PINK FLOYD REVIEWS:
Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
Album Score: 12
When people tell you that Syd Barrett was nuts, that's not an understatement. He was the original leader of Pink Floyd, and he liked to do LSD. He was also intensely creative, writing most of these songs, and he was the primary force behind this group in their early years. Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright already displayed superb musicianship, but at this point they were merely the followers of this grand guru of mind-blowing psychedelic music. Unfortunately, Barrett's sanity was hanging by a thread (something that any amateur psychologist would note reading his lyrics), and the band would be forced to kick him out shortly after the release of the album. Luckily for us all, however, he hung on long enough to record Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a premiere psychedelic album. If any album is going to 'blow you away,' it's gonna be this one.
If you've ever wondered what it must be like traveling through outer space while tripped up on acid, you needn't look further than “Interstellar Overdrive,” the nine-minute spaced-out jam session that the band reportedly made up on the spot. Doing acid is dangerous and I wouldn't recommend it, but I would highly recommend listening to this song! It's a stream-of-consciousness that takes you down a wild ride. It opens with a menacing and memorable riff that repeats a few times... But after that, we're treated to a wild array of organ noodles, strangely textured guitars, beeping noises, dissonant chords, and complicated drum patterns. At times, you get the feeling that they were really not even concerned with what they were playing ... just that it came out as weird and spaced-out as possible. And what can I say? This draws me in right from the very beginning, and it never loses my attention. Believe me, this is a feat difficult to achieve.
“Astronomy Domine” is also one of the great space-rock tracks, and this one has a vocal melody and really bizarre lyrics! The rhythm guitars and the drums play at a menacing pace while Barrett's sleepy and tone-deaf lead vocals take us on a strange journey through the cosmos. Some of the instruments, notably that descending, high-pitched guitar that wails every once in awhile, is a little bit out-of-tune.
If you thought those two songs were weird, wait until you've heard the children's songs which is when Barrett's at his all-time creepiest. It's like he's trying to mess with our inner child.“Bike” is reminiscent of a carnival ride tune, and Barrett is the evil ringleader of our minds. He sings a catchy melody with crazy lyrics about a mouse, a gingerbread man, and whatever else he could think of... You'll note that his lyrics usually don't make much sense, but there's typically a barely logical but followable thread that runs through them. Probably the sanest song in terms of linear lyrics is “The Gnome,” which is simply about a gnome that goes out exploring one day.
As far as “pop songs” go, the one that can't be beat is “Lucifer Sam.” The melody is catchy as nobody's business, and the instrumentals are both exciting and trippy. The drums and that descending rhythm guitar provide an excellent backbone while Nick Mason does some weird organ noodling in the background. I'm also quite fond of “Flaming,” with its strange catchy melody and the effective echo put to the vocals. Many of the comments I read about this album express tons of admiration for their technical achievements in the studio. I have to say I'm fairly ignorant about studio techniques and so I can't comment on much. But I can say that part of the reason Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a masterpiece is due to the production. And I'm sure other bands of the time were taking notes.
Just to prove how insane Syd Barrett actually was, look “Take Thy Stethoscope and Walk.” I say that because it wasn't a Barrett composition but rather Roger Waters, his very first one. He does his mightiest to imitate Barrett's sheer nuttiness, but all he can manage is a three-note melody that rhymes random words together. Yeah, I can tell those are random! No such luck! Also lacking enjoyability is the dreary “Chapter 24” with lyrics taken right out of a Chinese proverbs book. Not that the lyrics really matter much, but the melody is dull and so is the instrumentation. Disappointing.
The album might have its low-spots, but who cares? This is a nutty, nutty, nutty album that pioneered the menacing space-rock vein of psychedelic music. Not only is it historically important, but it'll take you on an acid trip through outer space. Short of paying NASA a million dollars and sneaking LSD with you onto the ship, this is the closest thing you'll ever get to that.
Read the track reviews:
A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
Album Score: 10
Syd Barrett might have been a genius, but he was mad, and he was effectively useless when it was time for Pink Floyd to write and record the follow-up to their earth-shattering psychedelic debut, Piper at the Gates of Dawn. This left Pink Floyd to recruit a new guitarist, David Gilmour, and the band scrambling to write spacey psychedelic pieces that would hopefully compare to Barrett's work. No surprise, the result is an album that's not nearly as interesting or as mind-blowing, and the vocal melodies are either terribly weak or non-existent. Nonetheless, I would say it was formidable, especially given the circumstances.
The most major shift between this and the debut album was their total abandonment of children's music. Instead, they were far keener on developing the space-rock ideas of “Astronomy Domine” and “Insterstellar Overdrive.” The centerpiece of the album is the title track, a 12-minute epic instrumental that was again designed to show us what it's like to have a tortured journey through the cosmos. It's filled with dissonant keyboard chords, jangly noises, zippy noises, detached drumming, and other more indescribable sounds. For what amounts to a 12-minute sound effects collage, I'm amazed at how arresting the whole thing is. I'm still going to prefer the far more exciting “Interstellar Overdrive” to this, but I won't deny that Pink Floyd did something amazing here, too. The band members might have hated the term, but this proves they were indeed the masters of “space-rock.”
Unfortunately, that it about the extent of this album's “amazing” songs, although I understand that “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” has its ardent supporters. It's far more repetitive than “A Saucerful of Secrets,” but that aspect helped it to become menacing. It gives me visions of being attacked by space-zombies, a description that I do not make lightly! The reason I don't love it is that it just doesn't compel me all that much. It's too much like a drone. A similar problem befalls Rick Wright's “See-Saw.” It's not an altogether poor composition, but the overblown instrumentation drowns out the vocals and I'm left struggling to make sense of it. I wish it had a more solid foundation. The twinkly instrumentation and mellotron sounds are sort of neat, but I'm not too sure they knew where they wanted to go with it.
“Let There Be More Light” is a sort of neat song as well, especially as it begins with an ultra-clean guitar twopping busily around while some dissonant organ noodles begin to creep up. I sorta wish they would have stuck with just doing that the whole time instead of trying to bring in a pounding Barrett-esque melody that just isn't very good. If one thing's clear about Pink Floyd at this stage of their career, it's that they couldn't write a good melody to save their lives! To be fair, I suppose Rick Wright made a decent stab at a melody with his other composition, “Remember a Day,” but it is extremely simple and it's just a single hook being repeated throughout. Yeah, we miss Syd!
...Well, we miss the half-sane version of Syd, anyway. Even though he wasn't running things anymore, he wasn't completely out of the band yet. He contributed one final song, “Jugband Blues.” It's a completely disorienting composition, and Barrett and the rest of the band sounds completely lost. Rumor has it that Barrett at this point would never play or sing a song the same way in different takes, which could be why the instrumentals seem even more estranged from the song than on the other tracks when they were doing it on purpose! There's a little bit of melodic invention here, but too much of it is random and nonsensical. I'm also left scratching my head over what I guess is a marching band parody in the middle. It's clunky, weird and doesn't work one bit.
Possibly the most annoying song of the album is Roger Waters' “Corporal Clegg.” I'm not saying it's bad or anything, but the melody is again a pale attempt at Barrett's inspired insanity, and it isn't very compelling. What's more, the kazoo chorus in the middle just doesn't do it for me. Seriously, Pink Floyd, I think it's time for youse guys to calm down a bit! Listen to some heartbeats and clocks for inspiration!
While I don't give much of a crap about A Saucerful of Secrets overall, I would say there are still a few ideas worth looking over if you're inclined to like weird psychedelic space music. The title track is a hugely interesting piece in those regards. The remaining songs are either non-compelling or extremely disorienting or both... But at least they're original. I could have scored this a 9, but its originality and weirdness forced me to up the rating. As I said in other reviews, I like weird albums even if it's just for weird's sake.
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Album Score: 9
What a weird little album. I know that's not being very descriptive, because the same thing can be said for all these early Pink Floyd albums. But here, I mean that more than ever. This is a weeeeeird little album. With Syd Barrett completely out of the band now, Pink Floyd was looking around to find new inspirations. They had no idea. In the meantime, they agreed to write and record a soundtrack for some obscure European art film.
While soundtrack albums are typically boring and samey, Pink Floyd went the opposite route and tried to be as weird and unpredictable as possible. Luckily, there's some nice stuff on here! For the first time ever, they try writing some low-key acoustic ballads.“Crying Song” is a bit tedious, but it's nice to space out with. “Green is the Colour” is even better with a nicer melody. They could have turned it into a normal folk song, but they didn't. To remind us that they're still experimental weirdos, the lead singing is barely audible and they occasionally bring in a flutist that sounds like he was tripping on acid. It's all in good fun! The third acoustic ballad “Cymbaline” is the best of 'em with a melody inventive and memorable enough to be comparable to their later ballads. (Alas, DSOTM Pink Floyd begins to take shape!) Once again, that song start out to sound pretty normal-like, but they revert to weirdness in the final third with an intrusively wavy synthesizer and some noodly organ chords. One thing's for sure: They're real experts at creating creepy moods! Needless to say, if that's you're thing, then you and More will be the best of friends!
I mentioned three acoustic ballads, but that doesn't even begin to discuss this album's weird diversity. “The Nile Song” and “Ibiza Bar” sound like Jimi Hendrix heavy metal tunes. Upon hearing that news, you might be interested in finding out what Pink Floyd might have thought to do with that genre. Unfortunately all I can report is that they're pretty dumb. Moreover, they're basically even the same song. Blah.
