Saturday, 8 June 2019

Pink Floyd




“Come on you target for faraway laughter. Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!” - Pink Floyd

Meddle (1971)
One Of These Days/A Pillow Of Winds/Fearless/San Tropez/Seamus/Echoes

”Pink Floyd's sessions would often begin in the afternoon, and end early the next morning, during which time nothing would get done. There was no record company contact whatsoever, except when their label manager would show up now and again with a couple of bottles of wine and a couple of joints" - John Leckie - engineer

Firstly, I have to make the point that I have done on all the Pink Floyd albums that I have reviewed - I am not a ‘proper’ Pink Floyd fan. I am a Floyd dilettante. Therefore my approach will be a slightly different one. Anyway - this was, I have to say, a most interesting album, packed full of lengthy, often ambient, often heavily rocking, instrumental passages spread over only six tracks.

The opener, One Of These Days, is a pounding instrumental featuring a few distorted vocal grunts of the like Mike Oldfield would use on Tubular Bells and some grinding, Kraftwerk-style chugging rock parts. The beat stays regular throughout, but it is a string, muscular, great-sounding one, overflowing with early seventies rock power.

A typically airy, folky Roger Waters sound is found on the slow, acoustic and bucolic strains of A Pillow Of Winds

A fine, chunky guitar riff powers the slightly Led Zeppelin III-esque Fearless together with a lovely deep bass line. The signature riff that appears regularly in the song is a catchy one. I love the sound on this track, but I am always irked by the incongruous use of Liverpool FC fans singing You’ll Never Walk Alone at the end - why? I don’t get what it adds to the song at all.

San Tropez is a jaunty, quirky piece if McCartney-esque fun that sits as a bit if a surprise, but it is actually relaxingly pleasant. 

Seamus is a short bit of bluesy nonsense with a dog - Seamus - guesting on vocals. 

These two short numbers provide an appetiser for the gargantuan twenty-three minute leviathan that is Echoes. There is so much to admire on this monumental achievement of a track - from its sumptuous bass on the first section to the phenomenal thump of the drums of the rock passage, which is the bit that I really love. Yes, it could probably have a few of the ambient later minutes shaved off it but it would still be a magnificent piece of indulgent rock music. And me a two minute thrash punk fan too. I love everything about this, and its sound quality is simply superb. Just check out the wonderful bass, drum, funky organ and guitar passage at seven minutes - it is one of Pink Floyd’s finest bits of music, for me.

Overall, it is a really fine early seventies rock album and another Pink Floyd album I prefer to Dark Side Of The Moon.

The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)


Speak To Me/Breathe (In The Air)/On The Run/Time/The Great Gig In The Sky/Money/Us And Them/Any Colour You Like/Brain Damage/Eclipse                                               

The success of the album brought enormous wealth to the members of Pink Floyd. Waters and Wright bought large country houses while Mason became a collector of expensive cars

I have to say, initially, that I am not a proper Pink Floyd fan, as such, just someone who felt he ought to listen more times to this iconic album. The thing is, I have never quite understood the hype about it. Yes, it is immaculately played, for sure, and the sound on this latest remaster is superb. However, I find much of the actual album vacillates between stunningly good and intensely irritating, with lots of strange noises, sound effects and occasional vocals, not forgetting some pretentious lyrics. The snippets of voices talking in between tracks and often at the beginning and fade out of tracks is a good idea, and is effective.

Breathe In The Air isn’t a bad song, but it ends too soon, and On The Run is a Kraftwerk-esque frantic, rumbling instrumental which has its appeal.

The album’s only really credible stand alone track is the funk rock of Money, which I have to say I do like. Great saxophone on it to. Just a quality rock track, actually. A pity the rest of the album on occasions doesn’t match it.

The first half of Time, I have to say, beats David Bowie with regard to ambient instrumentals by about four years, but when the vocal kicks in it just seems an irritation. I would have liked it much more if it had stayed as an instrumental. There is some great guitar on there. 

