Classic Rock Review

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The Orb/David Gilmour Metallic Spheres (2010)

The-Orb-feat-DavidGilmour-Metallic-SpheresFrom pitchfork.com

The Orb have never hidden their art-rock leanings. Their debut album, released in 1991, was a double-vinyl epic entitled, with a knowing nod to the bongs-and-blacklights crowd, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. Despite being marketed as house music, Ultraworld was really designed to flow like those spacey prog-song suites that so captivated stoned 70s kids who gorged on sci-fi novels. (The Orb just ditched the “songs” part of the suite equation.)

And though the rhythms on the new Metallic Spheres occasionally recall techno and hip-hop and other more recent inventions, this albums sounds a hell of a lot like it could have been playing in a planetarium circa 1974.

Again, as much of that is due to the Orb as to special guest legend David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. The Orb’s music got chillier, tighter, and altogether less shaggy as we moved away from rave’s sloppy love-in and toward the precision-tooled club music of the 21st century. But over the past few years, Orb co-founder Alex Paterson has been gently nudging the group’s sound back toward its techno-hippie roots. Collaborating with Gilmour feels in some ways like the Orb’s coming home after a good many years spent wandering the post-rave wilderness.

Their last few albums have sounded as if the band were wondering where exactly they could take their music next, while not quite sure if they truly wanted to revert to their old sound, and the master’s presence feels like it gave the disciples license to go all-out retro.

Mostly wordless, full of spaced-out sound effects, and making no concessions to good ol’ verse-chorus-verse structures, Spheres is a trip, to use a term once unabashedly uttered by Floyd devotees and revived by Orb aficionados with more of a knowing wink. A headphones record, in other words. Light show and chemical refreshment totally optional.

Over two long tracks subdivided into shorter movements, Paterson and fellow Orb-er Youth thread together a post-rave library’s worth of slow-rolli ng chillout-room rhythms, referencing everything from dub to krautrock along the way, as Gilmour sweeps in and out on guitar, dropping little shiver-inducing melodic runs like it’s no big deal.

Though his playing here meanders by design, Gilmour sounds neither lazy nor indulgent, more like a virtuoso who doesn’t want to actually seem like he’s sleepwalking through his performance. The Orb, on the other hand, are showing off in the best way possible, again crafting the lush, cosmic rhythms they were once so good at, hoping to impress a long-time hero.

In the process, they also manage to impress listeners who’ve stuck with the band through some pretty ropey recent material.

Records like Spheres usually get filed as “ambient” these days, but that’s not quite right here. Sure, it’s gorgeous and hypnotic and more about beats than songs and all the things you’d probably expect from this pairing. It’s also immersive in an old-school way, a long-player of a very pre-digital vintage, a record for people with enough free time (or a long enough commute) to lose themselves in a 50ish-minute composition.

With its dramatically orchestrated peaks and valleys, it’s an album designed to be listened to, to Take You Somewhere as you lay on your bedroom floor, to conjure futuristic images in the mind’s eye of folks who were once teenage fans. In that sense, it’s still not quite as successful as the Orb’s classic material, and a little too subdued, lacking both the goofy sampleadelic grandeur and the ear-grabbing pop pulse of the Ultraworld era.

But it’s still the most focused and listenable Orb album in years. And hey, if you want to treat it as background music, that’ll work just fine, too.

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January 15, 2014 Posted by | The Orb/David Gilmour Metallic Spheres | , , | Leave a comment

Roger Waters Amused To Death (1992)

Roger Waters Amused to DeathFrom johnmcferrinmusicreviews.org

Roger Waters, if nothing else, was a persistent mofo. The man really liked his Wall and Final Cut leftovers/reworkings, and his vocal style of “now i’m soft now I’m loud” while only actually singing in his delivery about a quarter of the time, and his sound effects, and his impenetrably dense concept albums.

The album does have an overarching concept, but it’s incredibly obscure and abstract, and its main purpose seems to be to give Waters a stage on which to rant against war, God, capitalism and complacent people in a span of 75 minutes. If you’re the kind of person that considers The Final Cut “non-music,” you should stay far away from this, and like all Waters solo efforts, Pink Floyd fandom is no guarantee of enjoying this.

I like this way more than his other solo albums, though. With so much lacking in the music from an ‘immediate satisfaction’ angle, the only hope for making me enjoy this would be for it to hit my emotional center with force, and it definitely does that. This is definitely Waters’ peak as a lyricist, and when his honed wordsmith skills are combined with his usual vitriol towards his various abstract enemies, he’s able to convince me (at least in the moment) of the strength of his arguments. It’s not so much that I agree with Waters all the time on here (though there are certainly many times when I do completely) as it is that I can, without difficulty, see the point of this album existing, and that’s definitely not something I could really say about Hitchhiking or KAOS.

Musically, there aren’t a lot of particularly memorable stretches, but the ones that are memorable tend to pop up at very opportune times and are done in very effective ways. I don’t see how it’s possible, for instance, to not have the backing vocals (first done by a woman, then by a throng of people) of What God Wants force their way into your psyche, especially in the way they seem to magnify the power of Waters’ rants in between them (in the first two parts of the song; the third has less oomph and less impact on me, though the ending stretch of sound affects is amusingly bizarre).

I don’t see how it’s possible to not be moved by the rambling-yet-powerful featured female vocal in Perfect Sense Part I (hell, I think it reflects a dangerously oversimplified worldview that I don’t 100% agree with, and I’m still moved by it), or the soft descending piano part or the anthemic build in the chorus of the same. I can see how it’s possible not to be moved by the repeated soft “amused itself to death” coda in the album-ending title track, but I prefer to ignore the possibility.

As usual, Roger’s mastery of sound effects, atmosphere and anything that can be used in music that isn’t actually music is nearly unsurpassed (I’m sure there are others better, but there aren’t many). Starting and ending the album with excerpts from an interview with an old army veteran about his experience in having to leave a fellow soldier named Bill Hubbard behind on the battle field, gravely wounded, and about dealing with the aftermath of it, was simply a fantastic idea, I think.

Arguing against war in abstract terms is always less effective than bringing a ‘human element’ into the picture, and the narrative here is just so moving that I can’t help but tear up a little bit when listening to it with nobody around. And speaking of great sound effects, how about the funny Marv Albert guest appearance in which he announces an attack of a submarine on an oil rig in part II of Perfect Sense? It’s kinda banal, but it works well in context.

Another highlight, mostly driven by atmosphere, is the penultimate It’s a Miracle, which I enjoy greatly despite not having any obvious tangible reason for doing so. It’s mainly just a bunch of light piano and eerie keyboards, a soft rambling vocal, and a some instrumental noodling, with less discernable melody than pretty much anything from the classic Floyd albums, but the combination of these simple elements and the close-to-defeated lyrics and delivery make it into something resembling greatness.

Of course, I don’t even remotely love the album. A solid acoustic ballad or two would have helped things considerably (and no, I do NOT consider Watching TV to fit this requirement), and the general monotony of the sound brings me down over the course of the hour. I mean, there really isn’t that much distance style-wise between this and Hitchhiking; it just so happens that this album does that crappy style in a pretty good way. Still, this is a definite keeper, and it’s definitely the album to get if you just have to get a Waters solo album.

January 12, 2014 Posted by | Roger Waters Amused To Death | , | 2 Comments

David Gilmour Live In Gdansk (2008)

David-Gilmour-Live-In-Gdansk-444236From popmatters.com

“Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?” was the question posed on “Have a Cigar”, Pink Floyd’s record industry-knocking anthem from their 1975 album Wish You Were Here.

