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Pink Floyd

Albums reviewed on this page: The Piper at The Gates of Dawn, RelicsA Saucerful of Secrets, Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother, Meddle,
Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, David Gilmour, The Wall, The Final Cut, About Face,
The Pros & Cons of Hitch-Hiking

Few groups have changed to Pink Floyd's extent.  Originally a psychedelic band built around the singular talent of guitarist and songwriter Syd Barrett, their spectacular debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a strange mix of nursery rhymes, extended exploratory instrumentals and pop music.   Things quickly turned sour when Barrett burned out on LSD after a few experimental singles, exiting to become a cult hero with a pair of dysfunctionally brilliant albums.  Floyd quickly brought in David Gilmour to supplement and then replace Barrett, and Gilmour and bassist Roger Waters filled the resulting songwriting gap.  During their next few albums the band continued exploring their experimental side, which can be characterized as space-rock, symphonic progressive rock, or just atmosphere.  (This did have its downsides, as the studio half of Ummagumma is experimentation gone awry.)  Floyd had drifted into soundtrack work early on (More and Obscured by Clouds), and much of their work has that approach - except that you sit back and let your own mind produce the images. Long-form tracks like "Echoes" and "Atom Heart Mother" were a natural outgrowth of this experimentation, are the reason I think of the band as a gateway drug to Krautrock.  The band's other side emerged as a sort of a folky, pleasant (stoned) sound that was either be warm and inviting, or the gasps of a broken man.  Meddle was both of the band's sides' peak, as Gilmour led the others through a set of both inviting acoustic based music, and bizarre soundscapes.  With Dark Side of the Moon in 1973, two things happened - Waters started taking control of the group and focused the lyrics on album-length stories (Animals, The Wall), and the band's sound got colder.  Eventually, he kicked out keyboardist Rick Wright, (who returned as a session man), then dissolved the group after putting out what was essentially a Waters solo album (The Final Cut).  Gilmour reformed the group with the other two members (Wright and drummer Nick Mason) and they have since recorded and toured, with little inspiration and huge success.

Pink Floyd is one of my favorite groups, but I have to slag them somewhat.  First off, their rhythm section is a blase at best.  Drummer Nick Mason is a nice fellow I'm sure, but he is effectively a light jazz drummer who managed to do just enough to not sound incompetent.  Roger Waters has the excuse of singing, but his bass work is unremarkable - any novice can play along with his parts on The Wall for example.  Gilmour is the band's post-Barrett lynchpin - he has a pretty distinct style, and manages to work the same vaguely bluesy style into something new each time around.  I always feel that poor Wright gets unappreciated - his songs were always nice happy tunes, and they provided a nice contrast to the rest of their material.  

Just as a warning - this was one of the first bands I reviewed, so the writing may be coarse, the ratings too high, the opinions wrong and the thoughts incoherent.

I have listed what I know of their solo work, with Syd Barrett on a separate page.

Personnel: Roger "Syd" Barrett (guitar, vocals); Roger Waters (bass, vocals); Rick Wright (keyboards, some vocals); Nick Mason (drums).  David Gilmour (guitar, vocals) brought on to supplement Barrett soon after Piper, who then left. Wright kicked out in the late 70s?  Waters left after The Final Cut, and I'm unsure of the band after that point.


Pink Floyd: "Arnold Layne" / "Candy and a Current Bun" (Mar. 1967)
They had been a R&B band, but their first single is emphatically psychedelic pop.  The characteristics of the Barrett are all here: striking subject matter (a man stealing women's clothes and getting imprisoned), Waters' vivid farfisa organ, an trippy instrumental section instead of a real solo, fairly complex backing vocals.  It's not psychedelic pop in a Beatles' lighthearted variety, however; Barrett's baritone sounds very serious, even if the production isn't heavy.  The b-side is like a Who R&B song gone psychedelic, with weirdness suchwith Barrett's low-spoken vocals during the chorus and turns into a jam with the organ and a rudimentary bass solo which sounds curtailed.    Lots of echoes, flashes of noises, etc.  Both produced by Joe Boyd, more famous for working with folk groups like Fairport Convention.  "Arnold Layne" is on compilations like Relics, but "Candy and a Current Bun" is harder to track down (or it used to be).  It was a pretty good hit in the UK.