The Great Gig In The Sky is again attractive, musically, and it goes without saying that Clare Torry’s vocal performance is astonishing.

 

Us And Them has a nice saxophone opening and a laid-back groove, but Roger Waters’ voice and delivery just annoys me somewhat. I know I am being a little unfair, in many ways this is a well-crafted song. As with most of this album, there are bits I really like and others that I don’t so much. This one track exemplifies that within itself.

Any Colour You Like has an almost reggae-like guitar opening and some exhilarating guitar stereo interplay in its three minutes of instrumental. I like this too. 

Brain Damage has a valedictory, anthemic, end of Abbey Road quality to it, as it leads seamlessly into Eclipse. Make no mistake, this is clearly a unique, innovative piece of work and repeated listens bring more appreciation.

Wish You Were Here (1975)
Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts I-V/Welcome To The Machine/Have A Cigar/Wish You Were Here/Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts VI-IX

"I had some criticisms of 'Dark Side of the Moon'. One or two of the vehicles carrying the ideas were not as strong as the ideas that they carried. I thought we should try and work harder on marrying the idea and the vehicle that carried it, so that they both had an equal magic… It's something I was personally pushing when we made 'Wish You Were Here'" - David Gilmour

Written as a tribute to former member Syd Barrett, for many ‘proper’ Pink Floyd fans, it would seem to be an album they don’t revere as much as others. Maybe I’m wrong there, but it certainly as if it wasn’t a favourite of the band themselves, finding it the most gruelling to complete. From my point of view, as a sort of non-Floyd fan, I really like it a lot. It is packed full of superb instrumentation, particularly David Gilmour’s guitar work and several outstanding extended instrumental pieces which render the vocals almost unnecessary. I would enjoy it just as much without them, but I have to say that the relatively sparse use of them is really effective.

Personally, I much prefer this to Dark Side Of The Moon - don’t shoot me Floyd obsessives! Just the way it comes over to me from considerably my more detached viewpoint.

Anyway, to the music - Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts I-V is instrumentally brilliant, when the drums kick in, the bass, the almost early Roxy Music-like saxophone. Excellent. Although over thirteen minutes long it never outstays its welcome, seeming to be only about half that length, so engrossing is its music. The electric guitar solo around half way through is mesmerising, scintillating and any other 'ing' you may care to think of

The interesting Welcome To The Machine starts like David Bowie's Station To Station (surely he was influenced by this) and those glorious 'industrial' synth breaks must have had an effect on the output of numerous eighties post punk/new romantic keyboard-dominated, introspective bands. Bass, keyboards and acoustic guitar merge perfectly. This really is a mightily impressive composition - the bass/keyboard interplay near the end is spectacular. For me, as with many Pink Floyd songs, the lyrics are somewhat superfluous. It is about the music as far as I'm concerned, which just as well, as I find Roger Waters' voice and vocal style a little bit grating.

Have A Cigar has a captivating slow rock drum beat, more fine keyboards and a bit of a funky guitar undertow. It is the most convincing rock number of the album, the equivalent of Dark Side Of The Moon's Money. Actually, just as solid and appealing is the plaintive but simultaneously Wish You Were Here, which is a classic "intelligent rock” muscular ballad.

The second batch of Shine On You Crazy Diamond is truly superb - wonderful deep rumbling bass throbbing away somewhat menacingly as the keyboards cut and thrust, swirling around like an incense stick's smoke. Then the track gets a bit rhythmic and some catchy drum/cymbal work arrives. The vocals and some killer guitar take six minutes to introduce themselves as we revisit the lyrical/melodic conceits of the earlier sections (I-V) of the song. The funky bass and keyboard (clavinet) bit half way through is breathtaking, and positively Traffic-esque. There is so much going on this track and indeed on all this highly impressive album. The sound quality is great too.