“More Blues” is amusing enough with David Gilmour showing off his finest bluesy chops while the drums play intermittently throughout. The production of it is such that the guitar sounds like it's being played deeply in the background and walking around a little bit. Again, that could have been a relatively normal song, but Pink Floyd are pretty adamant about being weird. Well the production did succeed in making it more interesting, for sure! “Spanish Piece” consists basically of a cliché Spanish guitar playing a rhythm while a smarmy-sounding person is loudly whispering something. That track isn't so much *good* as it is *freaky*!
“Up the Khyber” is a real attempt at avant-garde music, something they would flesh out more fully in Ummagumma. A piano with an attitude problem plays random chords while a guitar noodles around. Whooshing noises intermittently come in and out of the speakers. It's not usually my thing, but that track is quite exciting! “Main Theme” and “Dramatic Theme” are far more “normal,” but they're also instrumentals along those same artsy-fartsy lines. They're meant to evoke dire, psychologically maddening moods, and of course Pink Floyd once again succeed wildly. I think even Klaus Schulze borrowed a little bit of “Main Theme” for his Moondawn album.
Maybe the biggest disappointment is the seven-minute spaced-out instrumental “Quicksilver.” You'd hope that it would be another space-rock triumph like “Interstellar Overdrive” and “A Saucerful of Secrets,” but no such luck. All that track consists of, for the lack of a better description, is a bunch of dreary and long-drawn-out noises. Sure, it gets creepy with that noodly organ, but the way it never shifts tones gets verrrrrrrrrry tedious. I suppose I could give it the benefit of the doubt, since it's supposed to be in a soundtrack, but my benefit of the doubt doesn't go so far as to appreciating boring seven-minute instrumentals. Zzzzz...
By the looks of what other reviewers have written about this, I'm scoring this fairly low... Maybe I'm listening to it wrong. Maybe I'm not appreciating Pink Floyd's psychologically dark moods enough. Whatever. What can I say? I don't like this album that much! Shoot me! Shoot me between the eyes!!
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 12
Holy mother of Ummagumma—this is one freakishly weird album. I knew early Pink Floyd albums were supposed to be among the weirdest things on the planet earth, but I think it goes more deeply beyond that; this is where all the weirdness in the universe has joined forces. I never did drugs before, but I'd imagine this is what it must sound like. This album is wild, unpredictable and frightening, but at the same time, it's frequently delightful and something that I might like to do again. This is a double album. The first half of it is filled with a bunch of avant-garde tracks, and the second half consists of live lengthy versions of certain songs from their back catalogue. Which half is the best half? That is for you to find out, if you can even choose. I don't have a strong opinion on the matter! They're both pretty freaky.
Let's talk about the avant-garde half first. The band members have decided to split it into quadrants. They each had exclusive control over one-fourth of the album. It's sort of like The White Album except they weren't pissed off. This was an interesting exercise, in a way, just to see whose creation turned out to be the greatest of all Ummagumma.
And the answer is, without a doubt, Rick Wright's! That's a little surprising considering I thought the most effective songwriters were going to be either Roger Waters or David Gilmour, but hey! They came up with good stuff, too! It's just not as good as what Rick Wright came up with. His four-part "Sysyphus" series begins with some medieval fanfare music that sounds like it's right out of a cheesy, artful '60s film. After that, he treats us to some of his modern piano, which has some real emotion to it. The third part features a disjointed rhythm section and what sounds like a lot of spooky mouse calls. The fourth part is the real masterpiece of the album, an extremely absorbing and atmospheric instrumental that begins sinisterly pleasant, but then turns into something that's right out of hell. It sends shivers down my spine!
Roger Waters' "Grantchester" follows, and it's a laid-back and very long-drawn-out folk song. The melody shows that Waters has improved his melodies quite a bit, as it proves to be rather interesting. I might not care too much for that somewhat excessive seven-minute running length, but somehow I really adore this song in spite of that. It transfers me to a happy green summer meadow ... something I don't get from any other song. It's also the most normalish song on the album, but don't let that fool you; Waters was biding his time to unleash what's perhaps the weirdest track of the album! It's called “ Several Species of Furry Animals Gathered in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict,” which is the closest thing you'll ever get to hearing what a squirrel symphony sounds like. ...It's really bizarre, and makes me erupt in laughter frequently.
Next, David Gilmour has a go at it with the "The Narrow Way" song trilogy, which I like, but I'm not overall enthusiastic about. Although be sure not to miss Part 2, because it sounds exactly like the underground music from Mario Bros. 2! The third part is interesting in the sense we get one of Gilmour's smooth, cool melodies, which is strongly reminiscent of his trademark Dark Side of the Moon style. I was even less impressed Nick Mason's "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party" trilogy, which is almost more of a sound-effects collage than anything else. Well, he tried at least, and that's definitely worth something!
Now, let's talk about the live portion of the album! It only has four (very long) songs on it! The first is an excellent live version of "Astronomy Domine." I also really like the following "Careful With that Axe Eugene" if it's only because of that thoroughly FRIGHTENING demon scream in the middle of it. "Set The Controls For the Sun" isn't quite as fantastic as the others on the disc, but it's hard to not freak out with that one ... except I'm immune to freaky stuff by then. "A Saucerful of Secrets" is a particular highlight for me, especially the end when the organ starts sailing off!
Well, I just went through every track in this introduction. And I'm going to go through every track in the track reviews. I just repeat myself! I will, however, attempt to make one general sweeping paragraph about this album for all ya'll and then call it a night. This is one of the most entertaining and effective avant-garde albums out there. Even Frank Zappa's never come close to topping it. Pink Floyd was quite a successful “experimental” band! This is a highly surreal album. Some of it's a nightmare, some of it's quite pleasant, and some of it is dead-boring. At any rate, Ummagumma is one of those albums that every rock fan should hear if for no other reason than to be able to tell people that you have.
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Atom Heart Mother (1970)
Album Score: 9
After Pink Floyd did everything humanly possible in the realm of nutso avant-garde experimentalism in their completely amazing double album Ummagumma, they take about eight day's worth of sedatives and deliver this not-so-crazy progressive rock album. I didn't like it very much when I wrote my original review of this album. I said it was boring and kind of stupid. I was only two years younger, but I must've had a lot more hormones pumping through my veins. You have to be able to sit through a lot of uneventful stuff if you're going to successfully listen to this album, and hormones aren't going to help matters.
Even though I increased the rating a notch, I still think Atom Heart Mother is too boring for its own good. Maybe in another two years when I'm 28, I'll have calmed down even more, and I'll increase the rating again. Until then, let's talk about this decidedly mediocre pre-DSOTM Pink Floyd album!
If you're into 23-minute long prog instrumentals, then you have quite a doozie in here with the title track. Sometimes, they return to their atonal avant-garde aspirations from Ummagumma, but other times it sounds like they're warming up to play Dark Side of the Moon! Ah, they took sedatives indeed! Well, that suite is interesting if you're willing to sit down and pay attention to it. You're require to have a generally longer attention span than I have, because even in my relatively tranquilized status as a 26-year-old I get a bit antsy sitting through it. I'm also a little bit upset that they made that song so freaking long since it's so repetitive. I can't think of a very good reason for it to exist beyond the 14-minute mark when that choir starts speaking Klingon. There are no new ideas to speak of.
The other songs are thankfully not quite as long, but I can't say any of them are particularly more compelling. "If" is a boring old folk song. Roger Waters tried this sort of ultra-calm pastoral stuff in Ummagumma by the name of “Granchester Meadows.” Yeah, that was a boring song as well, but at least that one had the good sense of transporting me to a sunny meadow somewhere where I was sitting back and lazing in the sun. “If” just makes my eyelids droopy.
Rick Wright's pop song "Summer '68" is better thanks to it being more awesome. It begins with a neutered piano solo, but it gets better when that organ pops up, giving it a cool sort of 'instrumental explosion' that carries me along for the ride until the end. The final half of it resembles an Association-style sunshine pop song. The melody could have stood to be catchier, but ... hm ... I don't think Pink Floyd knew how to write catchy melodies at this point. At least since that one nutty guy left. But anyway. This song is perfectly adequate, so treasure the moment!
David Gilmour's "Fat Old Sun," on the other hand, is lame! Oh, and Ray Davies? I didn't notice it at first until it was pointed out to me, but his voice sounds exactly like Ray Davies'! To be honest, I don't have a huge problem with one band shamelessly copying the style of another, but the next time I read a quote about Andrew Lloyd Webber stealing “Echoes,” I'm gonna raise a ruckus. “The Phantom of the Opera” might use some of the same notes, but at least it wasn't LAME! Yeah, that's right; I'm an Andrew Lloyd Webber sympathizer, and I'm proud of it!
The 13-minute “Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast” is about as interesting as listening to someone eat breakfast, because that's literally what it is. Sure, they interrupt those munchingly good times for these lengthy piano passages that are so boring that I seriously wonder if I'd rather just listen to that guy munch on his cereal. I guess when I listen to the cereal, I can fondly recall all the good times I've had with cereal over the past. ..........Hmm.