Pink Floyd: "See Emily Play" / "Scarecrow" (June 1967)
The quintessential Barrett psychedelic single.  Another very pop single, even more complex, again with a Farfisa-led instrumental section and Syd using a slide and lots of echo to give his guitar parts a unique sound.  The song is about either a child playing, a romping drug user, or both.  In contrast, "Scarecrow" starts out very sparse, with clacky percussion and Syd's guitar before Wright's wondering Farfisa comes in to lead them.  Again, it's a rather child-like subject, a portrait of a resigned scarecrow.  It's quieter (has some acoustic guitar) and a good compliment to the A-side.  Pedantry: Norman Smith produced both tracks, and "Scarecrow" appears on their album.  "See Emily Play" was later re-mixed in stereo and usually appears on compliations in that mix.

Pink Floyd: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), ****1/2 
A stunning array of LSD music, and its power and vocal harmonies makes it quite different from popular Floyd favorites.  Along with Sgt. Pepper, Piper at the Gates of Dawn defined the sound of psychedelia. Using then-new studio techniques and crisp production, Piper sounds like nothing else from the era. Divided between attacking space instrumentals ("Interstellar Overdrive" with the best intro of any song, "Astronomy Domine") and lighter LSD-pop tunes ("Flaming", "The Gnome"), Barrett's songwriting and guitar work propel this above other work from the period.  Even an experimental sound collage at the end of "Bike" is kept within tasteful bounds.  Waters' sole contribution, the one-joke "Take up Thy Stethoscope and Walk", shows that he had not found his niche yet.  Wright occasionally swoops in to deliver a solo ("Pow R. Toc H."), but stays more in the background with his ominous organ.  The only non-Waters song that isn't quite up to par is the slower "Chapter 24", with Barrett's lyrics taken from the I Ching.  Otherwise, Piper is a excellent mix of experimentalism and pop that may never be matched.  Produced by Norman Smith.

Pink Floyd: "Scream Thy Last Scream" / "Vegetable Man" (rec. Aug. 1967, unreleased)
The purported a-side is insanity.  The b-side, whose fidelity is far worse, is more along the lines of just-not-making-sense.

Pink Floyd: "Apples and Oranges" / "Paintbox" (Nov. 1967)
The last overblown pop single with Syd.  A dash of madness, a dash of overproduction

Pink Floyd: Relics (rec. 1967-1968)
For the legions of students who know only of Floyd's radio hits and Waters' bitter explications of self-destruction and neuroses, it may be shocking to learn that the band had a life before Dark Side of the Moon.  But even for those fans who accept and enjoy the band's psychedelic and atmospheric eras, it is easy to forget that Pink Floyd was considered a pop band originally.  In fact, their first single, "Arnold Layne", made the Top Twenty in the UK, and its follow-up "See Emily Play" cracked the Top Ten, and both are fantastic psychedelic pop tracks.  But after Piper was released, the band released three further singles, although I think only some parts of them appear on this compilation.  First came "Apples and Oranges" and "Paintbox", the former being another crazy Barrett piece, and the latter a jazzy little Wright piece similar to the style he later used with "See-Saw".  They also recorded two other incredibly bizarre Barrett songs which were not released at the time (and may never have been formally released) - "Scream Thy Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man", which are completely insane.  I mean people-eating-shoes nuts.   After Barrett's departure, the band released a few more singles which are pretty interesting, although the band has since disowned them.  The next A-Side, "It Would Be So Nice", was a pretty complex Wright pop song, and the flip, "Julia Dream", a relaxed acoustic ballad, probably by Waters.  Finally, their last attempt was "Point Me at the Sky" - this one by Waters I think, and about a man and an airplane I think.  This was likely the source of the promo photo of the band dressed up as aviators in my A Saucerful of Secrets CD.  The back side was the original version of "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" - the consummate bizarre jam later heard on Ummagumma.  The main thing is that these were all for the most part really good songs, and it's a shame that the band sometimes acts like they never tried to try smiley psychedelic pop without Syd Barrett.  Most of these appear on Relics, but not all, although I think they are worth tracking down.