Though it may be construed as a joke on the surface, in the context of which of the group’s five original members could’ve been identified as the singular embodiment of the legendary British group’s colossal sound—Mr. Pink Floyd, if you would—one would look no further than keyboardist Richard “Rick” Wright. Arguably, even more so than the group’s original frontman, the late Syd Barrett, despite the fact that he was the basis for the central character “Pink” in Alan Parker’s film adaptation of the group’s 1979 magnum opus The Wall, as well as the perplexing muse of many of their most memorable songs.

And though guitarist David Gilmour and bassist Roger Waters may have, in fact, written the majority of the songs, Wright and his endless arsenal of electric and acoustic ivories provided the all-important oxygen by which their tunes were breathed into life. From the group’s auspicious beginnings as the mysterious house band for London’s famed UFO Club to their ascension into the lexicon of AOR immortality, Wright’s array of Moog, Korg, Fender Rhodes, Hammond, and grand piano flourishes and accentuations were the foundation of it all. He truly was the architect of the Pink Floyd sound. So which one’s Pink? It was the guy surrounded by that wall of knobs and levels on stage right, if you want my opinion.

The news of Wright’s death following a short battle with an undisclosed form of cancer on September 14th, 2008 came as a shocking bolt of sorrow to the legions of fans that grew up at the foot of his piano bench. However, one can be considered grateful that Pink Floyd, who many believed would never play together as a whole again, joined together one last time at Live 8 for a short but memorable hit-heavy set in 2005. And though they eventually split off into two factions shortly thereafter, with Roger Waters and drummer Nick Mason going one way and Wright and David Gilmour going the other, both tours were successful in exposing a whole new generation to the magic of psychedelic revelry that is Floyd’s music (as well as the unheralded brilliance of both Waters’s and Gilmour’s solo material, respectively). And while it is left up to the beholder as to which tour delivered the classic stuff the best, the multitude of concert-goers who were lucky enough to have caught the Gilmour tour must be eternally grateful to have been able to shower themselves in the thunderstorm of Wright’s frenetic frenzy of acid-washed textures one last time before this most unexpected tragedy.

Playing before nearly 100,000 people on August 26, 2006, the 25th anniversary of the founding of Poland’s Solidarity Trade Union at the invitation of Union founder and former Polish president Lech Walesa, this live album of the Gilmour concert held in Gdańsk’s historic shipyard district is indeed as much a testament to Wright as it is Gilmour. And while a good portion of the two-CD set is top-heavy with Gilmour’s perfectly fine solo material, particularly culled from his third album, 2006’s On an Island, it’s the Pink Floyd stuff that you really want to hear. Especially considering that listening to Live in Gdańsk will now be quite possibly one of the very last times you will get a chance to hear Wright perform on record, making these stellar performances of a vast array of both obvious and deep Floyd favorites all the more spectacular both in sound and vision.

Though not on the accompanying DVD documentation of the Gdańsk concert, the audio portion of this set contains a brilliant run through the first third of Dark Side of the Moon, where Wright’s science fiction Moog jamming propels “Speak to Me”, “Breathe”, and “Time” as exquisitely as he and Gilmour had done back in 1972, when the record-breaking album was originally issued. You can relish in Wright singing the lead vocals on “Comfortably Numb” and harmonizing with Gilmour on Floyd’s first single, “Astronomy Domine”, as fluidly as he had 41 years ago with Syd Barrett, whose passing from pancreatic cancer one month before this Gdańsk concert can be felt in Gilmour’s mournful, emotionally personalized renditions of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and “Wish You Were Here”, two of Floyd’s most obvious tributes to their self-exiled ex-frontman.

Other highlights include the several tunes performed with the Baltic Symphony Orchestra, conducted by notable Polish film composer Zbiginew Preisner. Most notable are the Island instrumental “Red Sky at Night”, which features Gilmour playing saxophone, and a poignant performance of the Division Bell highlight “A Great Day for Freedom”, featuring a string arrangement by the late film composer Michael Kamen, which resonated strongly throughout the capacity crowd of Polish nationals celebrating the anniversary of their own emancipation from Soviet rule. The version of the Atom Heart Mother nugget “Fat Old Sun” on here is just out of this world and really signifies the strength of Gilmour’s touring band, which, in addition to Wright, also featured former Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, session drummer Steve Di Stanislao, and longtime Pink Floyd collaborators bassist Guy Pratt, programmer John Carin, and the great saxophonist Dick Parry, who played with Gilmour in his pre-Floyd band the Joker’s Wild and whose beautiful playing punctuated the brilliance of such albums as Dark Side and Wish You Were Here.

Nothing, however, will remind longtime fans of the genius of Wright’s legacy as the quintessential architect of his band’s sound quite like the performance of “Echoes”, the most heralded slice of psychedelia in the Pink Floyd canon and centerpiece for their 1971 album Meddle. The epic song’s extended instrumental jam is Wright’s “A Love Supreme”, and on Live in Gdańsk he attacks that Hammond organ of his against an eerie fog of electronic sound effects and synthesized whale calls with the same perception-blasting intensity he had in that empty amphitheater in Pompeii, Italy, back in October of ’71. And while hearing the mind-bending interplay between Gilmour and Wright is great, actually watching them duke it out on the DVD before coming back together to sing out the song’s indelible lyrics in perfect unison, just as seamlessly as they had at the top, is just really something special. Over 37 years after its recording, “Echoes” remains the quintessential acid symphony of rock ‘n’ roll, thanks to Wright, whose vision of amplifying a grand piano through a special effects loudspeaker was crucial in giving it its unique sound.

The news of Wright’s passing means that, whether or not the surviving members of Pink Floyd ever decide to convene together one more time—which at this point is more than doubtful—they will never sound the same again. Syd’s passing was a tragedy in that we never had the chance to watch him evolve as an artist beyond his early years with Pink Floyd and his brief solo career. Rick’s, however, was even more of a loss, because we have, in fact, been fortunate enough to grow up listening to him through the years, both as a member of Pink Floyd and through the din of his terribly underrated solo output, which includes such stellar works as his 1978 solo debut Wet Dream and 1996’s Broken China, both of which rank up there with Gilmour’s eponymous debut, Waters’s Amused to Death, and Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports as the cream of the band’s sparse solo work.

Nevertheless, anyone who ever dropped their first tab of acid in college to the sounds of A Saucer Full of Secrets, or went to see The Wall during Midnight Madness at their local multiplex, or went to see Pink Floyd at Yankee Stadium on their final world tour in 1994 has some wonderful memories of Wright and the excellent music he helped create. He will truly be missed.

January 12, 2014 Posted by | David Gilmour Live In Gdansk | , | Leave a comment

Pink Floyd The Wall (1979)

pink-floyd-the-wallFrom sputnikmusic.com

Back in 1977, Pink Floyd were one of, if not the biggest band in the world. Their 3 most recent album releases (The Dark Side of The Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Animals, had all been immensely successful, at both a commercial and critical level, and it seemed that, although the band had always had tension and intrigue lurking under the surface, there was no reason why the band should not continue making great albums for a long time.

Their record company certainly intended for that to be the case, their fans hoped for it to be the case, but it seemed as if nobody had told Roger Waters. Following an infamous incident during the tour in support of Animals, where he spat on a fan, Waters came to see himself as being isolated from his fans, stuck behind “a wall”, largely of his own making. It was this feeling that would lead to this album, a concept album that must rank up there with the most remarkable ever recorded. Because make no mistake about it, regardless of your feelings on The Wall as an album, there’s no arguing about how extraordinary it is.