In the end, Atom Heart Mother is the sort of album that only Pink Floyd's die-hard fans could possibly appreciate. And even then, I'd wonder if they're just being nice to them. But whatever. People think I'm nuts for liking David Bowie, so each onto his own! The only thing interesting I find about this release is that I can occasionally detect a little bit of Dark Side of the Moon in it. So you can throw the term 'transitional' at it, I guess. Record reviewers always like to throw that term around willy-nilly, so why not me? I'm as willy nilly as the lot of them if not more so.
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Album Score: 10
This is a compilation and usually something I wouldn't review, but everyone else who reviews band discographies like this have all reviewed Relics. So I wouldn't be doing my duty as a grade-A nerd if I didn't review this as well. Not that I resent dedicating a few hours out of my life to telling the world what I think about it; after all, it does contain a few essential Pink Floyd gems from their Syd-Barrett-led era that I would probably not have reviewed otherwise. But at the same time, half of the album are things that I already talked about in my previous reviews. Hm! Making me review them twice, are we? Do they think my time isn't valuable, or something? ...Oh, right... I just answered my own question.
They wisely begin the album with “Arnold Layne,” one extremely out-there Syd Barrett pop song that everyone has got to hear no matter what! It's trippy, it's weird, it's entertaining. It's really hard to pinpoint what makes these Syd Barrett compositions tick. The melodies are usually very choppy and disconnected. They don't have “hooks” in the normal sense of the term. But I listen to them, and all I know is that they work. He was a mad genius, indeed!
And you can tell how much of a mad genius he was when you can directly compare songs like that to the stuff Roger Waters and Rick Wright were composing. They were obviously trying to write in the same trippy style, but they're not even nearly as engaging. Wright's “Remember a Day” has that disconnected melody, but it doesn't have enough of that inertia to put me in that menacing trance that Syd Barrett's songs have so effortlessly been able to do. Roger Waters' “Julia Dream” also attempts to be trippy and psychedelic, but it's very slow moving and rather unmemorable by the end. Boo! We want more Syd!
And more Syd you shall receive. Relics has that mega-classic “See Emily Play” in it that is fully packed with the oddball charisma of a true lunatic. The melody also happens to be catchy in normal ways, which is probably the only time that he's ever accomplished that. It's probable that Barrett just happened upon that melody like stoned farmers happen upon UFOs, but let's enjoy it while it lasts! The instrumentation includes an echoey, prepared piano and a completely maniacal instrumental interlude. Definitely take some time to hear this one... Don't just settle for David Bowie's version. (Even though I like his version!)
They also include Rick Wright's “Paintbox,” which was a B-side to another Syd Barrett mega-classic “Apples and Oranges,” which was left off this compilation for some unknown reason. But “Paintbox” is a decent song anyway. It has more of a bouncy, lighthearted nature, which is a quality that you just plum don't get from Barrett. It would have been interesting to hear the song without all the stuff they added to it to make it seem more psychedelic. It would have made a better Brit-pop song than the psychedelic anthem it was pretending to be.
Roger Waters also had a jazzy song, “Biding My Time” sitting around in the vaults. It's not very Pink-Floydian in any sense of the term. The chord progressions, for a start, are quite generic and boring! Sometimes the only think I like hearing in Pink Floyd songs is their interesting chord progressions! But whatever. You can hear them play guitar on it. That's what everybody in the world likes to hear, right? Nobody except me pays any attention to bloody chord progressions. They also gave us the opportunity to hear the studio version of “Careful With That Axe, Eugene.” It makes an OK listen, especially if you like their cosmic-rock-jam stuff; just know that the live version on Ummagumma is far more energetic and spirited.
Other than that, everything else appeared on their discography already including the nine-minute “Interstellar Overdrive!” Yeah, I still love that cosmic rocker! Songs like “Cirrus Minor” and “The Nile Song” weren't the great shakes to begin with and didn't have much business being featured on a compilation ... especially over old unreleased classics like Barrett's bizarre “Vegetable Man.” Hm. Pink Floyd totally should have consulted somebody before picking this track listing. Was it all about commission, or something?
I'd imagine most people nowadays would create a much better compilation picking and choosing songs from iTunes. While Relics picks up on some of the gems from their psychedelic era, it's still missing some highly thought-of songs such as “Candy on a Currant Bun” and “Scream Thy Scream.” There are other Waters-era songs such as “Point Me to the Sky,” “It Would Be Nice” and others you could place on your homemade compilation album if you'd like. Nobody needs Relics. Everybody needs your homemade compilation!
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Album Score: 11
After lallygagging for many years in their post-Barrett confusion rife with scattershot experimentalism, Pink Floyd as we knew it finally took shape. This is a well-planned album of smooth-flowing song development and cold atmospheres. They hadn't far to go, stylistically, to get to Dark Side of the Moon. And, as I've said plenty of times in my earlier Pink Floyd reviews, these guys would sound a lot better if they would settle down and pick a style of their own that their hearts were into. (Of course, that's easy for me to say, since I've already seen their future!)
Now, it looks like they figured out how to write memorable prog epics. The 23-minute, side-long “Echoes” consists half of the album, and it's the most technically amazing thing they've done since Piper at the Gates of Dawn. They create a brilliantly captivating atmosphere that's capable of engaging me from beginning to end. And that was hard to do considering it develops very slowly and the middle of it consists of a ghoulish array of creepy sound effects! But the secret of that song's success is that it captures me from the very beginning, hypnotizing me with its soothing atmosphere, and holding my concentration until its conclusion. That's as good of a song as any to space out to, and who knows what sorts of weird journeys it'll take you on? I mentioned the ghoulish sound effects already, but there's also a nicely melodic pop song weaved in here that is strongly reminiscent of their DSOTM ditties. It's a brilliant composition, and one that I'm sure they're quite fond of.
The opening track is also a slow-developer that's mightily interesting to sit through regardless. It gets a little psychologically tortured in the middle with a wobbly guitar solo that sounds like they were playing it through a giant fan! Maybe it could have been more interesting, melodically, but the whole point of it is only the atmospheres, which they nailed swimmingly.
“A Pillow of Wind” is a folkish number, a genre that these guys had tried plenty of times in their past, but the soothing atmosphere and Gilmour's silky smooth voices are all immediately recognizable trademarks of Dark Side of the Moon. The melody is so-so, but even in their landmark classic, the melodies aren't exactly brilliant you know! “Fearless” is also a good lightweight number. The riff is very unusual and complicated, although I don't feel that it was quite strong enough to warrant that six-minute running length! But once again, that's another example of these guys' newfound abilities to create more soothing atmospheres that's nice to sit back and soak up. It's not a very memorable experience, but it has a tendency to grow on you.
The other two tracks are the oddballs, and I could care less if they even existed. Take the low-key tropical tune "San Tropez.” The melody isn't memorable, and the sleepy way they treat that song makes it little more than throwaway. Of course, it's nice to listen to and doesn't really do any harm. The blues "Seamus" is pretty lame, though, and its littered with annoying dog howl calls throughout. ...And why are they doing blues anyway? That's not something you'd expect Pink Floyd to do, and it's something that they shouldn't do. Stick to the “Echoes” stuff, please!
It's probably unfair of me to have continuously compared Meddle with an album that didn't exist yet, but that's what you get when you've created a great landmark of rock 'n' roll, and the build-up to that point is as obvious as the nose on my face. (And it's a substantially sized nose, mind you.) Sure, Meddle is good enough to warrant a high rating in its own right, a near-12. Even if Dark Side of the Moon didn't exist, I'd still say this deserves to be a prized member of any prog nerd's collection.
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Obscured By Clouds (1972)
Album Score: 11
There's a lot of academic interest here. This soundtrack album is Pink Floyd's immediate predecessor to their magnum opus, Dark Side of the Moon, and the resemblance of some of these songs are uncanny. The main difference between the albums is that Obscured By Clouds is far less polished. It's also less pretentious, which is apparently a relief to rock fans who are sick of the endless DSOTM worship! At any rate, this has been a relatively ignored album in the Pink Floyd discography, and it's not for very good reason. Yes, its status as a soundtrack album (to another French movie that nobody has seen), but most of these songs feature those trademark, cool singing voices and plenty of laid-back synthscapes. It seems like this is where Pink Floyd laid the groundwork for DSOTM.
Just hear how the title track starts: Complete silence! I'm sure you've put Dark Side of the Moon on plenty of times, not hear anything play at all for the first 20 seconds, and as soon as you check to make sure your music player isn't malfunctioning, you hear quiet sounds slowly start to fade in. This time, it's a low, buzzy synthesizer and a hypnotic drum-machine-like rhythm. There are two other songs here that begin with total silence, “Childhood's End” and “ Absolutely Curtains.” The former even contains a heart-beat like bongo drum in the fade in, which conjures extreme DSOTM flashbacks! (Once again, I'm comparing a Pink Floyd album to an album they hadn't written yet... But these comparisons are pretty much necessary since this is how everybody and everybody's dog is going to hear it!)
I really like listening to “Stay,” which features a broody but hopeful piano performance from Richard Wright. That's strongly reminiscent of “The Great Gig in the Sky.” It's not as good of course, because it's not nearly as polished, dramatic and atmospheric, but it's still quite a treat for any seasoned Pink Floyd fan. Heck, if for nothing else, listen to it for David Gilmour's laid-back and masterful guitar solos! Plus, the melody is really nice. It's wonderful to finally hear these guys put together decent melodies after all these years; they've gradually been getting better and better.
