Oz (with the sound muted), the album will synchronise with the film’s visuals in interesting ways. By that, I mean that the music corresponds to what’s happening on screen, and the songs change when scenes do. Some people say that it goes beyond mere coincidence, and that the album must have been composed specifically for this purpose.

The idea of this has always intrigued me. I’m embarrassed to say that soon after I heard about it, I bought a copy of DSotM and The Wizard of Oz and tried it out for myself. I am possibly the only person in the world who was not high when I did this. I noticed a fair few moments of synchronisation and was a firm believer that, while this was probably not a deliberate thing, it was certainly some kind of weird, cosmic coincidence.

Now I’m older and wiser, I’ve tried this synch again (still not high), to see if my opinion had changed. Someone had helpfully put the two together and uploaded it to Vimeo (YouTube for grown ups). The video is after the jump, and below that is a list of all times when I think that things do, and do not seem to synch…

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Obscured by Time

‘Animals’ is sometimes labelled Pink Floyd’s ‘Forgotten Album’, as it didn’t enter the public consciousness as much as the albums they released before and after it. However, I don’t see how an album that sold so many millions of copies could be labelled “forgotten”. Some Pink Floyd records, like ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’ and ‘More’, have deservedly faded from memory, but there’s one lesser known offering that I think needs to be more widely appreciated: ‘Obscured by Clouds’.

The album was recorded in two weeks in 1972, as the soundtrack to a French art-house film. I haven’t actually seen the movie, so I don’t know how the songs work in context. However, that means I can review the album on its own terms, as a stand-alone piece of art.

It’s part soundtrack and part song track; there are four instrumentals and six vocal numbers. The first two numbers are instrumentals and like many Pink Floyd compositions, they’re spacey and somewhat sinister. The synthesisers sound a little primitive compared to what would come later in the band’s career but I’d imagine the time constraints meant they couldn’t refine the sound as much.

The vocal songs which follow are a mixed bag. The album was recorded before Roger Waters took control of all the writing and vocal duties for the band, so the other writers/singers: David Gilmour and Richard Wright, get a chance to contribute. It gives the album a really eclectic feel. Read the rest of this entry

On the Concert Films of Yesteryear

For a time, I was mad about concert movies. Not just any old taped concert, but those strange hybrids of concert and documentary that actually had theatrical releases. I guess it was because I was born too late to see the bands that I liked in concert, and this was the only way that I could experience them outside of an album. However, I always felt these films were really unsatisfying. Seeing the bands playing their music was always a plus, but inevitably you wouldn’t see a full song before the film would cut to something banal, like a roadie lugging equipment around. These documentary aspects always seemed weak. I always got the feeling that the film makers only followed the band/artist around for a really short amount of time; just long enough to get a few talking heads and a bit of a flavour of their personality. It’s never good to meet your heroes, but even seeing them in this context made me think less of them.

I suppose Dont Look Back [sic] fits into this category, although it favours the documentary aspect over the concerts. I don’t mind this too much, as how much more could one gain from watching a solo Dylan playing his well known songs? Actually, I think that the problem with this film is Dyaln himself. He comes across as self-satisfied and angry throughout the movie. He seems to be trying to reject his status as a Messianic figure, whilst on a deeper level, completely embracing it.

Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii was always one of my favourites. Director Adrian Maben wisely let the band perform their songs in their entirety, albeit with the epic ‘Echoes’ being split into two parts. On the VHS and DVD version of the film, there are documentary segments as well. We get to see the band recording parts of Dark Side of the Moon. These parts are tantalising, as I’d like to see more of that. However, the ‘behind the scenes’ and talking heads elements are again, weak. In an absurd scene, drummer Nick Mason asks someone to fetch him a piece of apple pie, but stipulates it must be one without a crust. Upon being told there’s only ‘crusty’ bits left, he looks gloomy and says he’s rather go without. Also, I think that I can see Roger Waters – The Tyrant, beginning to shape in a few places.

I can forgive Woodstock for its mix of musical performances and general mayhem, as that was a festival and a genuine cultural event. One of that film’s editors, Martin Scorsese, went on to make The Last Waltz, which I have more of a problem with. A lot of the music is great, but Robbie Robertson’s coked up ramblings are treated as if they’re incredibly profound. Scorsese was using cocaine heavily at the time, so that might be an explanation. Also, ‘guest star’ Neil Young also had cocaine visible in his nostril, which had to be rotoscoped out of the film.

The nadir of this genre has to be Led Zeppelin’s – The Song Remains the Same. It suffers from all the weaknesses I mentioned above, but adds mid-song fantasy sequences. During the many instrumental breaks, there are specially-filmed sequences from the band members. With Page, Plant and Jones, these are the usual sword-and-sorcery nonsense that you might expect. However, John Bonham’s sections are much more down to earth. It shows more documentary like footage of some of his favourite pursuits, like drag racing and playing pool. It’s as if Bonham told the film crew he couldn’t be bothered LARPing and that they should just film him dicking around.

There’s probably a lot more to say on this topic, but I think This is Spinal Tap said it better. That film surely must have done a lot to bring about an end to this movie genre. However it’s amazing how many of the musical tropes that it lampoons, are still present in Rock Music.