The album revolves around a fictitious central character called Pink, and takes place as a series of flashbacks through his life, which begins in England, during a time of war, and goes right through to his time as a disillusioned rock star. If that sounds ever so slightly familiar, it’s because The Wall is a semi-autobiography of Roger Waters, which gives the album a more human feel, that it might otherwise be lacking. It’s certainly hard to see somebody making this album that didn’t have the experience of the concept to relate to. Again, you may have noticed there that I said Roger Waters made this album. Although that’s a slight exaggeration, the concept of the album is his, as are the lyrics and the vast majority of the music.

It was this dictatorial attitude to the recording of the album, with Waters ruthlessly allowing nothing and no-one to stand in his way, that would ultimately lead to Richard Wright being kicked out of the band, and being re-hired as a session musician, with rumours abounding right up today that Nick Mason was next in line for this treatment. Certainly, regardless of any speculation, it can’t really be disputed that the making of this album effectively ended the classic lineup of Pink Floyd, with the final Floyd album that featured Roger Waters (The Final Cut) being a huge disappointment, as well as being even more of a Waters solo record. In these circumstances, is it really surprising that the album turned out as it did?

Just to provide some more background on the concept behind this album, the wall that Pink builds for himself to hide behind is purely mental, with incidents such as the death of his father, his overly protective mother, the way he was treated at school, drug abuse, a failed marriage, and fame all combining to cause him to seal himself off behind the wall, in an attempt at self-protection, before descending into neo-fascist insanity after the wall is complete, eerily mirroring Hitler in the war that claimed his father. The album concludes with the tearing down of the wall, although it’s very ambiguous as to the final fate of Pink, for reasons that I will explain later.

Anyway, it’s time to get onto the music, and due to the nature of the album, with the songs largely flowing into each other, I’m not going to do a track by track review. The album actually opens with a continuation of the music from the final track, Outside The Wall, and the very first sound we hear is Waters asking “we came in?”. This immediately adds a new layer to the album, as the final words on the album are “Is this where.” In other words, if you put the album on a loop, it runs in an exact cycle. You can draw your own interpretation from this, but it seems to me as if Waters is indicating that Pink’s problems do not end when the album does, but that, like everyone else, his life revolves in a cycle, from which there is no escape.

In The Flesh? itself is a very strong opener, with Nick Mason’s drum rolls and Gilmour’s imperious guitar work making this a very powerful rock song, which, combined with Waters’ lyrics, referring to the crowd arriving at a show, make this a brilliant aural spectacle. It immediately segues into The Thin Ice, with the sound of a Spitfire diving overhead drowning out the music, before the final note of the song is that of a baby crying. The Thin Ice is a much softer song, with Gilmour’s initial lyrics singing from the point of view of Pink’s parents to Pink at his birth, before Roger Waters comes in singing far more cynically, with what sounds like the careworn voice of life to Pink of the pitfalls that await him. So far, so good, and without a pause for breath, the song turns into Another Brick In The Wall (Part 1).

The first of three parts of this song, this song marks the start of Pink’s building of his wall, with lyrics such as “Daddy’s flown across the ocean, leaving just a memory”, showing that Pink’s father died in the war, and that from the youngest of ages, Pink’s life is already changing for the worse. The Happiest Days Of Our Lives then follows, with Waters condemning “certain teachers who would hurt the children in any way they could”, over a low semi-disco rhythm, before launching into a revenge fantasy of how the teachers would go home to be beaten by their wives.

Clearly this song refers to Pink’s education problems, as does the next song, Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2). One of the band’s most famous songs, this has the anthemic chorus of “Hey, teacher! Leave them kids alone!”, and also features schoolchildren singing on this, over Dave Gilmour’s famous disco guitar line. The song is meant as an attack on the monotonous style of teaching present in the English education system, and it’s brilliant, also having a great guitar outro.

The first real break in the album is Mother, which is a soft acoustic song, featuring Dave Gilmour singing the part of an overly controlling mother, who attempts to keep Pink under “her wing”, in a misguided attempt to protect him, which only leads to him withdrawing yet more from real life. There’s a huge amount that could be written about this song, which, in terms of music alone is one of the best on the album, but it’s full of references to the mother watching over Pink’s girlfriends, as well as offering advice on his future life. The song also has one of the best guitar solos on the album, that’s brilliantly understated. However, from here, the album takes something of a dip in quality.

Goodbye Blue Sky is the most paranoid song yet, with Gilmour’s initial airy vocals providing a curious juxtaposition with the lyrics of “Did you see the frightened ones?” and his moody guitar line, just lurking under the surface of the song. Marking the beginning of Pink’s adult life, the song turns into the bleak Empty Spaces, with what sounds like a work camp taking place in the background, behind an imperiously cold guitar part, before Waters asks of someone unspecified, “How should I complete the wall?” Young Lust is a real oddity on the album, and acts as an intentional parody of rock and roll excess, with Dave Gilmour singing “I need a dirty woman”, and showing that, free of the confines of his mother’s attitude, Pink is rapidly heading off the rails.

One Of My Turns, however, shows that Pink is in real trouble. With the music barely audible behind Waters’s quiet vocals, the song laments his wife’s infidelity, and his inability to connect with a groupie he’s brought back to his hotel room, before a sudden crescendo turns into him lashing out at the groupie with his singing, before the final plea of “why are you running away?” shows his desperation. Don’t Leave Me Now then features him singing to his wide, urging her not to leave him, even as, almost in the same breath, he threatens to put her through a shredder. The whole song is sung in an emotionally fragile tone, over quite guitar and piano chords, symbolising Pink’s further breakdown. Like with many of the other songs, Pink seems to think that the world has built the wall for him, ignoring his own actions and their role in doing this.

Another Brick In The Wall (Part 3), is the bleakest part of the series, with Waters singing “I don’t need no arms around me”, as he completely removes himself from all pretence of a normal life. Goodbye Cruel World, the final song on the first disc, is Pink saying goodbye, not to life altogether, but to normal life, and the “cruel world”, which he can no longer cope with at all. Like the previous songs, it’s an instrumentally quiet song, with Waters singing over the top, in a song that reflects his importance to the record, as it’s pretty much a solo effort.

Onto Disc 2, and the album here takes on a more bleak air here, almost immediately. Hey You is the first song after Pink has completed his wall, and the lyrical content, with Pink pleading for people to open their hearts to him; something that he couldn’t do for anyone, is exceptional as well. Combined with a great guitar solo, this is one of the best stand alone songs from this album, and it also introduces “the worms”, that eat away at Pink, driving him yet further into insanity. Along with Comfortably Numb, this provides one of the best examples of Gilmour and Waters’ vocal interplay, and leads into the incredibly desolate Is There Anybody Out There?, which has one line repeated four times, and shows that Pink, now he is finally behind the wall, is now looking for help, or at least comfort, to reconnect with the real world again. The song, apart from the lyrics, consists of Gilmour playing a classical guitar outro, accompanied by a quiet orchestra in the background, making this possibly the most haunting song on the album.

Nobody Home features Waters looking through his possessions, and reflecting that although he owns all the paraphernalia of a rock star, he’s now truly alone, and, with no-one to connect to, he’s falling further away from reality, and now looking for a way to reconnect with the world, although the lyrics of the song mean that it seems he is descending more into drug use. Vera refers to Vera Lynn, the English World War II singer, and the song refers to Pink’s desire to reverse the building of his wall, by returning to the days of his childhood, in the hope of regaining innocence, and meeting a childhood memory again. Bring The Boys Back Home is a song that Waters has described as the centrepiece of the album, and features him and a choir, repeating the phrase over an orchestra in another flashback to Pink’s youth, where he asks for the return of his father. Then comes Comfortably Numb.