The best melody of them all occurs on “Wots... Uh the Deal,” an extremely pleasant folk-rocker. They've been trying to write folk music since Ummagumma and it wasn't until now they actually came up with a memorable one. That free-flowing flowing melody is prettier than a daisy, and I'm captivated by that sweet descending acoustic guitar riff they came up with. It'll hardly slap you in the face like the great songs of Dark Side of the Moon would, but it's a very friendly and warm tune, and I like it!
But naturally, these guys' specialty was their cool synthesizer textures, and there's a crapload of that in here. “”Burning Bridges” and “Mudmen” both wallow around in those dark, deep and dramatic atmospheres. Naturally, David Gilmour takes the opportunity to come in with some truly magnificent guitar solos, particularly in “Mudmen.” There's a lot of talk about Gilmour being the greatest guitarist ever. I'm undecided (and I'll probably never decide), but I love hearing some of the stuff he comes up with. He approaches his solos almost like a nuclear scientist would approach an experiment; calculating, cold, and sometimes mindblowing.
Maybe the weirdest songs in Obscured By Clouds are the ones that most resemble rock 'n' roll. I mean, talk about going out of your element! The first time I heard “When You're In” play, its simple riff reminded me of Electric Warrior era T. Rex, except of course the texture is more complicated that. The pop number “Free Four” features a handclap of all things, and it's very untypical of them. I halfway like both of these songs, but I gotta be honest and say that both of them sound stupid.
Naturally, Obscured By Clouds doesn't even approach the pure greatness of Dark Side of the Moon. I probably could have said that without even hearing the album, and a lot of people I'm sure are literally doing that as we speak. But, if you're like me and you've heard Dark Side of the Moon eight billion times in the past year and you long for a similarly sounding album, then Obscured By Clouds is the best possible option for you.
Read the track reviews:
Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Album Score: 14
Really, I don't know why I'm even bothering to review this. Everybody on the planet has listened to Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety even if they don't realize it. I'm not kidding when I say that I used to work at a movie theater that played this album endlessly on loop. What's more, nobody ever complained about it, not even the workers. That's the sort of album this is; it is universally loved by everybody. Since I count myself in the number of people who love it, I pretty much agree with what writers have been saying for years about this. I'm sad to say that I don't have anything particularly original to say; I'm not very insightful as a reviewer, so thanks for bearing with me!
This was *the* turning point for Pink Floyd's career. Everything they would release after this point would be compared to Dark Side of the Moon and they knew it. There would be no more half-baked soundtrack albums, or halfhearted experiments; everything else would be worthy of Dark Side of the Moon, or it would be bust. (That is, until the '80s.) This is, by all accounts, an extremely polished progressive rock record where every track seems to flawlessly meld together. It's a generally mellow album, which is probably why so many people find it easy to like, but it also has a number of maddening spots to keep it interesting. The instrumentation is highly polished and developed, and they seem to nail every emotion that they were trying to convey. It can sometimes come off as rather cold and calculated, but it's also beautiful. Along with everyone else in the world, I love this album, and I listened to it approximately 1.1 billion times.
What makes Dark Side of the Moon so special is that Pink Floyd finally figured out how to meld sound effects with music. That's something they tried rather extensively before, notoriously in Atom Heart Mother, without much success. However, in Dark Side of the Moon, they manage to make the music and the sound effects work hand in hand. Pink Floyd had a little help in that department from an up-and-coming sound engineer, Alan Parsons, who would eventually bring his talents to his own, impressive solo career. They also managed to work in a remarkably interesting lyrical theme throughout this: madness. That was a subject that hit very close to home for them, of course, since they witnessed one of their former bandmates go mad before their very eyes. It also happens to be a subject that I've always been fascinated with; I've always wondered what it would be like to be irretrievably removed from reality. Needless to say, this album along with the ending of the great movie Brazil has helped me muse that question many times over the years!
It's often been said that Dark Side of the Moon is a greatly influential album, and I'm a little bit skeptical about agreeing with that assessment. Surely, on the sound mixing standpoint, it's probably influential. But, musically, this album doesn't have anything particularly new to offer. For example, if you strip “Breathe” and “Money” away from its sound effects and its impeccably clear instrumentation, you have ordinary lounge-jazz. Fresh lounge-jazz, of course, but it's lounge-jazz all the same.
For an album with essentially no weak spots, I have an unusually easy time picking a favorite song. That's “The Great Gig in the Sky” featuring that iconic, tortured lyricless singing from Clare Torry, which I'm sure we all know by heart. There's a lot of heartbreak in that vocal performance, and Richard Wright's minor chord keyboard sequence is equally as soul-bearing. “Us and Them” is another favorite of mine, a gorgeously mellow songs that features one of the most powerful choruses that I ever remember hearing in pop-rock. It even has a great melody, which is nice since Pink Floyd are usually not known for melodies.
I've also got to mention the guitars, even though other writers have gone into much more detail about those. I'm glad to report that Pink Floyd gave their guitars just as much extra effort as they gave the sound effects. Everything they do seems masterful. That sliding guitar in “Breathe” is beautiful, the guitar solo in “Time” is nearly face-melting, and the guitar in the latter half of “Any Colour You Like” is completely mad. There's more to say about that, but, again, I'm not the best person to write extensive guitar analyses.
By the way, if you watch this along with The Wizard of Oz, it syncs up. Kinda cool, eh? But you knew that already, too, didn't you? Once again, there was really no need to write this review, and probably no reason for you to read it. I did warn you about that, you know!
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Wish You Were Here (1975)
Album Score: 12
I don't think I'm alone in my initial reaction toward Wish You Were Here. I bought it back in 2001 when I was still in my rock 'n' roll infancy. I was frequently listening to my freshly purchased copies of Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, and I loved them so much that I wanted MORE! (Not the actual Pink Floyd album, More. I didn't get around to listening to that one until four years later.) The first time I put on Wish You Were Here, I didn't even listen to it the whole way through. I thought, “Booooooring!,” and I put it in my huge CD case where CDs go to die.
Even though I growed up since then, I still get that sinking feeling that Wish You Were Here isn't anywhere near as compelling as Dark Side of the Moon. The melodies aren't quite as catchy, the moods don't shift as masterfully, they don't give us near the amount of interesting sound effects... Hmph! Why couldn't Pink Floyd have done what the public wanted them to do and just blindly made a clone of their huge success?
I guess they thought of themselves as real artists, so they weren't going to make CLONES. They wanted to try out other things. ...Or, rather, they wanted to delve a little more deeply into something they had previously tried: true-blue progressive rock. This album consists of a song called “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” which comes in nine sections (all of which are labeled) and spans more than 26 minutes. They do split it up; Parts I-V open the album and Parts VI-IX end the album. All in all, it is excellent, gradually shifting between moods and constantly impressing us with their instrumentation standards. This suite is mostly an instrumental, but the brief sections when we do get a vocal melody are by far the most memorable moments. The lyrics are about Syd Barrett, which also happened to be what most of Dark Side of the Moon was about. ...Wow, they must have been really spooked by his ascent into insanity! Even more spooky, according to legend, Barrett himself suddenly showed up in the studio when Pink Floyd was recording this... Yeesh!
It seems that Rick Wright gets more chances to noodle around throughout this album than he did in Dark Side of the Moon, and that's just fine, but David Gilmour's noodles prove to be far more interesting. Perhaps it's just the nature of the instrument, but Gilmour managed to make his guitar sound like it's almost “talking.” You'll have to listen to it! I frequently find myself hanging onto it for dear life! Wright's synthesizers come off as very plain by comparison, although he does really shine on a few occasions. Particularly in “Welcome to the Machine” where he comes up with a truly amazing, echoed tone that matches the lonely, desperate mood of the atmosphere perfectly. My only complaint about that song is it lasts more than seven minutes without ever evolving out of that depressing void! Though I liked Wright's solo, I thought it was overkill for him to have a second one that happens to sound exactly like the first. That piece also features sound effects that flagrantly zip in and out of the speakers, which I suppose were supposed to represent the “machine.” Compared to the sound-effects in DSOTM those are almost passive, though. Not that that's a bad thing. Waters' main vocal melody is nicely written, and he sings it with an appropriately cold desperation.
“Have a Cigar” is a little bit funkier, and quite good, but I end up getting a little bit bored of it. It sounds relatively clunky and I can't say there's much about it that I really take away. The vocal melody could have been catchier, and perhaps they could have done something more with the atmosphere and textures. Hm. “Wish You Were Here” is really good, though, featuring one of their more engaging melodies. It's essentially an acoustic folk song (a genre that they tried out multiple times pre-DSOTM), and it's easily one of their better ones. It's very mellow and nice to sit back and listen to!
I might have gone the predictable route and spent this review complaining that Wish You Were Here doesn't interest me nearly as much as Dark Side of the Moon, but there is actually a good reason for that reputation. It just isn't as good! Nonetheless, this remains a well-planned album that was meticulously carried out. It's very dark and depressing, but many of the atmospheres are developed well enough to transport me into an alternate realm, and as I mentioned on more than one occasion, Gilmour has some really good solos in here.
