-originally published on Crooked Lullabies, 10/12/14.
am a Pink Floyd completest. If the band officially releases any licensed product—music product, I mean—I feel compelled to hastily purchase said product. Frankly, this compulsion is a curse. Why? Besides spending nearly every dime earned as a teenage stock clerk at Kmart on imported bootlegged concerts and rare demo recordings, seriously dwindling returns began in 2011. The Discover Pink Floyd campaign launched that year, and the band released several album-centric boxed sets consisting partly of re-mastered, live and unreleased music. Note the word “partly.” Accompanying the compact discs inside the boxed sets is a slew of truly pointless crap: exclusive photo book, 27×27 art print, 5 trading cards, replica tour ticket, replica backstage pass, 9 coasters, 3 marbles with felt carrying bag…AND A SCARF! Yes, a fucking SCARF! Basically, the boxed sets include everything but an officially licensed replica ’94 Division Bell tour hovercraft hand-painted by Portuguese mermaids.
Upon the launch of the Discover Pink Floyd campaign I was so enthused that the band digitally re-mastered their greatest albums and plundered the vaults to release coveted live and studio rarities that, as a completest, I had no choice but to purchase all the ridiculous Crackerjack toys in hopes that the music was buried somewhere at the bottom. Truthfully, I’ve never worn the scarf while playing with the marbles in the cold. (The fake backstage pass, however, has allowed me fake backstage at many fake concerts). Also, needless to say, the music itself remains fantastic. In fact, it might be fantastic-er since being re-mastered. Therefore, the marbles and scarves own an arguably justified place among my bountiful, and still mounting, Pink Floyd collection. (The marbles, scarves, etc. cannot be separated from the boxed sets in which they were originally packaged—completest rules.)
I’m such a staunch completest that I even own a Pink Gloyd Album. The “Gloyd” is a typo…kind of. The band, sans Roger Waters, released their complete discography in the Oh, By The Way limited edition boxed set in 2007. Each album in the set is a mini-replica (there’s that word again) of the original pressing of the respective LP. Floyd purists shunned the release because the music itself hadn’t been re-mastered since 1992, and the marketing of the set relied solely on the novelty of repackaging the CD’s as imitations of the vinyl versions released back when your hippy uncle was spinning his copy of The Wall backwards on his turntable in hopes of decoding Syd Barrett’s clandestine underground whereabouts. Regardless, I thought the marketing ploy was clever, and this was Pink Floyd by the way. Eventually, I embarked on an Ebay expedition to unearth the prog rock gem at a reasonable price. I felt damn lucky to purchase the set from a Chinese seller for a mere $58.00, a few hundred less than I’d seen it for sale on the shelves at FYE.
Do you see where this is going?
I received my order from the Ebay seller in good order. However, the boxed set itself seemed suspiciously shoddy: flimsy cardboard sleeves with perforated folds, plastic bag-like inner-sleeves, and slightly pixilated album art. However, I simply thought “Damn. Pink Floyd’s standards for their retail merchandise have declined. I’m glad I got this blasted thing cheap.” I filed it among my collection to gather cobwebs until I revisited it years later on a whim. I noticed the semi-blurry name printed on the spine of the album More—Pink Gloyd. My reaction? “Man, the band’s retail standards have REALLY plummeted!” But the cruel truth eventually trampled me like the marching hammers in The Wall. I had purchased a forgery.
When Pink Floyd frontman and lead guitarist David Gilmour’s wife leaked, via Twitter, that the band was secretly recording a new album entitled The Endless River Floyd-heads were equal parts gleeful, and suspicious. The glee was justified. One of the most transformative rocks bands in history—who fans though dead until the leak—was releasing their first album in two decades. The suspicion was probably more justified. Was the main creative force/songwriter of the band’s heyday, Roger Waters, involved with the project? Was this going to be a proper album accompanied by a tour, or instead just rehashed duds meant to help sell excess marbles and scarves? Mostly importantly, regardless of all else, would the music at least be comparable to Floyd’s best, or what it be complete shit? After all, 35 years have passed since the band’s last seminal album, The Wall. In the meantime, the individual band members wrought such emotional and legal misery upon themselves throughout the prolonged breakup and subsequent poo-flinging that fans may only reasonably expect a battered shell of the inventive and dazzling dynamic exhibited onstage and in-studio during the 1970’s.
The new album is due to be released on 11/10/14. I haven’t heard any of the cuts, bar the three 30 second promotional tasters, but I harbor plenty of festering opinions on the reawakening of Pink Floyd. Before I get to them I’d like to share some thoughts on the band’s history thus far. I could probably write a 50 page essay/opinion piece on my personal relationship with the music, especially in my teenage years, but I’ll follow with the greatly abridged version:
No band in the history of music, let alone rock-n-roll, has released a more competent, creative, and entertaining string of (5) albums than Pink Floyd, starting with Meddle and ending with The Wall (excluding the movie soundtrack Obscured By Clouds). Some may argue that the Beatles hold that crown, somewhere between Rubber Soul and Abbey Road. Other dim bulbs may claim that Led Zeppelin’s first handful of albums (which contain mostly cover songs, actually) are superior. Surely, others will argue any number of bands lay claim, from heralded standard bearers of the genre to underrated indie bands. Some of the arguments may be sound (pun not intended, but maybe it is now), but all those people are flat wrong. The sequence of Meddle, Darkside of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall is unmatched. If you disagree, write your own essay.