Arguably the band’s best song, this features Waters in the role of a doctor, and Gilmour in the role of Pink, with Pink trying to be given drugs to make sure he can perform for that nights show. Again, looking at the music, it’s incredible, with 2 great guitar solos, some ethereal lyrics, and a typical beautifully melancholic musical line under the vocals. The Show Must Go On, then has Pink reflecting on whether or not he wants to take the stage, although, interestingly enough, he’s asking his parents for guidance initially, and to take him home, before he finally decides in the last line that “the show must go on”.

And with these words, the album changes again. In The Flesh has the same air of majestic power as the opening track of the album, but there’s one subtle difference. Although the initial lyrics are the same, Pink then reveals that “Pink isn’t well, he stayed at the hotel”, and tests the loyalty of his fans by ordering them to get various racial minorities “up against the wall”. The sheer scale of his isolation has turned him into a Nazi, and exactly the same sort of figure that took his father’s life. Finally, it seems, his transformation is complete, although this song exists on several levels, including an attack on pop culture, with fans blindly following their idols. Run Like Hell was played live even after Waters left the band, and has the same sort of deep disco groove as Another Brick In The Wall, and has Pink bellowing orders to his fans, demanding that they follow him in his new found fascist ways, while sound effects in the background include screaming, suggesting a genuine evil present in the rock star.

Waiting For The Worms is the last in this trio of racist songs, with Pink once again bidding farewell to the world, before bellowing instructions through a megaphone to his followers, including a promise to “turn on the showers”, in an undeniable reference to the Holocaust. However, when it seems as if Pink is now beyond all redemption, with the marching atmosphere of the song, and its bitter hatred complementing the lyrics, his lone voice over comes the chanting of the crowd, to scream “Stop!”. This one moment leads into Stop, and ends the dictator form of Pink, with him immediately questioning “Have I been guilty all this time?” in a song that seems to spiral away from the album up to this point, giving Pink a chance at redemption.

Now, bear in mind that whole books could be written about this album. It’s no exaggeration to say that The Trial alone could have long chapters written on it. According to Roger Waters, the trial takes place inside Pink’s mind, with the witnesses called against him including a teacher, Pink’s mother, and his ex-wife. Musically, the song’s phenomenal. Teetering on the brink of insanity throughout, with orchestral effects being in place throughout, the arrival of the judge, thundering in with his judgment, of the wall being torn down, seems to lead the song into even further insanity, with the band losing structure, while a crowd chants “tear down the wall”, before we hear exactly that: a wall falling down in the background.

Bear in mind that I don’t think there’s any way of describing this song in print, but honestly, this is one of the outright strangest songs I’ve ever heard. Finally, Outside The Wall leaves the concept of the album, although Waters has never really explained the song, but it offers a message of hope, saying that those who really love you will do whatever it takes to blast their way through people’s individual walls, as happened with Roger Waters. In other words, although people will build walls around themselves, they can all be knocked down, making the final message of the album one of hope: that although life is cyclical, it’s not all dreadful.

If you’ve read this far, apologies for making this so long. I’m well aware that I’ve focused a lot on the concept of the album, perhaps at the cost of not mentioning the music as much, but I think the concept behind these songs is as important as the music itself, since the concept is so detailed. If you need any reassuring about the music, it’s generally brilliant, although there are moments, particularly in the second half of disc 1, where the fragmented nature of some songs starts to grate, and the music gets repetitive. This was the last great album by Pink Floyd, and any fan of the band should own a copy , as it displays the band’s most remarkable album, and one that contains all the hallmarks that made them great; ethereal, haunting at times, uplifting at others music, lyrical genius, and instrumental work, particularly from Dave Gilmour, that makes the ideas reality.

The band’s best album? Probably not. However, there’s a definite case for saying that it may be the one that people are most interested in, and with very good reason. Although some people will disagree, this gets 5/5 from me.

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Pink Floyd The Wall | | Leave a comment

Pink Floyd The Division Bell (1994)

The+Division+BellFrom johnmcferrinmusicreviews.org

Seven years and tons of critcism (mostly justified, I might add) later, Dave decided to make another Pink Floyd album. His most important decision along these lines was to get Wright and Mason involved in the project from the getgo, both in making sure they played most of the keyboard/drum parts on the album and making sure they had an impact on the songwriting and overall approach of the album.

Where the last few albums with Roger in the band had Dave as the only other reasonably significant creative presence, this album shows a very strong Wright presence, and it helps things a lot. Yes, Roger’s presence is still missed in a lot of critical ways, but Wright brings back elements to the sound and atmosphere that had pretty much disappeared after Wish You Were Here, and it’s neat to me to hear that a Gilmour/Wright Pink Floyd isn’t much less interesting than a Gilmour/Waters Pink Floyd.

It’s not for nothing that I mentioned Wish You Were Here in the last paragraph. One of the common criticisms of the album, with which I largely agree, is that the album sounds a lot like Wish You Were Here and Dark Side Of The Moon in more than a few places, with the group nailing their “classic” style just a little too closely for comfort. Cluster One reminds one a lot of the opening section of Shine On You Crazy Diamond (making this the second straight album where the band aimed for that vibe); What Do You Want From Me sounds a lot like Have a Cigar; Lost For Words sounds a lot like Wish You Were Here, and this doesn’t even mention the cribs from other albums. It’s definitely interesting that they were able to get back into this mode so easily after so many years of not writing together, and it’s very refreshing to hear this kind of sound on a 90’s album from a classic rock band, but I can’t totally forgive the amount of self-borrowing that happens on this album.

It also hurts considerably that I really don’t like three of the songs on this album. A Great Day for Freedom supports my belief that including the word “Freedom” in the title of a song reduces its chances of being good by ten-fold; the only songs I can think of with that word in the title that aren’t outright terrible are Chimes of Freedom (Bob Dylan), Freedom (Jimi Hendrix) and Freedom of ’76 (Ween). Gilmour is clearly trying to ape Waters here, as he tries to make this into a big universal anthem and includes references to “the wall” coming down, but it largely comes off as an inferior rewrite of On the Turning Away, with a duller guitar solo at the end.

Keep Talking is a reprehensible mix of the keyboard line from Sorrow, the pig guitar noises from Pigs and the awkward female backing vocals of Not Now John, complete with a silly Stephen Hawking voice sample, and is probably in the bottom five of all Pink Floyd tracks. Coming Back to Life isn’t obviously terrible, but it’s extremely boring, with seemingly endless guitar noodlings and a “poppy” backing that isn’t catchy, energetic or that moving. So that’s more than a quarter of the album gone right there.

Amazingly enough, though, I really like every other song on the album, even taking into account all of the ripoffs. One thing that’s rather interesting to me is that, just as WYWH was largely an open letter to Syd Barrett, much of the album largely functions as an open letter to none other than Roger Waters (the band has denied it, but given that I thought of this early on while listening and later found out this is the consensus among a lot of fans, I suspect there’s something to it). Check out these lyrics from What Do You Want From Me: “Should I sing until I can’t sing anymore? Play these strings until my fingers are raw? You’re so hard to please,” or “You can own everything you see; sell your soul for complete control, is that really what you need?”

That’s exactly what the dynamics were between Dave and Roger at the end! Check out these lyrics from Poles Apart: “Why did we tell you then you were always the golden boy then and that you’d never lose that light in your eyes? Hey you … did you ever realize what you’d become? And did you see that it wasn’t only me you were running from? Did you know all the time but it never bothered you anyway, leading the blind while I stared out the steel in your eyes.” There are interviews floating out there in which the band members described Roger as a steel-eyed monster at the end of his time with them. Finally, check out these lyrics from Lost for Words: “So I open my door to my enemies, and I ask, ‘could we wipe the slate clean?’ But they tell me to please go fuck myself; you know you just can’t win.” I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced.