Animals (1977)
Pigs On The Wing(Part One)/Dogs/Pigs (Three Different Ones)/Sheep/Pigs On The Wing (Part Two)

"The album described the apparent social and moral decay of society, likening the human condition to that of mere animals" - Glenn Povey

Released in 1977, at the height of punk, this Pink Floyd album could not be further from the short, sharp, raw punk ethic if it tried. It is a further outing down the lengthy, instrumental/occasional vocals road and, although immaculately played, is seemingly culturally out of time. Now, I may think that, but, casting my mind back to 1977, Pink Floyd fans outnumbered punks by ten to one - probably more. To lots of people punk meant nothing - this was what they wanted, and they lapped it up. It was a very successful album.

The album, in true prog rock style, is based around a vague concept of George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' linked to the political landscape of Britain in 1977. Its bloatedness was possibly inspired as an answer to punk's anarchic nihilism, but, in many ways, this is as anti-establishment an album as anything punk came up with. Indeed, the punk/established rock antipathy was all a bit of a pose - Johnny Rotten secretly liked some prog rock and Floyd's Nick Mason produced The Damned's second album. Personally, in 1977, I hated this and those who liked it, but my views have mellowed over the many subsequent years. Ironically, many Floyd aficionados at the time disliked the album due to its iconoclasm, cynicism and dark edginess.

The work is basically three extended workouts bookended by two short pieces. It begins with the short acoustic and vocals of Pigs On The Wing (Part One) before we get the album's first big track - the impressive Dogs, featuring some semi-funky guitar work from David Gilmour amongst many other changes of pace and sound. In places there is almost a soulful bass sound to the groove. Look, what the hell, I like this. The band revisit the use of canine vocals too, following on from 1971's Seamus.

Pigs (Three Different Ones) has a great rock drum sound and, together with a deep, resonant bass line, recreates the sound of the previous album's Have A Cigar. In places it sounds not unlike US proto-punk band Television, for me. Check out those guitar chops and harsh drums - very post punk too - almost Joy Division in its harsh sonic bleakness. Many post punk groups will have been (possibly secretly) influenced by this, no question.

Sheep begins with some melodic electric piano, a nice bass and steady drum sound for nearly two minutes before it breaks out into some upbeat rock rhythms, full of excellent guitar and swirling organ. Play this loud and, to me, it sounds almost punky in a 1978-79 bleak style, Roger Waters' vocal even sounds Rotten-esque in its sneering tone at times. If you had played this over the speakers before a post punk gig, people would have been enthused, I'm sure. Maybe people will disagree with me but I find a lot of Joy Division/early New Order/early Simple Minds in much of this. The problem for many with Floyd was that the tracks lasted so long so it came across as indulgent, but various passages in the tracks are not much different to the noir sound of post punk.

The final track, the short Pigs On The Wing (Part Two) is exactly the same length as the opener - 1:24. Odd that, isn't it?

It was an album caught between two cultures but that didn't stop it being very successful. indeed, and probably rightly so.



2 comments:

  1. You feel the same way I do. I happen to love Dark side of the Moon, but I love it for the musical touches even though the songs themselves are kind of a turn-off. I like all the instrumental passages the best. The songs weren't as annoying as all the albums that came after it though. They just made album after album about how terrible and difficult it is to be a rich and successful musician and all that crap. I really can't stand Wish You Were Here and the Wall. Well actually, I love the songs Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 and also Run like Hell. But I hate the rest of it. But the funny thing is I used to hate Animals just as much but in the last few years I really started to like it. I'm pretty it's sure it's only for musical reasons because the songs are just as dumb. Like Dark Side of the Moon it's a lot easier just to ignore the lyrics and just enjoy the music. I could never get into their earlier stuff either
    The ones before dark side of the moon.

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  2. Totally agree. I hated the Floyd in the seventies and those who liked them. Now, I like the music but agree the lyrics are often pretentious. I like Wish You Were Here, musically, a lot but I also find Roger Waters' voice, delivery and lyrics somewhat irritating.

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