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…