Lyrics aside, I like the music in the other tracks a lot. What Do You Want From Me may indeed sound a lot like Have a Cigar, but the bluesy elements of the original are crossed with an overall tinge of mellow darkness, and both Gilmour’s singing (and don’t forget the power of the brief moments when we hear Wright’s naked voice coming through; he got it worse from Roger than David ever did, remember) and his guitar playing are extremely emotional (one thing I should mention about this album is that, even if he’s using the same styles as ever, Dave’s guitar parts consistently move me in a way that wasn’t always the case during the glory years).

Poles Apart is a terrific pop song, driven by an effective simple guitar line and a well-written vocal melody featuring a strong dose of whimsy, and it features a dark carnival (!) midsection. And while the melody to Lost for Words may be a lot like that to Wish You Were Here, it’s also acoustic-driven and a lot more light-hearted, and it gets in my head frequently while making Dave seem awfully sympathetic.

A track I want to particularly mention is Wearing the Inside Out, the first song solely penned by Wright (and featuring him on lead vocals) since Summer ’68. The song is mildly dull in some ways, and I’ve seen some fans of the band dismiss it the same way I’ve dismissed, say, Coming Back to Life. Personally, I think that considering it that way is a mistake. One thing that fascinates me is that, despite Wright not writing the lyrics (he only wrote the music), the song sounds completely like Rick doing an autobiographical number.

Between Roger’s mental abuse and his own cocaine habit, Wright had, over the years, seemingly become more and more withdrawn and afraid to say anything for fear of torment, and it took Dave extending him the chance to have a significant role on a Pink Floyd album again to pull him out of it. This song, to me, is the very sound of a victim of excessive verbal abuse, put to music, singing from the corner of a dark room but starting to find the strength to walk towards the light in the hallway. The saxophones are moody and creepy to no end, Wright’s worn voice is perfect for the main subject matter, Dave’s vocal near the end works perfectly in support, and the guitar at the end drives it all home wonderfully.

The other two “regular” songs are just fantastic. Take it Back sounds an awful lot like classic U2, but hell, The Edge’s guitar style largely came from Gilmour in the first place, and I don’t begrudge Dave for writing a great pop song in this vein. The closing High Hopes is probably more overblown than it should be, but it has a great melody (credit should be given where credit is due; Dave has the sole credit for the music on this song), a majestic atmosphere and some GREAT emotional steel guitar parts that play well off the strings in the background. I definitely dig the simple two-note piano chords that drive the melody in the beginning, too.

The two instrumentals shouldn’t be neglected either. Yes, the opening Cluster One goes for much the same vibe as SOYCD, but one significant difference is that it doesn’t go for the soul-crushing majesty of that piece, instead focusing on a warmer, more pleasant, but still sad vibe that hits me effectively. It takes a little while to really get going, but I like the way Dave plays off Wright’s simple piano lines in the second half. Marooned, then, calls back a bit to Great Gig in the Sky, but nowhere near enough to call it a ripoff. It’s a song that really matches its title, as it hits on the kinds of emotions I’d feel if I were marooned on an island, sitting on a beach, staring out over the sea and realizing there’s nobody coming to get me. I wouldn’t trade the track for the world, especially since it has yet more wonderful slide guitar.

I think it should be pointed out that, when I first bought this album, I did not have any high expectations for it whatsoever, and I’m very surprised that I ended up liking it as much as I do. If they’d ever gone back and made another album like this, ripping off their previous successes, I might have gotten annoyed, but as is, this works as a fine career ender. If you’re not slavishly devoted to Roger, and don’t feel all Pink Floyd without him should be ignored, you should get this.

January 2, 2014 Posted by | Pink Floyd The Division Bell | | Leave a comment

Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here (1975)

LP-Cover-Pink-Floyd-Wish-You-Were-HereFrom johnmcferrinmusicreviews.org

Well, as you are probably aware, Dark Side Of The Moon was a complete and total success. It was definitely the guys’ best work to date, critics loved it, and although it was a #1 for only a couple of weeks, it managed to stay on the charts for 7 hundred-something weeks. So did all of these things make Roger at all happy or content? Heck no. Indeed, the group’s newfound success, especially in comparison to the struggles which they had had in the American market just two or three years previous, gave him more to whine about then when he had written the previous masterpiece’s lyrics. And, surprise surprise, we the listeners get to hear all about it.

Basically, his new set of complaints could be sorted into three categories, and each gets at least one song. The first, which is more or less a continuation of the themes of Dark Side, is that the world is a depressing pile of crap with everybody paralyzed by fear and as such missing out on life. Or something. Along those lines, we get the simplistic but pretty title track, which has held up rather well despite incessant overplay. It’s not the best ballad of its kind that Roger ever wrote, but it’s lovely, and the lyrics pull off “banal yet profound” very well. Plus, I dig the samples at the beginning.

Complaint number two is basically, “the music industry is made up of a bunch of greedy bastards who only care about money, know nothing about what is quality art, and who will try to steal your soul if you let them.” For this uplifting observation, we get two more radio classics in Welcome to the Machine (which, incidentally, was the first Pink Floyd song I ever heard), and Have a Cigar. The first does all it can to convince the listener via the atmosphere that to enter the music industry (or “the machine”) is to resign yourself to nothing but doom and despair. Of course it’s depressing, and maybe a bit overblown, but I do enjoy having my spirit crushed from time to time.

Plus, it’s got some of the coolest sounding synths of the decade. Now, the second, sung by famous studio musician Roy Harper, is based around actual experiences that Roger and Co. had with top studio execs after the success of DSOTM. Although it was their 8th studio album, Dark Side was the first that many high-ranking music people had heard of them, and as such they would treat the guys with the same “let’s sucker them out of their money” approach that they would with a regular overnight one hit wonder group.

As you might imagine, Roger was a bit insulted by this, and it was only made worse when one top level official, knowing nothing of the group but trying to pretend he was all buddy-buddy with them, asked them, “which one’s Pink?” And so, to deal with his frustrations, Roger took it out on them by slamming music executives in general into the ground with his lyrics. The song is a bit rudimentary, as it’s essentially just an okayish blues-based jam (the mid-section of Echoes did this sort of thing better), but I still like it.

The third and final gripe was that none of the Johnny-come-latelys that were suddenly claiming to be “big fans” knew a single thing about the group’s history, and consequently knew nothing about the man who had started it all, Mr. Syd Barrett. And so, Waters decided to write a tribute to him, which we know as “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” (get it? SoYcD? SYD?). And it’s absolutely fantastic. In all, it takes up about 25 minutes of time, but it’s broken up so the three other songs are in between the first and second half of it. Now, truth be told, I get a little tired with the second half.

The first instrumental passages of this half, both from Rick’s synth noodlings and Dave’s passionate guitar lines, are fantastic, and the actual song portion is great, but I find the weird synth-based jamming at the end rather tedious. The first half of the piece, though, is awesome beyond belief. The gradual synth, organ, and keyboard build up, along with the familiar heavenly guitar tone progress the tune to a point where it is the gloomiest, most soul crushing piece of music you have ever heard (the bluesy passage is absolutely killer at hitting my heart), and that’s just part I.

II gives us the now famous four ringing guitar notes, or “Syd’s Theme,” and it’s just perfect in its simplicity. III is a mellow guitar/synth noodle, IV is the actual “song” part (with lyrics making all sorts of references Piper and to Barrett’s own life), and V is driven by a saxophone part as passionate as the best moments on Dark Side before fading into WTTM. The first half of this piece, all 13-odd minutes of it, is pure heaven to my ears, and one of my favorite stretches in all of rock music.

