21 November 2014

Pink Floyd - The Endless River

As a lifelong Pink Floyd fan, I've enjoyed as a whole the fruits of their labour since their psychedelic born conception of the mid 1960s, through to their progressive, bolder but very successful experimentation in the Seventies, to their angst filled 1980s political themes and their more album orientated and seminal rock outings towards the Millenium. Things have moved on significantly since Roger Waters' departure (and no, sadly, he hasn't had any involvement in this latest project) and as the remaining personnel cite without reasonable doubt will be the Floyd's last hurrah. So in the meantime, here's a link of our previous appraisals. (Read all the previous PF Blogs here)

From the beginning of 2014, I've been monitoring at leisure David Gilmour's Facebook updates. He's posted a few photos at work in the recording studio, then cue a proverbial gasp of pleasant surprise from me when it was officially announced that these were the finishing touches to this new offering. Of course, it's been six years since the sad passing of Rick Wright, but The Endless River is not without his hand. In fact, there's plenty of his recorded material from The Division Bell sessions, (read the link here) although I will confess that at this early stage my heart is beginning to sink, as it's leaving me with a threat of pre-judgemental disappointment. This I say because it turns out The Endless River is from a plethora of studio work dating back to their Ummagumma days as well as TDB from the early Nineties. Surely the Floyd isn't simply trying to cobble together a few spare parts together just for the sake of it?!

The net result I will evaluate a little later as well as the final mark, for the time being there's the artwork to examine. Sadly the iconic artist Storm Thorgerson who did numerous legendary front covers for the band died the previous year, so no prism, hospital beds on a Devonshire shoreline, or steel faces with a cathedral in the background. This sleeve was designed by an Egyptian in Ahmed Emad Eldin who wasn't even born when the preceding album was launched, but being a PF fan himself (or what I refer to as a Floydian) he managed to capture a resonating image. It's basically a boatman on his launch with a punt heading towards the sunset, so a lot more interpretable and easier to understand, given that there will be no tour to support this. The title I'm guessing on first hearing it has been taken from the Division Bell closing number High Hopes.

From what I've been hearing from the reviews in general, it's nowhere near one of their finest offerings although I desperately try to ignore and assess for myself. Package wise, I'm at odds as what to make of it, maybe probably best to view it as a four-sided double album as on the Spotify playlist, there's emphasis on what side the tracks represent. Side One is a basic three track instrumental, where Things Left Unsaid has some brief PF members' soundbites leading onto to some ethereal Rick Wright snippets. However, it's worth reminding you that this NOT Shine On Revisited and barely lasts four minutes, and It's What We Do sees the audio appearance of David Gilmour and Nick Mason. Hmm, it leaves me thinking that this was lifted straight out of the Wish You Were Here sessions, and that it wasn't entirely original and that perhaps this is all previously recorded material that ended up on the cutting room floor. Still, it's a pleasant enough opener, so I suppose there's plenty of feelers telling me I can warm to the album.

Almost fifteen minutes so far and while it's been a reasonable effort, it hasn't set my ears on fire, so will the pages of the book unfold more invitingly? Again, no vocals on Side Two, although the slow cook approach has been replaced by a little more intensity, more featured instrumentation, pedal steel guitaring and saxophones but sadly no Dick Parry appearing. Instead it's an UK/Israeli in Gilad Atzmon, whom I understand is a character unto himself, although I cheekily remember when Eddie Carter listened to this track, it's my view he was trying to shock me! First track on it Sum has the same opening backdrops as Cluster One (yet again from TDB), not an encouraging fibre for me until it's Gilmour whose solo takes proceedings by the scruff. The next track is Skins, rather appropriate as Nick Mason has indeed a show of dexterity on the skins, while closing Side Two is Anisina, alternating clarinet and sax work from Mr. Atzmon. Ok, I suppose, which is a polite way of saying "track's decent enough, but let's move on to the next."

Now onto Side Three, and these are all tracks barely lasting longer than 90 seconds, and from my perspective possibly the least intense and most user friendly part of the album. The first three however brief they are don't really get out of the low gears. They're generally atmospheric snippets, until Night Light sees a little more Rick Wright synthwork and vibraphone, before the reins are taken over by Gilmour in Allons-y (1). Then it's some pipe organs in the next track Autumn '68 before a reprisal in Allons-y (2). The pace so far is beginning to gather momentum before closing out this disc is the piano led Talkin' Hawkin', with Professor Steven Hawking's voicebox . The big letdown for me is that most of his speech has been previously used in (guess which album?)  The Division Bell once again, though finally we are treated to choral tasters. The Endless River could really do with some vocals even at this late stage.

It's taking a while, though not too much time and now we're at Side Four at last. Calling is beginning to feel like a Jean Michel Jarre number, and all out of place on this album? For me, the jury's still out, but next instrumental, Eyes To Pearls has a couple of guitar hooks reminding us that this essentially is still a prog rock number. Surfacing is the next track has some acoustic loops lead by Gilmour's pedal steel, yet I fear a few new listeners by now will have been alienated by the possibility that this is becoming an acquired taste. FINALLY, and at the eleventh hour, we have some intelligible vocals, although the chorus or bridge aren't the best I've heard, and not exactly the end-all-and-be-all. There's a few bonus tracks on this, but Nervana? This is the very first time I've heard David Gilmour tackling blues and very VERY strange selection for closing out an album.

My advice to all listeners is to try not to judge this along other Pink Floyd masterpieces. Yes, without Roger Waters it's never going to have a lyrical bite that helped to made such a prog rock act so great and adaptable in its forty or so more years. If The Endless River was ever going to be a concept album harking back to their heady days, it was never going to enjoy the same level of accolade that most of their 1970s and 1980s work had gifted us. Still, this has not been the greatest let down I've ever encountered although you do need a lot of patience with this record, and I suspect many fans will be disappointed that a supporting tour will never see the light of day. Would I recommend it? Probably not. Will it buy it? Of course! I'm a Floydian and a hopeless romantic at that, so what were you expecting?!

6 out of ten. Now I see where you were going, but not quite there.
Best Track : Louder Than Words

Buy The Endless River here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Deezer listeners can click on this link
Official Pink Floyd Website on this link
Official Pink Floyd Facebook page here

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