The first Floyd album I purchased was the band’s studio finale 94’s The Division Bell, oddly enough. I was in ninth grade at the time, and lacked nearly complete perspective on the band, and life too I suppose. I hadn’t known the album’s lineup lacked their two prior creative frontmen, for instance. Months later, and after several family dinners spent listening to the dining room radio instead of engaging in boring ol’ family drivel, I finally realized that that weird song, Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2, was Pink Floyd. I abruptly purchased The Wall. Upon first listen I recognized a few other tunes as FM radio staples. The lyrics clearly had a deeper meaning that, apparently, and according to teenage peers, was only revealed when one watched the movie version of The Wall while high as a Cessna on grass. I gradually collected every other Floyd album by several means: I dubbed some on tape from my uncle’s vinyl collection, I requested others as Christmas or birthday gifts, and I saved money from cutting the neighbors’ lawns. Within a year I owed all 14 albums in Pink Floyd’s discography. By tenth grade no other band graced my car’s JVC tape deck. Friends thought it weird that I only listened to one band. I paid those tasteless naysayers no heed.
Needless to say, I also investigated the history of the band. The founder member and chief creative force of the original incarceration of Pink Floyd/The Pink Floyd/The Pink Floyd Sound/The T-Set/The Megadeaths/The Abdabs/The Screaming Abdabs/Leonards Lodgers/etc. was Syd Barrett. After authoring Floyd’s hallucinogenic and highly influential first album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Barrett’s brain liquefied as a result of LSD and the pressures of fame…well, probably mostly LSD…okay, almost definitely because of ingesting truckloads and truckloads of LSD. Either way, Barrett was probably the quirkiest bastard in rock history, and was a teenage hero of mine. Outside of PATGOD and the five core albums, Pink Floyd’s work is suspect, if not experimental and somewhat embarrassingly amusing. The albums More and Obscured By Clouds were both soundtracks that included short, but mostly enjoyable yet generic tracks. Neither stands out. Saucerful of Secrets, Ummagumma, and Atom Heart Mother do stand out, but not always for good reason. Each of the albums contain meandering instrumental pieces that befit a soundtrack to a fever dream. (I recently listened to Ummagumma while watching the movie Haxan. The music and visuals are perfect complements. Google Haxan…you’ll understand.) The Final Cut was Waters last album with the band. The lyrics are political and dated, containing references to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and “a group of anonymous Latin American meat packing glitterati.” Still, the music is powerful in bursts. Lyrically the album is, in-an-of-itself, one of the most pointed, and poignant, in my CD library. Then came the two David Gilmour–led albums, A Momentary Lapse of Reason (an appropriate title) and The Division Bell…two albums clearly lacking creative direction. Sure, the guitar solos are bitchin’ but overall the lyrics are pedestrian, and the music is boring and unadventurous. Imagine the song Comfortably Numb as a scrumptious sandwich. Nearly every song on AMLOR and TDB is also a sandwich, but made with much less nutritious ingredients and tasting like spoiled meat mostly overpowered by Dollar General brand spices.
Since my days of devoted and unquestioning fandom I have matured enough that I consider the albums outside of the core five, and perhaps PATGOD, as equal parts mediocre and amusing. However, middle-age maturity has also affected my opinion of the core five—I am a bigger fan of those albums now more than ever.
Meddle– This album contains the 24 minute epic Echoes. Sprawling and ethereal, Gilmour’s guitar soars and Water’s lyrics are more grounded than those transmitting the spacey concepts of prior work. He conceived of them while peering down at busy sidewalks from a tall building, and watching people buzz about, devoid of human interaction. “By chance two separate glances meet, and I am you and what I see is me.” The synergistic effect of Waters and Gilmour at the top of their game is spectacular.
Darkside of the Moon– The big one. The Sgt. Pepper of the 70’s. This is the one that hurled the band into super stardom, and ultimately and unwittingly became a catalyst for the themes of the three proceeding albums. It’s easy to see (hear) why. Water’s lyrics don’t leave the launch-pad at all here—death, finances, running against the clock, etc. The transition from song to song is fairly seamless, as is the album as a whole, with weird time structures throughout. DSOTM has been dissected time and again so anything I write would be redundant. You don’t have to listen to it in synch with Wizard of Oz. In fact, listening to it in synch with Air Bud 2 is just as cool.