All in all, this is quite a splendid album, and worthy of its reputation in many, many ways. Aside from the little quibbles I’ve already mentioned, the only gripe I have about it is that, in many ways, this is the first album where the band is no longer trying to push the boundaries, if you will, and keep progressing. Roger has said many times in the past few years that he always felt that the band, as a whole, reached its zenith with Dark Side, and that after that it was all down hill.

On the other hand, it’s not a huge step down, and the band had reached such a high point that even if they were to get worse and worse with each passing album, they would still be better than the best output of most groups. Plus, I should mention another major positive in this album’s favor: this is probably Rick Wright’s peak with the band. While he has no solo writing credits (only sharing credit on a couple of tracks), his keyboards are ALL OVER this album, taking on many different styles, and while this album may belong to Roger and Dave in songwriting, this album belongs to Rick in arrangements. I consider this one of the best demonstrations of 70’s keyboarding in my entire collection, and that says something.

Oh, one last thing. I have seen several possible synchronicities for this album on the internet, but the two most intriguing possibilities, in my mind, are with the classic It’s a Wonderful Life and with the director’s cut of Blade Runner (this one sounds fishy, though, given that WYWH came out long before the movie). Might be worth checking out, might not.

January 2, 2014 Posted by | Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here | | Leave a comment

Pink Floyd Animals (1977)

animalsFrom sputnikmusic.com

One of the greatest albums of all time – not only a musical accomplishment to the highest degree, Animals is also a scathing criticism of the system that spawned it.

Animals is Pink Floyd’s greatest album.

Such a statement will be forever refuted by those who fervently admire any of Pink Floyd’s other masterpieces; it’s arguable as to which album is the pinnacle of their success. Of course, it always comes down to a matter of opinion, but with this review I intend to ardently argue Animals’ case; not only as the greatest Pink Floyd album, not only as one of the greatest records to have ever been made, but also as a triumphant and pessimistic reflection of the world’s descent into capitalism.

In addition to the musical achievement that is Animals, it is a radiant and contemptuous piece of political literature, akin to its Orwellian influence. The metaphorical value of ‘Dogs’, ‘Pigs’ and ‘Sheep’ are extensively ingrained in the criticism of the society which we take for granted, and Animals eloquently lays down a sweeping mockery of the system. In regards to the album’s position amongst Pink Floyd’s far-reaching discography, Animals is situated in a transient period; bearing marks of the band’s psychedelic and drug infused past, building on the largely tentative previous two albums, all while paving the way for The Wall’s concreted concept.

It is because of this unique position that Animals holds as to why it is distinguishable from the Pink Floyd catalogue. It does not rely on musical oddities, vast soundscapes or experimentation; it is a composition perfect at its very core, from the pure genius of its songwriting, to a concept to beat all concepts in its relevance and societal value. Animals is, without a doubt, one of the greatest albums of all time.

The profound left uprising of the 1970s is a large determinant of the ideology evident on Animals; the after effects of the Vietnam War, a stalemate between the opposing sides of the ideological spectrum, left the world in a disarray, seemingly disillusioned by the supposed sanctity of capitalism in contrast to the ‘Evil Empire’. Economic crises gripped Britain (along with other Western nations, but particularly Britain in respect to Pink Floyd), a pressure borne by the working class.

It was these conditions and others like them that ultimately led to the deep seeded cynicism apparent on Animals. The album’s construction is purely metaphorical: ‘Dogs’, ‘Pigs’ and ‘Sheep’ represent the different tiers in the capitalist hierarchy, each song creating a representation of its respective character through ingenious lyrics and at times, musical expressions that are reflective of a particular character’s nature. Beginning with ‘Dogs’, Pink Floyd paints the portrait of a ruthless and self-obsessed bourgeoisie, the hounds of the upper class.

In layman’s terms, businessmen, utilizing the free market system to their own and their superiors’ advantage; ultimately to the disadvantage of the lower classes, who are forced to bear the brunt of actions from the likes of H.E. Pennypacker, wealthy industrialist and philanthropist, an alias brought to life by Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer. Such a personality is immortalized in the lines:

You got to be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed
And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight
You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking

The vehement scorn of Pennypacker and co. is brought to light after an atmospheric interlude, one which harkens back to the musical techniques more commonly associated with Pink Floyd’s past; the barking of dogs layered over a synthetic backdrop does well to set the mood and build up towards one of the greatest imaginable finales to a song. Cleverly using the metaphor of a dog, the song alludes to the action of tying a stone around a dog’s neck, subtly referring to the inevitable downfall that awaits the bourgeoisie.

And when you lose control, you’ll reap the harvest you have sown
And as the fear grows, the bad blood slows and turns to stone
And it’s too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around
So have a good drown, as you go down all alone
Dragged down by the stone

Changing from the momentous disposition of ‘Dogs’, ‘Pigs (Three Little Ones)’ is ostensibly acerbic, sarcastic in its tone and vicious in its outset. Obviously representing the upper class, the cynicism is aimed at the absurdity of this class’ existence, and the seemingly unjust dessert that is bestowed upon them merely because of their position in society. Greedy, gluttonous and ignorant to the suffering of the proletariat, their place at the top of the social order is the subject of Pink Floyd’s ridicule.

The repeated line of ‘Ha ha, charade you are’, the obvious reference in ‘Hey you, Whitehouse / Ha ha charade you are … Mary you’re nearly a treat / But you’re really a cry’, and the derisive ‘You like the feel of steel / You’re hot stuff with a hatpin / And good fun with a hand gun’, are all worthy mentions of this song’s disdainful view of the upper class. The real world allusions it gives of the conservatives, through its reference to Mary Whitehouse, are cleverly cloaked in the album’s mordant tenor. The song’s discourse is complemented by its composition; the circus-like, almost irritating melody seems to epitomize the song’s likeness of the upper class.

Gilmour’s solo is superb, at times sounding like the babbling, or even the screaming, of pigs, adding yet more colour to the song’s portrait. Although being from an indeterminate source, it is said that the solo was played with a purposely modified and out of tune guitar, so much so that it cannot be replicated exactly. Not significant, but another detail that adds to the album’s distinctiveness. Gilmour closes the song in an epic fashion, not repeating any of the moods set in ‘Dogs’. Rather, his tasteful second solo that finishes the track tops off the insinuations already brought into the fold: a false grandeur, an artificial opulence, a corrupted prominence.

The last tier to be articulated is that of the proletariat, the working class. Not much elaboration is needed in determining why sheep are an ideal animal to portray this particular position in society. Holding up the capitalist pyramid, the weight of said system keeps the proletariat in place; easy pickings for the dogs and to the ultimate benefit of the pigs, the sheep are exploited for their obedience and coerced submission. ‘Sheep’, in contrast to the previous two songs, contains an inkling of hope. Although spelling out how the sheep are victims to the higher classes, the song moves towards an optimistic outlook, one in which the sheep break free of their shackles. This is expressed in one of history’s greatest lyrical moments:

Bleating and babbling we fell on his neck with a scream.
Wave upon wave of demented avengers
March cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream.

An atmospheric mid-section precludes this ‘revolution’, one which builds up with the bleating of sheep, and bursts to life with a human scream. However, although optimistic, the use of the word ‘dream’ casts a shadow of doubt over such a revolution’s legitimacy, and whether it is really a realistic prospect that could lie at the end of capitalism’s lifeline. ‘Sheep’, while portraying the proletariat, also plays a pivotal role in describing the position of the church in a capitalist society. The aforementioned mid-section contains a speech where the church is implicated as a tool of the capitalist system, merely indoctrinating the proletariat and allowing the upper classes to further exploit the immobile masses.