Pink Floyd: A Saucerful of Secrets (Jun 1968), ***1/2
Barrett was non-functional by this point, and he left the band early on during the album's recording, and Waters and Wright stepped forward to pick up the slack. The result is a transitional album --a feel towards darker sounds, the extended mind-blown jams replaced by more structured space-rock, and a strange mixture of psychedelia, progressive rock, and stoner jam band.  Waters' music is much darker than Piper ever was, relying on breathy vocals, repeated bass riffs ("Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", the main riff in "Let There Be More Light" appears briefly in "Astronomy Domine") and lyrics that you understand, but are still cryptic.  Wright, on the other hand, continued the band's psychedelic pop side with the dreamy "Remember a Day" and the delightfully jazzy jewel of "See-Saw".  Waters makes one attempt a Barrett style psychedelic nonsense which may appeal to you, the absurd character piece "Corporal Clegg" with kazoo choruses.  Gilmour had yet to develop his sustain-heavy tone and he shares the stage with Wright for most of the album in a sort of place-holding fashion ("Let There Be More Light").    Barrett appears on two songs, playing the pingy slide leads to "Remember a Day" and contributing his haunting "Jugband Blues", which is a bizarre combination of schizophrenic lyrics and a Salvation Army band. Thus, Wright's creepy background organ to set the mood ("Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun"), and the title track is a long space-rock track that attempts to make do without Barrett's guitar, and the wordless vocals and organ line of the ending makes it curiously similar to Procol Harum's "In Held Twas In I".  Saucerful is very inconsistent, but without the driving force that led both "Astronome Domine" and "Instersteller Overdrive", the band wisely changed to a more atmospheric sound, even if Wright never got this much face-time ever again. Produced by Norman Smith.

Pink Floyd: More (1969)
The soundtrack to an obscure French film.  Gilmour was now fully in the band, and sings all the songs.  Waters, of course, writes them (with an occasional group credit).  I've heard this and the numbers that stick out are the soft "Green Is The Color" and "Cymbaline" with a surprising scat vocal part.  It seemed decent, yet unremarkable.

Pink Floyd: Ummagumma (1969), ***
Wildly uneven. A double album with one disc recorded live, and the other containing studio attempts at avant-garde music by each member (it could have been named Fun With Tape Effects).  The live disc covers their looser jam songs ("Astronomy Domine", "A Saucerful of Secrets") and Wright's organ and Gilmour's odd guitar sound make it sufficiently creepy.  The studio disc is hit and miss.  Waters' "Grantchester Meadows" is a pleasant acoustic number, while his "Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In a Cave and Grooving With a Pict" is as bizarre as the title, with layered noises and Waters reading incomprehensible poetry with a bad Scottish accent.  Wright's "Sysyphus" starts out as a classical piano work and then disintegrates into unlistenable nonsense.  Wright's "The Grand Vizir's Garden Party" is pretty much restricted to percussion, with a nice flute intro and outro (continuing the trend of prog rock groups with a flautist).  Gilmour's contribution, "The Narrow Way", is far superior (Parts 1 and 3 that is; Part 2 is whacko guitar noise), foreshadowing both the multilayered guitar parts on Meddle and the sustained sound of Dark Side onwards.  Produced by Norman Smith.

Roger Waters and Ron Geesin: Music from "The Body" (1970)
An obscure movie soundtrack, featuring tracks like "More than Seven Dwarves in Penis Land".  Yup.

