The story of Messers Barrett, Waters, Mason, Wright and Gilmour is almost the archetypal tale of victory through defeat; of innovative, legendary sound through adverse circumstances. Despite a mentally ill leader and inter-personal strife the band produced some of the most memorable and resonant music of the last century.
There were throngs of hesitance at the announcement last year that Pink Floyd would return after a twenty year absence. It was disappointing, considering there was both the pretty definitive full-stop The Division Bell, then the bury-the-hatchet reunion of Live 8 which seemed to respectfully close their saga on, well, high hopes.
Now, half the line-up are gone, they’ve resurrected abandoned recordings from the last sessions two decades ago, hell, even the late, iconic cover-artist Storm Thorgerson is unable to tie the new release into the canon. No matter what the music sounds like it was going to be received as an epilogue.
With that in mind, the album is… okay.
Divided into what are essentially four mini suites (spread evenly across the double LP), The Endless River amounts to a mini trip through the latter stage of the band’s career, with occasional detours to the earlier eras.
The first ‘suite’, or side, is dominated by ‘It’s What We Do’, a minor gem containing traces of ‘Welcome to the Machine’ in its production but distinct enough to stand on its own rather than as a pale imitation, and bookended by a couple of fairly forgettable (but enjoyable enough while listening) tracks, like the lesser moments of A Momentary Lapse of Reason.
This is the album in a microcosm – short, washy tracks broken up by ‘proper songs’ which unfortunately, mostly, just serve as reminders of classic pinnacles of Floyd’s past. ‘Anisina’s’ sax for instance can’t help recall the iconic ‘Us and Them’ solo, while ‘The Lost Art of Conversation’s’ opening is reminiscent of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’s elegiac shimmering intro, before progressing to gently sound like a lost soundtrack from a Miyazaki film – not that that’s a bad thing of course.
[quote]This is the album in a microcosm – short, washy tracks broken up by ‘proper songs’ which unfortunately, mostly, just serve as reminders of classic pinnacles of Floyd’s past[/quote]
Also no bad thing is ‘Allons-y (1)’, the first time the album gets mobile and truly interesting – the fact the track comes thirty minutes into the album says a lot – but it is undermined a little by a) its brisk length and b) the fact you’re waiting for vocals that never come.
Which is a key issue. The album is nearly entirely instrumental. While the lyrics have never been a big appeal of Pink Floyd post-Waters, if the music is sub-par it needs lyrical lift to give it some heft. I’ll give them one thing, there’s tremendous self-awareness (or utter lack of it) that comes with naming a song ‘The Lost Art of Conversation’ on an album almost completely devoid of human voice.
[quote]While the lyrics have never been a big appeal of Pink Floyd post-Waters, if the music is sub-par it needs lyrical lift to give it some heft. [/quote]
As a final note, the most interesting moment is during ‘Skins’, when rhythmic drumming echoing afro-beat suggests a more interesting avenue the band could’ve visited had it not been lost into the synth/guitar haze as quickly as it had emerged from it.
Ultimately, despite being a little underwhelming (to be expected considering the wait), there are enough ‘Pink Floyd’ moments to sustain a fan, while the ambient vibe is a pleasant enough hearkening back to their more revolutionary days. At least it’s no Ummagumma…
A fair and well written review. Personally I love the album primarily because it is packed with clues to be discovered by the real fans. There are nods to virtually, if not all (as I probably haven’t found them yet) of Pink Floyd’s albums hidden within these tracks. It makes me smile listening to them, naturally new listeners and part time fans will miss out on this aspect of the album. I also think Gilmour’s guitar playing is exceptional throughout. In fact I would venture to say it is a master class of how to make a guitar sing. Gilmour’s guitar does the talking, maybe that s why lyrics were not needed? Wright’s keyboards are dominant throughout and of course that is deliberate and no bad thing. So a ridiculously high 9/10 for me although in fairness the album has given me 10/10 in listening pleasure.
More, maybe the last, from the Masters of really good music. With you on that Ummagumma thing.
A little inconsistency: “no bad thing is ‘Allons-y (1)’, the first time the album gets mobile and truly interesting – the fact the track comes thirty minutes into the album says a lot…” and at the same time “the most interesting moment is during ‘Skins’…” which is somehow 15 minutes earlier 🙂 I should also mention that ‘Sum’ that opens ‘Side 2’ is both quite dynamic and quite interesting.
‘It’s What We Do’ seems to be closer to ‘Shine On…’ main theme, while ‘Welcome To The Machine’ can indeed be traced in ‘Talkin’ Hawkin’.
I would also like to mention that each of the four suites contains one, two or even three (side three) main numbers, while other serve as intros or connecting themes – that significantly help in structuring our impression of the album. Moreover, each of the four ‘sides’ is a kind of mini-album in itself that we can listen, analyse and interpret independently.
Overall, a good review.
Mikhail, I realised the way I had written it wasn’t as clear as it could’ve been after the review had been published. The aspect of Skins which I described as being interesting didn’t for me last long enough to consider the album ‘coming alive’ as such at that point, whereas Allons-y (1) is of course more noticeably bombastic. I will concede however that it is very much a grower of an album and has since writing become more enjoyable. ’tis the problem with reviewing albums that need digestion time so quickly. As it was I was stuck on rating it a 6 or 7 (and I hate rating art) so I went with my first impression score.
As for your suites point, I completely agree, I just think I am naturally negative towards those singular pieces of music on albums which are broken up into short one or two minute tracks. I much prefer the substantial approach of something like Echoes where it’s a solid slab of music as I feel it encourages dedicated listening, while the multiple tracks feels flightier and less weighty. The mini song suite is one of my biggest hurdles when it comes to prog-rock.
Thanks for the comment, I appreciate the feedback.
A truly great album for Pink Floyd fans to enjoy.
Probably in the top 5 of all their albums.
Oh by the way, has anyone noticed hidden images of the band members in the lenticular post card or am I getting carried away?