With bright knives He releaseth my soul.
He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places.
He converteth me to lamb cutlets,
For lo, He hath great power, and great hunger

With ‘Sheep’, the album’s critique comes to an end. The significance of these three songs is immeasurable; through their various metaphorical constructs, they assemble a bleak and misanthropic outlook of the capitalist society. Musically and lyrically, the band deserves immense commendation; in a single album they’ve managed to create something parallel to great works like Orwell’s Animal Farm, the chief artistic influence behind Animals. In addition to this, the album is book ended by two short pieces, respectively ‘Pigs on the Wing’ Parts One and Two.

Essentially, they are love songs; written by Waters for his wife at the time, they are brisk and simple, and apparently disconnected to the themes associated with the three main tracks. Nevertheless, Waters implies in these two tracks, particularly Part Two, of his previous exploits as a ‘dog’, and how he was somehow saved by his love for the woman in question. Touching pieces as they are, they are the icing on the cake to what is a fantastic concept; the world may be descending into madness, but if we all showed a little love and care for our fellow man, such an austere perspective of capitalism would not be needed.

Just over thirty years have passed since Animals’ release. Nonetheless, its relevance has hardly subsided. The Iraq War, the recent global economic crisis, and the misdeeds of the Bush administration and their Western counterparts are crudely analogous to the conditions which created Animals. Politics is reactionary; with every rise in a particular ideology, an opposing ideology will always gain strength; for example, with every fascistic military junta in Turkey’s history, almost non-existent leftist groups would rise out of nowhere, as a counter to the authoritarian military rule.

History has already proven to us that socialism cannot work; self interest is in our very nature, and hence naturally we are inclined towards a capitalist system where we have the opportunity to better our situation. It is my personal belief that Animals was not written as a precursor to the beginnings of a socialist revolution; it does, however, have a message aimed at the stark belief in the purely capitalist society, where minimalist government intervention leads to the oppression of the proletariat. This said belief maintains that capitalism merely reflects human nature, and this may be so, but this does not effectively justify the transgressions so vividly outlined in the album.

This review is by no means an advocate of socialism or of capitalism’s demise; simply a reflection of the criticisms found on Animals. The album’s political foresight is unbelievable; with the US presidential election occurring as I write, it’s hard not to draw comparisons. It is with this that I again state that Animals is Pink Floyd’s greatest album. A musical masterpiece, a literary work of genius, and a political tour de force, this album delves so deeply into the human psyche that it will leave you stunned. As an album, Animals is easily worth the mounds of hyperbolic claim that I give it; a piece of genius, and a genius that will never die.

January 2, 2014 Posted by | Pink Floyd Animals | | Leave a comment

Pink Floyd Meddle (1971)

cover_29441717102008From sfloman.com

Self-producing for the first time, Meddle is the album on which the band first truly found the sound for which they are primarily remembered today.

This is also the album on which it really became apparent that the band got very lucky when Gilmour replaced Barrett, as he proves to be a great singer and guitarist whose fluid, melodic, and emotional guitar tone is firmly established here (though in fairness his playing was great on Atom Heart Mother as well).

His confidence as an emerging songwriter was also growing, and Meddle is the album where the Gilmour/Waters songwriting partnership first fully flowered, though the album is also a true group effort, and a sparkling one at that, even if it has one of their weaker album covers and it sold poorly in the U.S.; as usual up until this point, it did better in the U.K., peaking at #3.

Anyway, the album begins with the mostly all instrumental, surprisingly hard rocking “One Of These Days,” a firm fan favorite and live staple whose best characteristic is its driving bass riffs (played by Waters and Gilmour). Wright’s keyboards add color, there are impressive stop and start dynamics, Gilmour adds a classic high-pitched screaming guitar solo, and its various effects (wind noises, the electronically manipulated lone lyric of “One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces”) show the band’s increasing mastery of using the studio as another instrument.

The next four songs were never played in concert, but three of them are underrated gems that any fan of classic period Floyd (which began in earnest with Meddle) should enjoy. The dreamy, melancholic “A Pillow Of Winds” is notable for Gilmour’s lovely acoustic/electric slide guitars and typically strong vocals, “Fearless” has a great little groove and more smooth as silk Gilmour vocals and fine guitar work (the “You’ll Never Walk Alone” coda with the choir is a cute touch too), and Waters’ sing songy “San Tropez” is a tuneful, lightly jazzy pop number that’s highlighted by Wright’s classy piano solo.

These pastoral, summery songs see Pink Floyd at their most relaxed and accessible, but let’s face it “Seamus,” which is primarily remembered for Steve Marriott’s dog barking, is the type of novelty joke number that you can listen to once and skip thereafter. Fortunately, it’s quite short, and the next song, the 23-minute, multi-sectioned masterpiece “Echoes,” is something else entirely. This song, another full band composition like “One Of These Days,” has all the elements that make Floyd great, simple as that, and no description I can give will do it justice.

From its echoed piano intro onward, the band proceeds to deliver spacey headphone music along with more grounded folksier sonic explorations, both jam-based and song-centric sections, and lots more besides in one of the definitive Pink Floyd songs, period (it’s especially beloved by the prog-heads).

Among the song’s notable characteristics are Gilmour and Wright’s gorgeous, haunting harmony vocals, Gilmour’s alternately mournfully lovely and soaringly intense guitar leads as he solos extensively, Wright’s keyboards which lead some of the jazzy, jammier sections while Waters’ driving bass propels the more rocking parts along with Mason’s drums, and of course the band’s requisite special effects which are just as important as the band’s actual musicianship.

Granted, for all its brilliance it must be said that the song drags a bit at times; their later greatest hits album Echoes actually trims the song to about 16 minutes and it works just fine. (P.S. The best version of this song is arguably on the Live At Pompeii film but that’s never been formally released on cd and it probably never will be.)

Still, if you cut out the boring parts then “Echoes” is arguably the best thing that the band ever did, as it offers a fascinatingly original and utterly intoxicating world of laid-back cool. On the whole, with two all-time classic tracks, three underrated, endlessly playable album tracks, and only one short stinker, Meddle was the first Pink Floyd album that I could wholeheartedly love.

It was the album where they first found their identity, where Gilmour became the dominant instrumentalist, and it began their creative prime. With the foundation for greatness already in place, a tightening of ideas, even stronger songwriting, and superior production yielded an even greater masterpiece.

January 1, 2014 Posted by | Pink Floyd Meddle | | Leave a comment

Pink Floyd The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)

MI0003237416From amazon.co.uk

I’ve reviewed the 2011 remasters of Pink Floyd’s “Meddle” (1971), “Obscured By Clouds” (1972) and “Wish You Were Here” (1975) – all three are sonically amazing but hugely disappointing on the packaging front (miniscule booklets that exclude original details and don’t expand your knowledge a jot). It’s pretty much an identical story here. But let’s get to the details first…

The vinyl LP “The Dark Side Of The Moon” was originally released 10 March 1973 on Harvest SMAS-11163 in the USA and 24 March 1973 in the UK on Harvest Records SHVL 804. This 26 September 2011 single-disc version (released 27 Sep 2011 in the USA) on EMI 50999 028955 2 9 is a straightforward 10-track remaster of that Number 1 studio album. A 2CD ‘Experience’ Edition and a 6-Disc ‘Immersion’ Box Set are also released Monday 26 September 2011 (see separate entries for details). This single-disc ‘Discovery’ reissue comes in a gatefold card sleeve with a newly laid-out 12-page inlay inside (total playing time 42:59 minutes).