Pink Floyd: Atom Heart Mother (1970), **
Uh oh.  British audience members must have really been buying any orchestrated progressive rock they could get their hands on when they pushed this to the top of the charts.  The title track is a suite which takes up the entire first side, and is almost strictly instrumental.  Given that Floyd's two main singers had rather thin voices, hence their volume of soundtrack work, this is not a bad idea.  Floyd made it a bad idea by turning most of the track over to arranger/director Ron Geesin who, by the sound of it, liked horn sections and strange choral vocalizations.  The band then contributed a piddly "classical" section (Wright playing single note triplets slowly), one average spacey blues jam and one standard melody.  If you are looking for a serious, less-experimental work by the group, this is it.  If you are looking for something to hold your interest through repeated listens, this is not it.  The back side is home to tracks by all three songwriters and then another suite.  Waters wrote a piece of acoustic filler ("If"), and Wright delivered a final interesting piece of psych-pop ("Summer '68" - perhaps when it was written?), leaving Gilmour to present the lone memorable song -- the warm, laid-back "Fat Old Sun", featuring his trademark lap steel guitar.  The concluding suite, "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast", is instrumental filler around the sounds of one of their roadies making breakfast.  Yeah.  It is pretty remarkable how little substance this album has, but those who cannot get enough of Floyd's comfortable, enveloping sound will enjoy it.  Produced by the band.

Syd Barrett: The Madcap Laughs (1970)

Syd Barrett: Barrett (1970)

Pink Floyd: Meddle (1971), ****
Meddle shows Floyd at their trippy best, as they avoid the pitfalls that befell them on Atom Heart Mother.  This is effectively the peak of Gilmour's influence within the band --Waters doesn't place one of his depressed, mumbly hopeful ballads, and Wright's upbeat psychedelia finally disappears amidst a mixture of relaxed rock and more experimental instrumentals.  "One of These Days" opens the album with the thumping sound of two basses and the occasional pounding of drums, before Gilmour's guitar arrives.  It appears with a strange note bending intensity, and sounds like a silver-plated chain saw in the hands of a maniac.  Topped off in the middle with Nick Mason's only Floyd vocals ever (the distorted "One of these days, I'm going to tear you into little pieces"), the song is mania without being cacophony.  Needless to say, the rest of Meddle is different. The two best songs are Gilmour/Waters collaborations: floating, dreamy folk ("A Pillow of Winds" clinching Floyd's record for most songs featuring the word "eiderdown"), and uplifting quiet rock ("Fearless").  Gilmour contributing most of the vocals, and often multiple guitar parts.  Some tracks smack of filler - "Seamus" is an acoustic blues number with the titular dog howling along, and not much else, while "San Tropez" is a rather unexpected light jazz song (by Waters no less!), with a pleasant feel.   All of these songs have a quiet warmth to them - the embers of a summer fire.  

Then you can turn your gaze upward for "Echoes", which occupies the second half of the album.  This is the Requisite Long Piece, and the band had wisely decided not to enlist the services of orchestra.   Floyd gave their space-rock a shimmery tone, but continued on with long sections of instrumentals and strange noises, getting progressively more abstract.   The piece opens with a famous ping noise, which could be either a submarine, or contact with alien life, more likely the latter given the alien soundscrapes that mark the song.   The opening chorus and verses have the dark jazz feel foreshadowing Dark Side before shifting into a blues jam where Gilmour gets to stretch out and slowly burn up his guitar.   If it sounds familiar, it should: they tried the same sort of thing in "Atom Heart Mother", but much slower and it backfired.  Then things get quintessentially creepy ...and well, unsettling, with Gilmour making noises, and the band demonstrating their potent atmosphere skills, before returning again to the chorus.  Although it could be tightened up, they did not do anything silly like ask Wright to solo, and it is highly effective.  A success and a stepping stone. Produced by the band.