Wish You Were Here– Probably my favorite album, and the most soulful in the band’s catalogue. Equal parts yearning, sarcasm, and gnashing spitefulness. Heck, there’s even a pinch of humor, “Which one’s Pink?” Absence is the theme—both literal absence and the lack of human compassion and emotion in everyday interactions. From the band’s perspective this specifically concerned the music industry cutthroats and their “four star daydreams” following DSOFM’s commercial success. Shine on You Crazy Diamond is a touching yet mournful tribute to Syd Barrett, who actually walked into the studio (well, the ghost of his youthful spryness and creativity walked in the studio) during the song’s recording. If God existed this would be the prime example of his warped sense of humor.
Animals– 1976 was the “Summer of Hate.” Punk had arrived, and so had Johnny Rotten and his “I Hate Pink Floyd” tee shirts. Although Animals contains three songs longer than 10 minutes each—far longer than three-minute crappy punk songs—Animals is far more punk that Johnny Rotten’s wet dreams. Animals is pure vitriol, spewing lyrics like “You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to, So that when they turn their backs on you, You’ll get the chance to put the knife in.” Waters categories humankind into three sets: Dogs, Pigs and Sheep. If you’re reading this while wearing sweatpants, you’re a sheep. If you’re reading this while wearing a tie, you’re a dog. If you’re reading this and you’re on the November ballot, you’re a pig. Pigs (Three Different Ones) might be my favorite Pink Floyd song. It’s bizarre, funky and cynical—everything I hope my son to be one day.
Eat it, Johnny Rotten!
The Wall– When fame had thoroughly curb-stomped Water’s soul, he put a two year self-imposed curfew on himself and wrote his magnum opus. I like to imagine that he constructed a couch cushion fort in his living room and did all his writing inside, alone and weeping. The Wall is the tale of a rock star named Pink (duh) who succumbs to the pressures of fame and reinvents himself as a fascist totalitarian. The adoring crowd is his, ah, sheep. The album is not without flaws: the lyrics can be tedious and whiny, the storyline a bit contrived, and the Waters is now clearly the totalitarian of the band itself. But man, The Wall has moments of sheer genius. In terms of beholding and appreciating sheer talent in mediums in which I consider myself somewhat savvy, few works of art move me like the song Comfortably Numb—bar maybe Hunter S. Thompson’s The Edge piece, and George Carlin’s Coast To Coast Emergency routine. Here, Waters and Gilmour are the Gatekeeper and the Keymaster. The song transcends the casual listener (people who think the song is merely a “drug song”), and rewards true fans aware of the intricacies of the moving parts. Water’s role in the song is that of a merciless “Doctor Feel Good” who pumps a sick and exhausted Pink full of narcotics to rush him on stage. Gilmour’s role is that of Pink’s drug-fueled hallucination, a nearly unrecognizable boyhood version of himself who delights in such pleasantries as “a distant ship’s smoke on the horizon.” Water’s lyrics shine here; they are pointed and affecting. Gilmour’s two guitar solos are topnotch, and unfortunately a staple of every classic rock station that “Rocks (your town name here) like no other station in the valley.” Prog rock’s Lennon and McCartney earn the comparison, tenfold.
Rogers Waters has publicly distanced himself from the upcoming The Endless River. Syd Barrett died seven years ago so he really distanced himself. But the Pink Floyd marble factory is ramping up production. Using prior context clues, can you guess my pro-rated opinion of the new album? David Gilmour has said that The Endless River will be Pink Floyd’s sendoff. Although large swathes of The Division Bell sound as though they were produced by Yanni’s first cousin, the album’s final song titled High Hopes— clearly written as a goodbye to fans—is surprisingly creative and memorable. Unable to leave well enough alone, the band is releasing a redundant goodbye song, Louder Than Words. Gilmour has stated that the song is meant to reflect the turbulent dynamic of the band, and more importantly, despite the headaches and catfights, how the music endures…or some trite shit like that. What’s more, the lyrics were written by David Gilmour’s wife. That’s right; the lyrics meant to capture the intimacy of the band’s interpersonal relationships aren’t penned by ANY member of the band, let alone a former member who is known as a stellar lyricist. Furthermore, the music itself is stated to be largely ambient and instrumental pieces (barf!), with very few sung lyrics. However, one song titled Talkin’ Hawkin’ features spoken bits by famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. (ugh!) What’s more, the album is essentially unreleased and unfinished pieces—mostly written by deceased keyboardist Richard Wright—from The Division Bell sessions. The title of the album is clichéd, the album art—a man rowing a boat on the clouds—is clichéd, and this critique is probably clichéd considering the legions of Floyd-heads likely pronouncing their distaste on their own goofy blogs.
Essentially, here’s what nubile Floyd fans need to know about the album: The Endless River is the B-side to a mediocre album with music written by a long-dead keyboardist and lyrics written by the guitarist’s old lady and sung by Stephen Hawking. And the cover sucks.
I wouldn’t have pre-ordered the album but winter is fast approaching and I need a scarf. At least that is what this Pink Floyd completest is telling himself.
Shine on you crazy sons-a-bitches.