[Note: original copies of the vinyl LP famously came with 2 posters, 2 stickers and a titled ‘Pink Floyd The Dark Side Of The Moon’ sticker on the front – this new issue doesn’t feature any of these original items, but instead simply uses the now familiar untitled `prism’ artwork]

Like all the other albums in this 14-title reissue series – “The Dark Side Of The Moon” has been mastered by James Guthrie and Joel Plante at the Das Boot Recording Studios in Tahoe in California (Guthrie is a Sound Engineer associated with the band since 1978). The original 1st generation master tapes have obviously been given a thorough going over because it truly feels like each segment has had a staggering amount of time spent on them – worrying out every single nuance possible. The audio result is truly impressive.

God knows how many times this ‘cash cow’ of an album has been reissued on CD – and yet another version will probably make even the most die-hard of fans yawn and even feel a little angry. But – outside of the amazing SACD version of 2003 – this new 2011 ‘Discovery’ edition is absolutely the best it’s ever going to be for those of us with a lesser budget. The now famous opening heart-beat and ‘loony’ voices of “Speak To Me” sound extraordinary – which in turn lead into the sonic wall of “Breathe (In The Air)” – and it’s a wow.

The remaster hasn’t dampened anything or over-amplified it for the sake of volume (the dreaded loudness wars so many talk of) – it’s just ‘there’ – all the instruments present and swirling around your speakers in superlative clarity. And while “Time”, “Money” and the lovely “Us And Them” were always going to be audio wonderland with their myriad effects and top-drawer Alan Parsons’s production values – it’s the last track on Side 1 that impresses the most.

The truly gorgeous and innovative “The Great Gig In The Sky” is on the ‘Immersion’ mega box set in its original bare-bones state – later beefed up with the incredible Acapella Vocal of Clare Torry – and what a smart move that was. Even in its very quiet opening and ending passages – it sounds beautiful – and not for the first time brought a tear to a weary eye. I also love the “Any Colour You Like” instrumental on Side 2 (some DJs have been mixing it in with Dance and Funk 12″ in their sets) and by the time “Eclipse” finishes this concept of concept albums (lyrics above) – it’s very hard not to be impressed at the work Guthrie and Plante have done here.

I wish I could say the same for the staggeringly unimaginative packaging. The ‘Pink Floyd’ logo you see in all the photos advertising these new reissues turns out to be a sticker on the outer shrink-wrap that gets lost the second you unpeel it. The card sleeves are like The Beatles 09/09/09 EMI reissues – glossy and flimsy – so they smudge with finger prints the second you open them and are easy to bend and crease.

The CD itself has the new generic artwork (the sticker design on the outer packaging) repeated in different colour variations throughout the series – a sort of Turquoise and Pale Green for “Meddle”, a garish Red and Pink for “Obscured By Clouds”, Blue and Green for “Wish You Were Here” and here – Black And Grey for “Dark Side…” But where’s the beautiful band poster, the two Hipgnosis-designed stickers, the deep blue triangle/prism Harvest label of the English LP? This ludicrous new design has no relevance to the original and speaking of the disc itself – there’s no protective gauze sleeve for the CD either so it will scuff on repeated plays. The inner glossy gatefold could easily have featured these – instead we get two useless sepia-tinted pictures of the pyramids – how imaginative…

But the skimpy booklet is the biggest disappointment. It has the lyrics of the original album (which were on the inner gatefold) reset in the new booklet against a background of god-awful Storm Thorgerson images. Of the millions of words written about this most famous of rock records, there isn’t even a history on the album. There’s no pictures of European and Worldwide 7″ sleeves for “Money” and “Time” (singles lifted off the album), no pictures of the band, no 7″ edit versions etc – naught to get your teeth into. OK – it does look nice and does the job adequately – but that’s all.

It’s a lazy-assed approach on behalf of EMI and undermines the sterling work done on the sound front. I hate to come across like some nick-picking fan boy here, but it would have been nice to actually ‘discover’ something on this so-called ‘Discovery’ version (docked a star for that).

To sum up – the remaster is gobsmacking – a stone five stars – but sadly we get mediocre presentation that completely undermines the original power of the vinyl album when you got it in your hands all those decades ago. Still – with the truly beautiful sonic upgrade thrown in – the casual listener is advised to dig in, rediscover and enjoy.

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Pink Floyd The Dark Side Of The Moon | | Leave a comment

Roger Waters The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking (1984)

20955From amazon.com

I expect that everyone who’s listened to this album, or is a fan of Roger Waters, is at least somewhat familiar with the music of Pink Floyd. Therefore, most of them compare “Pros and Cons” to Waters masterworks like “Final Cut” and “The Wall.”

I won’t. I’m just going to write this for the music lover who’s been directed to this page by a “best of” list of friend’s recommendation.

Most importantly, “Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking” is a concept album in the ultimate sense. This means that it is not actually twelve different tracks that go together — it means that the entire album is really one long track, telling one story. It includes a multitude of sound effects and imbedded dialogue to enhance the narrative. Many musical chords are used repeatedly in various parts of the album to reinforce the cohesiveness. It is virtually impossible to appreciate “Pros and Cons” without sitting down and listening to it all the way through at least a dozen times. Like all of Roger Waters’ work, he requires his listener to put as much thought into the album as he did.

Minor problems do crop up. For instance, it’s a godsend that the lyrics are included with the album, as well as the dialogue, because some of it is quite difficult to understand with no outside reference. Then there’s the usual problem with Waters work: if you don’t pay full attention, you will not “get it.” I can’t put it any more clearly. Waters demands your full participation. Also, some portions of the music don’t run quite as deep as the lyrics. This makes the album as a whole seem shallower than it really is…. And sometimes, if you’re not in a patient mood, some parts seems to drag on. This may be due to Roger not having the safety net of collaborators during the composition process. (This was his first solo album, after all. So he’s allowed to be a little shaky.)

The execution of the music is flawless, though! Mr. Waters is an accomplished bassist. The Legendary Eric Clapton is lead guitarist (and if you don’t know Floyd, I have to assume that you must know at least Something by Clapton…) Michael Kamen plays the piano and conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra. So despite showing signs of lacking in musical composition, the performance of the material gives it an operatic quality. Roger Waters himself gives a go-for-broke vocal performance that quickens the strain of the protagonist’s conflict.

I think the main reason that this album is a bit obscure (except among true Floyd and Waters fans) is that there really are no tracks that could be marketed as radio singles. As I’ve mentioned before, the entire album is the only track on the disc. But for posterity’s sake, I’ll say that there are a few cuts that might have made excellent singles. “Sexual Revolution,” “Every Stranger’s Eyes,” and the title track may have made it… But stripped of the album’s context, they do in fact lose some of their power.

What really kills me is that I can’t think of a single other artist to whom I can compare this album. It has a quite different sound from classic Pink Floyd, and Roger Waters’ later work is even a little more audience-accessible than “Pros and Cons.” I’d say that it could possibly be just summed up as a “country rock opera.” I do think that you would not enjoy this album quite as much unless you first go back and investigate some of Pink Floyd’s earlier work.

“The Wall” and “Final Cut” are absolute essentials in Roger Waters ouevre, and listening to them would help considerably in appreciating this. If you like those, then you’ll probably appreciate this album a bit more. Definitely don’t make this your first Roger Waters purchase. “Amused to Death” is a much more polished work. If you want a good overview of his work, try his “In the Flesh” live album. Then move on to “Pros and Cons.”

Now, if you do happen to be a Pink Floyd fan, and you’re reading this review, you already know what a brilliant lyricist Mr. Waters is. Since this was his first solo album, it’s easy to see his attempts to make his own musical mark, and that’s probably what detracts a bit from this. But I can say that it is a very satisfying work, and anyone with a deeper sense of sophistication would certainly give “Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking” a thumbs up.

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Roger Waters The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking | , | Leave a comment