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Album Score: 13
Wow, this is stunningly the least pretentious-sounding of Pink Floyd's classic string of 1973-1979 albums, and yet it somehow beats all of 'em in terms of its scope and concept. I say this is a relatively unpretentious Pink Floyd record even though there are only four songs on here, three of which are more than 10 minutes long. Unlike their earlier albums (and their later one), Pink Floyd seem content with simpler instrumental textures instead of those complicated, sound-effects ridden ideas. It's like this is a straight rock 'n' roll album, almost. Just listen to the way this album starts and closes, and you'll hear exactly what I mean.
This album opens and closes with the brief song “Pigs on a Wing,” which is nothin' but Roger Waters singing to an acoustic guitar. That's nothing new from Pink Floyd, of course, but it's been awhile since they did that, and they certainly never opened an album with something so simple before. I like the melody, and I also like the sort of despondent way that Roger Waters delivers the vocal melody, which sets the tone for the rest of the album. This is a terribly angry and spiteful album, an emotion that Waters nailed masterfully all throughout this!
And why did I give exclusive credit to Roger Waters for creating this emotion? Because he was Pink Floyd's ruthless dictator; David Gilmour, Rick Wright and Nick Mason had only limited input on the songwriting of Animals. That might have been heartless on Waters' part, but sometimes dictators make the trains run on time, so I won't complain! (Gilmour would later have a chance to be a ruthless dictator over Pink Floyd, but that resulted in A Momentary Lapse of Reason, so...) Although Gilmour still has the chance to deliver a good vocal performance sometimes, and his guitar-work throughout this album, of course, is the reason everyone considers him a legend.
The three major songs on here are all very long, but have strikingly short song titles, “Dogs,” “Pigs,” and “Sheep.” The animal names also point at the general concept of this album, being a sort of version of George Orwell's Animal Farm. Reading the lyrics, you can hear Waters hurling all sorts of angry words toward the privileged class. I do like these lyrics, and I might add that it's refreshing to hear for the first time a conceptual Pink Floyd album that's not about insanity!
Even through these songs are essentially meandering jam tunes all based on the same, central melodic theme, they all manage to develop in interesting ways. Every one of these songs starts with a vocal melody that's spitefully delivered with gruffer electric guitars and interesting drum patterns backing it up. This part eventually “explodes” when the song reverts to an exclusively instrumental phase. The moods oftentimes shift around dramatically in the course of a few minutes, which makes listening to these lengthy diversions oftentimes engaging and exciting. You can tell that this song (and the other two) were very meticulously crafted, but they were constructed with engagingly simple rock 'n' roll instrumentation. Rick Wright wasn't given the chance to come up with some cool synthesizer tones! But heck, it's also nice to hear the guy play an actual piano, pure organ, and some normal synthesizers, too!
My favorite song on here is probably “Pigs,” but that was something of a difficult decision to make! In general, I think the central vocal melody is catchier, and I love that gruff guitar pattern that backs him up. In the meandering parts, I think the moods evolve even more interestingly than the other two songs, and I adore some of the chord sequences they came up with. Gilmour's dreary guitar-work deeply in the background lends this song an engaging landscape. The strange pig-like sound effects going “wowowwowowwwoow” all the time are weird and scary. That's a great progressive rock song, and it doesn't get boring for one millisecond.
I'll have to admit that I didn't give Animals a very good listen until I wrote this review, which explains my complete lack of insight in this review! Although, come to think of it, this is probably Pink Floyd's least-hailed album of their classic 1973-1979 period. If you were like me and had Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall memorized, but somehow never got around to listening to Animals yet, you are ignoring this album at your own peril! I wish I started listening to this album five years ago.
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The Wall (1979)
Album Score: 13
How many rock albums out there are more famous than The Wall? Eight, maybe. This is the final Pink Floyd album to have any sort of significance to the public at large, and for that matter it's the last major art-rock album ever released. This album not only has a hugely complex and absorbing plot similar to the size and scope of other huge rock operas like Tommy and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, but it also has a solid handful of singles that still gets endless airplay on the classic rock radio station. As you know already, this album has that incredibly popular song with the kids' choir growling “We don't need no education!,” and it also has the gorgeous and absorbing ballads “Hey You” and “Comfortably Numb” in it. Why, those things alone were enough to create an excellent album for the ages! But there there is so much, much, much more to this album...
Roger Waters, who still overwhelmingly dominated the band, really outdid himself in terms of songwriting. This is, without a doubt, the hookiest album Pink Floyd ever released. Particularly in the first half of the album, the concentration of catchy pop hooks are almost as solid as a Beatles album. Waters hasn't been known to the world as such a natural at melodies, but despite that he managed to pull out quite an amazing set of memorable melodies! Waters, with the help of producer Bob Ezrin, managed to even out-do one of the things Dark Side of the Moon is most hailed for: the brilliantly executed sound effects. From those deathly helicopter noises, to the angry school master, to that little girl pointing out the airplane in the sky, the annoying groupie, smashing the television set... It's all very brilliantly done. I don't think anyone's done it better. Perhaps even better are those incredibly abrupt mood changes... If you happen to be listening to a calm folk ballad at one point, you know it's only a matter of time before it suddenly changes to a much harder and louder part!
All-time favorite thing about the first half of the first side of the album is how it very slowly builds up to “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2.” We sit through a rather extensive introduction that spans through two tracks; “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1” provides a very anticipatory guitar texture with some terribly absorbing minimalist fireworks from Gilmour, and that flows to the more driving and dynamic “The Happiest Days of Our Life.” And then it's BOOM: The song that everybody in the world knows by heart. I'm also a major fan of the ballad “Mother,” in which Roger Waters shows us just how good of a singer he was. The lyrics all throughout this album are depressing and angst-ridden, and Waters' broken vocals there goes to intensify that emotion.
The first disc is about as perfect as it could possibly get. The second disc unfortunately is where it tends to go sour and ends up betraying a lot of what went on in the first disc. My biggest complaint about the second half is that it doesn't develop nearly as interestingly as the first half. The sound effects are much less dynamic, the melodic hooks are less absorbing, and the vast majority of the songs are slow, dreary ballads. That said, these are still some of the finest dreary ballads ever written, particularly “Hey You” and “Comfortably Numb,” but it gets a bit trying sitting through all of that without bothering to ROCK out like they did so frequently in the first half. They also tend to repeat a lot of ideas in the first half for no real reason. Particularly the track “Waiting For the Worms,” which is little more than a reprisal collage, and it's rather sluggishly developed.
The only moment in the second half of the album where they do finally have an upbeat song is “Run Like Hell,” but that song merely comes off as a sub-par clone of “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” and “Young Lust.” Seriously, while I respect Roger Waters' ambition to create a double album rock opera, it seems like he really didn't have enough ideas to pan it out. Probably the worst idea that he had was to close the album with a Broadway-style number called “The Trial.” While that's pretty good as far as Broadway songs go (and I've heard a lot of those, believe me), it doesn't fit the art-rock style of the album whatsoever, and it is a very weak and unfortunate way to end the album. ...Other than that, I like the second half of The Wall just fine.
I would say that the first half of The Wall eclipses DSOTM in many ways, but the second half is inconsistent enough to let DSOTM keep its status as the ultimate Pink Floyd album. At any rate, both albums are considered major classics for very good reasons. I have listened to The Wall many, many times in my day, and I plan to continue that practice.
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The Final Cut (1983)
Album Score: 11
The world waited four years for the follow-up to The Wall, and what they got was an album that the world subsequently forgot about. The reason everyone forgets about this album isn't because the world of music was a different place in 1983 than it was in 1979, but the actual music contained within this disc is about as bleak and forgettable as it could possibly be. Apart from a few 'bursts' of energy here and there, this album consists overwhelmingly of Waters muttering in silence. When I say “silence,” what I really mean is that there is instrumentation here, but it's very minimal most of the time that it's only a few notches away from being nonexistent.
It's pretty obvious the main reason Roger Waters even pressed this album was to showcase all these lyrics he wrote. Evidently, he didn't have any more melodies like The Wall inside of him. If you've read the lyrics, you'll probably note that they're brilliant. Waters' oftentimes heartbreaking delivery gives me the impression that he believes what he is singing about, which is a quality that I'm used to getting out of Bob Dylan and John Lennon. I'd say the lyrics and the vocal delivery are the main reason why I, in my infinite wisdom, decided to grant this album such a high rating. ...But in all honesty, the melodies and instrumentation are so boring that I'm almost wondering if these lyrics would be more effective if you were to simply read them with some Shostakovich playing in the background.
When I credited this album to “Roger Waters” instead of “Pink Floyd,” that was pretty much accurate. David Gilmour and Nick Mason didn't have anything to do with the songwriting... and, truth be told, they don't play their instruments all that much. (Rick Wright, as you might remember from The Wall, had been fired from the band due to Waters' dickery.) Just to prove how overall bleak and boring this album is, the only parts where my interest is thoroughly piqued are those brief moments when Gilmour is unleashed and is allowed to shred a few notes here and there. It really shouldn't be a surprise when I note that my favorite part of this whole record is “Not Now John” where Gilmour not only plays his guitar throughout the whole track, but Nick Mason plays a steady rhythm through much of it! Trust me, you'll never appreciate a steady beat more than you will after giving this album a listen! It's funny that I like that song so much considering that the melody consists only of one hook that gets repeated over and over and over. As I said, Waters' melodic ideas were pretty much dried up after The Wall.