Pink Floyd: Obscured by Clouds (1972)
Another movie soundtrack.  I didn't find it terribly impressive when I heard it.

Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon (1973), *****
[to be re-written]




Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (1975), ****
[Ed. This is slighly more coherent, but still bad.]

A worthy follower to Dark Side, if not quite as good.  Again, a concept album, this one focusing of the music industry and to some extent, Syd Barrett.  "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", an intro and outro which takes up close to 25 minutes, is a lengthy jam focusing mainly on Gilmour (Wright to a lesser extent), and changes enough to maintain the listerner's interest.  "Welcome to the Machine" builds on the heavily synthed sound of Dark Side of the Moon, yet annoys.  "Have a Cigar", with vocals by Roy Harper, is also not terribly good.  Except for that and the title track, Waters sings all the songs, in addition to having written them.  The deficiencies are made up for, and then some, by the title track; a beautiful acoustic number that undoubtedly is Gilmour's best melody, and should have been a single.





Pink Floyd: Animals (1977), **1/2
It had been two years since Wish You Were Here, and Floyd had not progressed an inch musically, although Waters' bitterness swelled.  Inspired by George Orwell's cunning satire Animal Farm, Animals desperately needed a good editor.  Waters worked up his bitterness, turning on society in general, rather than just the music industry.  Some tracks feel like a just a setting for him to spew sarcastic black bile ("Dogs" is delightfully nasty), or for Gilmour to solo.  Animals' songs sprawl, with occasional salvage attempts (Gilmour's ending to "Sheep" is a great chord progression).  The good old Pink Floyd sound is there, but there are too many sections of dead air.  For example, "Dogs" collapses when the sound is given over to Wright's synthesizers or dog noises.  Both that track with its jazzy chord progression and "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" could be good songs, but they stall out in the middle in atmospheric sections.  The Mountain-like beat on "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" is unusual, but Waters just appropriated it to mock bloated society figures (much like your seventies hard rockers?).   The remaining songs, both parts of "Pig on the Wing", are archetypal glum, romantic Waters acoustic filler.  Waters also gets penalized for overdubbing animal noises to some of the tracks, and making the not-so-stunning analogy between sheep and organized religion.  The only minor cool thing are recordings of dogs barking, modified to be on frequency (or at least a synthesized sound-alike).  A lesser, embittered Wish You Were, and one that needs the sort of trimming the The Wall would later have. 

David Gilmour (1978), ****
This is one of the most relaxing albums I own.  Gilmour's solo debut sounds similar in some ways to his songs on Meddle (slower, lots of overdubbed guitar), and is fairly distant from the sound Pink Floyd would make with The Wall.  About a third of the songs are instrumentals, and they tend to repeat themselves and drag some ("Mihalis, "Raise My Rent").  The rest are good, especially the soaring "There's No Way Out of Here" with female backup vocals, and the piano-driven "So Far Away" (with piano courtesy of Mick Weaver).  Gilmour handles keyboards as well as his usual guitar and vocals, and his backing band of Rick Wills on bass and Willie Wilson on drums constitutes a reunion of his pre-Floyd outfit, The Jokers' Wilde.  Self-produced.

Richard Wright: Wet Dream (1978)
I have this.  I found it boring when I listened to it maybe 8 years ago.

Pink Floyd: The Wall (1979), ****1/2
[also to be re-written] Not only a concept album, but a double concept album about a rock star who can't cope with the pressure.  As had become the norm, Waters writes and sings just about everything.  The Wall is more coherent than Floyd's previous attempts at concept albums, as Waters made the lyrics and not the music as the unifying force.   In that sense The Wall focuses a greater variety of musical styles than they had for some time - acoustic ("Mother"), synth-heavy ("Empty Spaces"), hard rock ("Comfortably Numb"), piano and vocals ("Nobody Home"), patriotic anthems ("Bring the Boys Back Home"), even the Beach Boys ("The Show Must Go On"), culminating in the orchestrated trial sequence at the end. Water's bass lines are simple and reverb-heavy ("Brick In the Wall"), Mason's playing is at a minimum, with Gilmour the only one in top form.  But it is well conceived and executed, with only a few slow moments.

Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports (1981)
Avant-garde jazz work, and Mason's more a participant than a leader.  Robert Wyatt provides some vocals.

Pink Floyd: The Final Cut (1983), **
Listless.  Every song crawls along, making the album deadly boring.  Gilmour's guitar is sparsely used, with the definite focus being on Waters' album-long lecture on war and its evils.  Out of the few energetic songs, the thumping "Not Now John" sounds like Waters' subsequent solo work (it also has background singers saying "F*** all that"), "Hero's Return" is a good attempt, but only "Gunners Dream" rises above the substantial mediocrity of the album. The National Philharmonic plays throughout, conducted by Michael Kamen, Wright does not seem to appear, with Andy Bown (organ) and Kamen (piano) picking it up.  In addition to Mason, Andy Newmark is credited on drums, and Ray Cooper is on percussion.  Finally, Raphael Ravenscroft delivers some Dick Perry-esque sax for "Gunners Dream".  If "Not Now John" was not the second to last track I'd recommend it or insomniacs.  Produced by Waters, Kamen and James Guthrie.



David Gilmour: About Face (1984), ***
An attempt to update Gilmour's sound with a slick 80s backing group and a de-emphasis on his guitar virtuosity.  Not that it makes much difference, as Gilmour's writing was going through a semi-dry spell.  But Pete Townshend donated a few songs (including the good-timey "Love On The Air") and Gilmour dishes up a few sparks of brilliance like the shifting "Murder".  Not to mention the wonderful "Out of the Blue" with piano and faint orchestral backing.  The rest is pleasant filler, with only one instrumental (the low-energy "Let's Get Metaphysical"), and the worst being the dance-beat "Blue Light" with horns.  The rhythm section was Jeff Porcano (drums) and Pino Palladino (bass) with Ian Kewley on keyboards.  Elsewhere, Steve Winwood, Ry Cooper and Jon Lord are around.  Produced by Gilmour and Bob Ezrin.



Roger Waters: The Pros & Cons of Hitch-Hiking (1984), **
What a surprise: another concept album from Roger Waters.  How to make Hitch-Hiking: take The Wall, cut in half, use the same theme for over half of the album, have Waters sing less and speak more, and replace the lyrics with even denser ones.  This time around Waters can't come up with a catchy tune at all (he goes so far as to partially recycle "Mother") and so eveything sounds the same.  He doesn't give you a place to grasp onto until over halfway through (the duet "For The First Time Today-Part 1"), and even slips into a decent dance beat (title track, with a spoken line from actor Jack Palance), before returning to that darn theme again.  His vocals seem to fluctuate wildly between breathy spoken word and shouting, with little actual singing.  As for the lyrics, they work better as poetry than in a song, and focus to a lesser extent the same issues that seemed to plague Waters' psyche in The Wall (his wife, suicide, etc.).  Even Eric Clapton, try as he may ("Sexual Revolution") can't save the album.  The rest of the band has some of the same players as The Final Cut: Andy Bown (organ, guitar), Michael Kamen (piano), Andy Newmark (drums), David Sanborn (sax), Ray Cooper (percussion), and additional female backup vocalists, horns, and the National Philharmonic Orchestra replacing synths.  Produced by Waters and Kamen.

Pink Floyd: A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)

Roger Waters: Radio K.A.O.S. (1987)

Pink Floyd: Delicate Sound of Thunder (1988)
Live.

Roger Waters: The Wall in Berlin (1990)
A live album.

Roger Waters: Amused to Death (1992)

Pink Floyd: The Division Bell (1994)

Pink Floyd: Pulse (1995)
A double live album.

Pink Floyd: Is There Anybody Out There? (rec. 1980-1, rel. 2000)
2 CD live show of The Wall.

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