My second favorite track of the album is probably “The Gunner's Dream,” which has a chord-progression in the chorus that really strikes me as Lennon-esque. This progression isn't revolutionary or anything, and truth be told it reminds me a little bit of a cliched show-tune, but at least it helps give that song an added bit of life beyond Waters' dull mumblings. The title track is another one of the rare songs of this album that I think has good orchestration. The full orchestra swells help accent Waters' desperate vocal performance and passable melodic hooks, and the chorus is highly reminiscent of “Comfortably Numb,” which can never be a bad thing! There's some other moments on The Final Cut that captures me, but I'd say there weren't enough of them. Orchestrally and harmonically bleak albums like this are really hard for me to enjoy.
Right, I'm sure most of you The Final Cut-enablers think I'm missing the point as I'm describing these songs based on their musical qualities. Well, you're probably right about that since The Final Cut is more lyrics-centered than most Bob Dylan albums. ...On the other hand, I'm not a person who listens to music for the lyrics. I mean, you might be a person who listens to music for lyrics, but then you'd be a completely different person than I am. I tend to concentrate on melody, harmonies, instrumentation, and vocal performances... and as far as I'm concerned, the only one of those areas this album does consistently well at is “vocal performances.” ...And I'm being particularly nice there considering how often Waters just mutters through much of this.
Even then, I guess I was generally pleased with the album as I was scoring the track reviews. This is an album that you have to work at to like. While I wish that Waters gave it a little bit more effort in spots, this isn't musically bad. It just could have been livelier in spots. This is the sort of album that you're going to have to work pretty hard to appreciate. If you think you're up for the challenge, then it's certainly worth the time and effort you'll put into it. After all, these lyrics will potentially contain some very rich rewards for you.
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A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
Album Score: 8
I don't have anything against David Gilmour releasing albums under the name Pink Floyd even though he didn't have Roger Waters' participation. If nothing else, Gilmour was being a good businessman. After all, the name had a lot of money in it for him not only in terms of selling records, but also for going on tours. Waters wanted nothing to do with the band name anymore, so there's no point in letting such an obvious cash-cow lie there, going wasted. So, good for David Gilmour, and good for capitalism, too. He also had Nick Mason and Rick Wright with him for moral support, although I understand that they didn't actually play much on this album.
The thing I will blame Gilmour for is not rising to the challenge of writing an album that's actually worthy of Pink Floyd's good name. Sure, it sounds an awful lot like a Pink Floyd—there's a lot of sound effects, despondent moods, and (naturally) plenty of Gilmour's guitar noodles. Unfortunately, Gilmour was only going through the motions; I can't find that familiar old Pink Floyd “soul” anywhere in this. Even more basic than that, Gilmour even neglected to write a consistent set of songs. The majority of this material is mediocre at best.
Even though A Momentary Lapse of Reason disappointed far more Pink Floyd fans than it delighted, I can't say that this was a completely wasted effort. Gilmour might have had nothing of Waters' songwriting talent, but he still had workable ideas then and again. He also knew when to accept a bit of songwriting help, since it seems the best songs of this album are the ones that where he shared a songwriting credit. He co-wrote the compelling “Learning to Fly” with keyboardist Jon Carin, producer Bob Ezrin, and lyricist Anthony Moore of Slapp Happy. It's a terrific song with a catchy melody and punchy instrumentation. My favorite song of the whole album is “One Slip,” which was co-written with Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera. That song has a particularly good xylophone-led texture going throughout it, and the main vocal melody is quite striking and memorable. Those two songs are what makes A Momentary Lapse of Reason worth at least one listen in your lifetime.
Unfortunately, the other songs have the terrible tendency to grow dull. The album opener “Signs of Life” begins with rather neat sound-effect of water rippling off a dock, which immediately puts me in an isolated mood. Unfortunately, the music that follows it doesn't prolong that feeling of loneliness even though it seemed to try to. It's just a dull instrumental that's not that many notches above elevator muzak. I'd have to say the best thing about that song, and for the rest of the album for that matter, is Gilmour's electric guitar noodles... But even then, Gilmour's guitars don't sound nearly as good as they did on DSOTM or The Wall. I'm going to have to guess it was Waters who ended up driving Gilmour's finest moments out of him.
“The Dogs of War” isn't bad, and I like that ultra-dark string pulse throughout it as well as Gilmour's compellingly angry vocal performance. It's very dramatic, and I'm almost able to get caught up in it. What's keeping me from liking it is (surprise!) a very, very boring the melody and dull harmonies. Instead of a song that could have scared the living bejeezus out of me, he only delivered something I get really bored with. “Yet Another Movie / Round and Round” is even worse, and it seems to go on foreeeeeever. All things considered, that song is the album's major snooze-fest.
The absolute nadir of the album, a duo of songs titled “A New Machine,” which are a cappella tracks sung through some sort of frilly vocoder. Geez, you sure can't make an album sound more '80s and cheesy than trying to impress us with a vocoder! The rest of the album sounded very '80s as it was thanks to all those ultra-loud drums and the polished keyboards... The ending number, “Sorrow,” was an obvious attempt at a prog epic, and I will concede that Gilmour does a few nice things with it here and there. As a whole, though, it's just not challenging enough. It goes on for more than eight minutes, and I'm left shrugging my shoulders by the end telling it: “Is that all you got? ... Sheesh!”
As far as I'm concerned, A Momentary Lapse of Reason defines a mediocrity. It's not the most unpleasant experience I've ever had in pop-rock. There are a few worthwhile moments scattered here and there. But as a whole this thing is boring as hell. Successful moody albums draw me into their gloomy world and take me on a tour of its misery... All this album does is draw me to daydream about things that are completely unrelated to it.
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Delicate Sound of Thunder (1988)
Album Score: 9
This is one of the most widely derided live albums in existence, so when I took my first listen to it, I was expecting the worst. I don't know if it had something to do with my very low expectations, but I was actually surprised to have enjoyed listening to this fairly substantially. At the same time, this live double album does have its crippling shortcomings. Apart from one piece from A Momentary Lapse of Reason, not a single one of these songs even approaches their studio counterparts in terms of quality or entertainment-value. Making it worse is that Gilmour tries pretty hard to recreate a lot of these songs note-for-note as they appeared on the albums, which is a practice that effectively renders this live album valueless for most people. (I mean, who wants to own an imperfect version of “Time” and “Run Like Hell?”) But for the most part, I'd say these guys did a generally solid job.
My main problem with this album is that there are too many cuts from A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Apart from a surprisingly fantastic rendition of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” the first disc is nothing but material from that album. It's way too much to ask of us to sit through all of that! ...But I know it was completely unavoidable. Firstly, that's obviously the album Pink Floyd was touring to support, so they were going to perform a lot of cuts from that album whether anybody liked it or not. Secondly and most importantly, that's the only Pink Floyd album that David Gilmour was in charge of. He was getting enough flack as it was for reforming Pink Floyd without Roger Waters' blessing, and the last thing he needed to do was to completely leach off him for this live album!
While sitting through all that Momentary Lapse of Reason stuff is a moderately tedious task, particularly when they get to “Dogs of War,” I still don't think it was all a complete waste. I actually think this version of “Sorrow” is a little better than the studio cut. I'm probably alone on that one, but I find the crunchier and rawer textures of it slightly more appealing than the more heavily glossed studio version. However I'm extremely disappointed in this version of “Flying.” Gilmour's lead vocals are soooooo underwhelming; it sounds like the dude is falling asleep when the lyrics clearly indicate that he should sound EXCITED and FREE! Come on! Remember how happy you are to be free from the Tyrant Waters?
The second disc leads off with a relatively obscure track from Meddle, “One of These Days.” It's a good rendition of a fair song, but I'm not overly excited about it. The second track is “Time,” and that's what everyone wants to hear! It's good. I like it. But I also have to complain about the vocal performance, which again seems too lackadaisical. “Money” is also screwed up a little bit... The female back-up singers provide these rather annoying fills of “woo-woo!” and “moneeey!” all throughout, and they simply don't work. That track also marks the only occasion on this album when Gilmour's guitar noodles fail. He makes the detrimental error of stripping away the instrumentation while he's jamming away. That's definitive proof that Gilmour's solos only have chemistry when they're playing on equal terms with the groove and atmosphere. But on the plus side, I do love listening to “Us and Them” and particularly “Wish You Were Here” without inhibition. I think the former could've done without the fat sax solo in the middle, but the more unpretentious latter picks up a lot of soaring momentum.
All in all, I'd say the only classic song Gilmour completely butchered was “Run Like Hell,” which has this really annoying call-and-response type play acting going throughout it. Blech... Those back-up singers from “Money” don't seem very irritating compared to that! I also don't think they did that groove as solidly as it should have; somehow it's just not as much fun as the original incarnation. Disappointing.
In a nutshell, if every single note of a David Gilmour's extended guitar noodle makes you quiver with awe, then this live Pink Floyd album is for you. This is Gilmour's album, and he's all over the place. Otherwise, there's no point in even bothering with this. There are just waaaaay too many cuts from A Momentary Lapse of Reason on here to be worth your time or money. Making it worse is that most of the renditions of the classic songs are merely flawed versions of the originals, which basically no one needs. I'm certainly not one to claim this album doesn't have its major shortcomings, but I also don't think Delicate Sound of Thunder is such a major detriment to rock music as it is sometimes cracked up to be. It's a for-fans-only release for sure, but it's also kinda nice.
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The Division Bell (1994)
Album Score: 10
What a substantial improvement! David Gilmour's incarnation of Pink Floyd returns to us for one final studio album, and it dances circles around A Momentary Lapse of Reason! Sure, it's far from a perfect album, and it has more than its fair share of mind-numbingly boring spots, but I'd say as a whole this album might actually be worth hearing even for those who don't consider themselves intense Pink Floyd fans or dedicated discography completists.
The most important thing that must be said about this is that it's more of an actual Pink Floyd album whereas A Momentary Lapse of Reason was pretty much a glorified David Gilmour solo project. Rick Wright and Nick Mason appear on all parts of the album, and they also had a general say-so about the album's structure and concept. (OK, I don't have a friggin' clue about what the concept is! You know, I just don't always care enough to find out!) Gilmour also made a smart decision and married poet/journalist Polly Samson who wrote some generally thought-provoking lyrics for cheap!!! Or maybe it was simply out of love! ...Either way, it was a good idea for Gilmour to make a poet fall in love with him. That goes without saying, because the lyrics on Lapse were crap.
The melodies have also improved, although not as substantially as I might have hoped. They generally have a pretty nice hook to them, and Gilmour's ultra smooth 'n' deep vocals, of course, are gorgeous to hear. But I'd say most of these melodies consist of a single, repeated hook and they usually go on for a bit too long. The chord progressions have also improved from the previous album (and I'm tempted to credit that exclusively to Rick Wright), but other times the chords just seem too flat. ...You know, the secret to a great progressive-rock album lies in the chord progressions, right? ... Well, that's my opinion...
Pink Floyd being run by David Gilmour, of course, is gonna mean that there will be many-a-lengthy-guitar-solo in here. I didn't take out a stopwatch and time every single one of his guitar solos, but I wouldn't be surprised if every single one of these songs had more than two minutes worth of Gilmour's noodles. Naturally, that's great news to guitar fans who sacrifice their guitar picks every morning at the foot of a David Gilmour altar, but to the rest of us, that gets pretty freaking tiresome.
All of my 'complaints' so far have been hinting at the fact that The Division Bell is just too dang long. Since it was the mid-'90s and in the age of the CD, they suddenly had a much more space to work with... Errrrrrm. I'm not a particular fan of vinyl or anything, but the CD is evil. It's a scientific fact that the proper length of an album is 40-50 minutes. There just wasn't enough material here for a 65 minutes; this album would have benefited substantially with 15 minutes whittled off of it. Songs like the seven-minute “Wearing Inside Out” might have been turned into a four minute version, and thus it wouldn't have ever grown tiresome! Better yet, songs like the ultra-boring and stilted “Coming Back to Life” might not have existed at all! ...Believe me. CDs are evil. ....OK I like CDs. You can play them in your car. I just wish the inventor wasn't being so generous!
Despite my complaints, The Division Bell makes a very nice listen as a whole. It definitely helps that there are songs in here that greatly soar, like “Take it Back” and others with very striking melodies like “What Do You Want From Me.” Gilmour is even responsible for a very formidable prog-epic with the album closer “Hight Hopes,” something that he tried desperately at in Lapse but failed miserably. As a whole, Gilmour did good with this album, and he served the Pink Floyd brand name well. I know Roger Waters hated this, but he was probably going to hate it no matter what it sounded like.
As you'd probably expect, most of these songs borrow crucial elements from the style and tone of the Waters-led masterpieces in the band's history, but I don't consider that to be a major concern. As a whole, I'd say that Gilmour made another handful of decent tracks out of that style, and that's something the world can't have enough of. While The Division Bell should hardly be placed alongside the band's great masterpieces, it stands on its own feet pretty well. I give it a very strong 10.
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Album Score: 11
I'll be predictable and start my review of Pulse saying what everyone says about it: David Gilmour had already released a live Pink Floyd album seven years and one album previously and there really wasn't a compelling reason to release another one. But as long as he was going to release another album, he very fortunately took the opportunity to iron out some of the horrid nonsense that plagued some of that album! This is a marked improvement over Delicate Sound of Thunder. So, if you're going to get one of these live albums but can't afford both, definitely get this 'un.
But it's nowhere near as good as the studio albums. You probably knew that before I even said it, so I didn't have to say it! (Really, this review is going to be FILLLLLLED with insight such as this!) Also as expected, this live album makes an extremely enjoyable listen due to the fact that this is David Gilmour playing the Pink Floyd classics. Also also as expected, he performs a lot of material from A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell, which are generally fine and dandy, but they blow next to the Pink Floyd monster classics. Once again, I'm only confirming something you probably already suspected before reading this review!
The big reason that Gilmour decided to release this live collection, reportedly, is because he was traveling around the world performing Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, and there were enough people around the globe who wanted a copy of it for posterity. Heck, if I was lucky enough to have been aware of Pink Floyd in the mid-'90s, and I went to a live show, I'd definitely love to own a copy of Pulse. Especially if I forgot to buy a T-shirt. The Dark Side of the Moon bit comes all at once in the second disc, and ya know, I really enjoyed hearing it. Considering that I've listened to the original album a billion times, it's nice to hear a different take on it. A much weaker take, but different.
The original packaging of this album was a big deal... it had a little red light that flickered on an off. That's a little more fuss than this album probably deserved, but Pink Floyd has always been known for their silly gimmicks, and there's no one who knows this more than their fans who were undoubtedly delighted to shell out an extra $10-$20 for the blinky version of the album! I know I would be! ... If I wasn't always so short of cash. (I need to stop dicking around and graduate college so I can afford things like blinky versions of Pink Floyd albums. This is a dream I have.)
Probably the nicest moment on this whole album is the rendition of “Astronomy Domine.” Ever since Dark Side of the Moon was released, Pink Floyd had received a completely different fan base, and it seems like they basically cast all their early stuff behind. But pulling this old, moldy classic was definitely a treat for any old-time Pink Floyd fan who might have been lurking somewhere in the audience. It isn't anywhere near as wild and mind-blowing as the original or any of the live performances of that era that I heard... But it's a good rendition.
And pretty much everything on this album is quite good. Gilmour's guitar noodles are pretty much the star of the show, as you'd expect, but he's also taken much more of an interest in vocal performances than he seemed to have throughout Delicate Sound of Thunder. Just compare both albums' versions of “Flying” for confirmation. His previous performance was so flat and lifeless that he might as well have been singing back-up vocals on a Joan Baez record. This performance might not be Arethra Franklin, but Gilmour actually seems to be enjoying the process somewhat. This is a good thing. A very good thing. This version of “Comfortably Numb” is the cat's whisker's too. Great guitar performance at the end. It's very show-offey, but if there's anyone I want to show off, it's gonna be David Grilmour. Alright, I said enough words. Now for the conclusion.
I said this about Delicate Sound of Thunder, and I'll say it about Pulse: This is only for people who are so dang into Pink Floyd that they have to own everything they did. For casual listeners, there's not much point of owning an imperfect version of Dark Side of the Moon when you're almost aways better off just playing that album one more time. If you've listened to that album so much and love it more than you love breathing air or eating food, then you will purchase Pulse and you will love it. Mark my words. Or don't. I don't give a damn.
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David Gilmour (1978)
released by David Gilmour
Album Score: 9
Roger Waters was infamously not giving his band-brethren much room on recent Pink Floyd albums to express themselves, which could explain why both David Gilmour and Rick Wright happened to have released solo albums in 1978. It's interesting in an academic sense to hear what Gilmour came up all by himself in this time period, but I wouldn't say this isn't anything particularly worth going out of your way to hear. Since this is David Gilmour, you're probably going to assume that this album is filled with slow songs and very depressing moods. You'd be 100 percent right about that. This isn't a very summery album, as you can tell by the startlingly accurate album cover. It's very cold, and it's very gray. ...Now, that's not a bad thing of course. I like listening to cold, depressing music from time to time. Not here so much, but in other places.
I feel pretty sick about having to say this, but I feel like I've got to be as blunt as possible: Based on the contents of this album, David Gilmour was not a very good songwriter. I listened to it from beginning to end several times over, and there's very little here that melodically sticks out at me. Most of these melodies seem to consist only of one or two lines that get repeated and repeated and repeated until I'm sick of them! Even the melodies that don't repeat like that aren't too hot to begin with. I'm also disappointed that Gilmour didn't come up with too many interesting chord progressions... He spends so much time in this album in a dreadful lull going back between two chords... Of course, not every song in here is like that, but there's a solid handful of 'em.
But despite this album's lack of inspired songwriting, I still like it somehow. It's a very charming album, and of course Gilmour's soothing singing voice makes it even more engaging. The main thing that surprised me about this album is that there is not a synthesizer to be found here... at least a synthesizer that I was able to single out! There are pianos and electric organs all throughout, but I guess I wasn't expecting this album to sound so organic. The centerpiece instrument is of course the guitar. As you probably know, it is physically impossible for Gilmour to write a song without having a lengthy guitar passage in it. The world would probably explode if it didn't have one. That's not a criticism of course; if you're David Gilmour, then you have every right to solo the hell out of your songs.
If I was going to pick a highlight of this album, I would surely have to go with “No Way,” a song with an alluring, hypnotic texture that features an absorbing guitar pattern, and an awesomely used xylophone. That song also has by far the best melody here, sounding like a sort of nightclub-blues ditty that could have been appropriate for Dark Side of the Moon. Speaking of songs reminiscent of Pink Floyd, “Cry From the Street” is pretty much the same thing as “Money” except it's not nearly as compelling.
One of the highlights, though a minor work in of itself, is “So Far Away,” which has been said to have eventually evolved into “Comfortably Numb.” Man... that's a charming little tune, but it sounds nothing like it! The only thing about it that's “Comfortably Numb” is the coincidental fact that listening to it makes me feel 'comfortably numb.' In fact, that emotion pretty much defines this whole album. It's very numbing, though comfortable! If I was going to pick a worst song of the album, it would have to be “Short & Sweet,” which starts out with some boring, fuzzy guitar licks, and Gilmour puts this really over-baked overdub effect on his voice. Not only that, but the melody sucks! If you want more information about these songs I invite you to check out the track reviews. But I warn you that you probably won't find them to be very interesting. ...That is of course assuming that you've ever found my track reviews interesting!
I heard through the grapevine (my new pet name for Wikipedia) that this edition of the album I'm reviewing has been expanded to 50 minutes as opposed to its original album's length of 46 minutes. Not that extending these songs really did any catastrophic harm, but adding these extra minutes certainly didn't help. I mean, these songs seemed way too long as they were! Hmph!! Despite my elaborate criticisms of this album, I'll have to say that its charm sorta wins me over. It wasn't a very bold undertaking by Gilmour since all the song are so simple and organic. But the thing that's going to prevent me from giving this a wholehearted recommendation is that it's too bleak, too depressing, and frequently quite boring. This is definitely good to get it you're some sort of Pink Floyd collector. If not, I wouldn't worry about it. It's a very strong 9. I was going to up it to a 10 for its homegrown charm, but then I remembered how tedious sitting through some of these songs could be.
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About Face (1984)
released by David Gilmour
Album Score: 8
Aw. David, David, David, David Gilmour. He's a nice guy, I'm sure, but listening to his second solo album can be a remarkably trying experience—even compared to his first album, which was about as much fun as listening to Al Gore talk for three hours. There is certainly enough material here to fill up a marginally decent EP, but as a full-length studio album, there are way too many dead spots for comfort. Really, it's no surprise that even some of Gilmour's most loyal devotees have ended up turning their noses away with disgust.
This is certainly a much poppier album than his folky and homegrown solo debut. It was produced in 1984, and it's certainly a product of that decade. You get that impression right away with the opener “Until We Sleep,” a synth-heavy song with an industrial beat and echo-heavy vocals from Gilmour. I do admit to liking that rather menacing rhythm—not to mention much of Gilmour's dark guitar playing throughout—but that melody is about as base-level and boring as it gets. I've heard far worse songs in my day, but it certainly doesn't bode well for this album that it starts to get boring as early as the opening song.
Bob Ezrin was one of the greatest producers of all rock 'n' roll, and one of the most shining examples of his work was in The Wall. Luckily for Gilmour, he managed to convince Ezrin to come on board with this album! Unfortunately, Ezrin didn't have that much to work with here. The elaborate orchestral track “Let's Get Metaphysical,” for example, has Ezrin's signature scrawled all over it; the strings and woodwinds sounds are big, loud and beautiful. But the actual song they're playing is as clunky and boring as it gets. ...Well, at least it has Gilmour's guitar playing strewn throughout, right? I mean, how bad could it be?? ...You'd think so. But through some dark and evil force of the universe, Gilmour's guitar playing actually makes it worse. He's attempting to play something uplifting and soaring to that orchestral music, but he can't even make it jump two inches; his guitar comes of as fat, drunk and obnoxious.
Pete Townshend takes a couple of songwriting credits on here, and they're both OK. Townshend was in a bit of a songwriting rut in this time, so don't expect his co-contributions to blow your mind or anything. “Love on the Air” is certainly passable. It's even vaguely likable! But in in the end, it's not really better than any of those Dennis DeYoung '80s ballads I was reviewing a couple of months ago. I expect bland mediocrity from DeYoung, but Gilmour and Townshend shoulda known better. “All Lovers Are Deranged,” on the other hand, is a far more explosive and expressive song in which Gilmour delivers one of his more convincing angry performances. Although even that song was a bit musically bland. Geez, they don't seem to be doing much right, here!
Picking a highlight of this album is sorta easy. “Murder” is a dramatic multi-part suite that starts out as a folk song, explodes into a more powerful chorus, and ends with a fun jam-groove. Its melody isn't anything you'll likely find yourself humming under your breath, but it has a certain charm to it. “Cruise” is another multi-part suite that also starts out as 100 percent forgettable melody, but I rather enjoy basking it all up ................... that is, until the end when they make the absolutely bewildering decision to turn it into a reggae. Not only did reggae not fit the folky first part of the song, but it's not even good reggae!
Even more bewildering was their decision to bring disco into the mix with “Blue Light.” I mean, disco in 1984? ARE YOU SERIOUS??? That song was already five years dated the moment it released! I'll admit that the horn section is sort of cool and the disco beat can get the toes dancing, but that's all very standard for the genre. I really require some sort of infectious melody or something in my disco. It's essentially a well-produced piece of garbage. They also couldn't possibly have ended this album on a more boring and depressing note with “Near the End.” That song just trudges along at a snail's pace for its whole five and a half minutes and does nothing. It's like watching a loogie evaporate away on the sidewalk.
I really wish I had nicer things to say about this album, and I probably could have since the rating I gave it suggests there are far worse things out there there in the universe than this. But, you see, About Face really deserves a major panning. I would have accepted something this dreadfully mediocre from Toto, but not from someone who used to be in Pink Floyd. Much less David Gilmour, the smooth-voiced guitar god.
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On an Island (2006)
released by David Gilmour
Album Score: 11
It looks as though our dear friend David Gilmour finally figured out how to write consistently good melodies. Not that he wasn't responsible for some corkers in the past, but I'm used to his melodies generally being dull and overly repetitive. These, on the other hand, are frequently very good. Mind you, he's no Paul McCartney, but that ain't a mortal sin! ...And, wow, what a lovely album! Exactly as you'd expect, this is a very mellow and slow-moving album. What you might not expect is that it is frequently breathtaking. That's a new one since all the previous Gilmour solo projects mostly inspired me to yawn! The production is utterly pristine, obviously benefiting from 21st Century recording standards, but Gilmour also recruited the help of talented Polish soundtrack composer Zbigniew Preisner to provide a little orchestration. As a result, On an Island is an extremely slick sounding record that's right out of a cinematic dream.
I love the melody of “Smile,” which sounds like something Burt Bacharach might have composed. (Seriously! Gilmour composed a song that's comparable with Bacharach!) Along with that dreamy atmosphere and its sweet romantic lyrics, it's a song that completely charms the pants off me. Good thing I'm not sitting around in public right now! “Take a Breath” is one of the most immediately enjoyable songs on this album thanks to a steady backing beat, but it also has an absorbing melody to boot. Naturally, the instrumentals are completely nailed; the drum beat is very crunchy and delicious, and that watery guitar Gilmour noodles in the background there provides just the right texture. I also really love hearing those orchestral swells, which never seem overblown and they come in at just the right times. Ah... That's a good song to listen to on a spring day, I reckon.
I also like the lounge-jazz ditty “This Heaven.” Since it's lounge-jazz, you're immediately going to compare it to Dark Side of the Moon, but Gilmour gave it such a bittersweet and dreamy atmosphere that it certainly wouldn't have fit on that album. I'll have to say that my favorite song of the lot is to be “A Pocketful of Stories.” It probably doesn't have the album's best melody; it's that beautiful, bittersweet piano played throughout it that sold me! That song is very mellow, very sweet, very atmospheric, very cinematic ... it's also very long, which is why I couldn't quite bring myself to give it a full A+ in the track reviews. But it's quite close.
And that brings me to the main reason why I'm giving this album an 11 even though it was very close to a 12. Too many of these songs seem to overstay their welcome. The title track is a perfect example of this. I really like immersing myself in that mellow groove for the first four minutes, but after that, I start to get a antsy. Not overly antsy, mind you, but it feels as though the song should have already ended. Another thing that deprives it from the higher score is that it has a lot of what I would call “borderline elevator music.” Of course, these instrumentals are way too absorbing and interesting to ever be confused with muzak, but they also come off as too complacent at times, and they don't challenge me enough as a listener. That said, they are better than similar sorts of music to be found in The Division Bell and A Momentary Lapse of Reason.
I can't be too sure what was stopping David Gilmour from going ahead and releasing this as another Pink Floyd album, since he certainly could have, and this seems like a fairly natural progression from A Division Bell. Maybe he was finally willing to respect Roger Waters' wishes, or maybe he couldn't get Nick Mason to play drums? Or, more likely, perhaps he wanted to use this record as a means of expressing himself instead of simply continuing the ideas of Pink Floyd. And, indeed, Gilmour does sound like he has it all figured out. I very much like this incarnation of David Gilmour. I hope he finds the time to record a follow-up someday.
All in all, On an Island is a very good record, and I hope that David Gilmour is proud of this accomplishment. The audience for this disc is pretty narrowly limited for people who like mellow and atmospheric music from old people. So, if you think think you might enjoy sitting through a full 50-minute album of that stuff, then this is surely one of the better albums you'll find.
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