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Old 11-18-2014, 01:07 PM   #2520 (permalink)
Trollheart
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It's tough when a band breaks up. Tough on their fans, and tough on them. Whether it's an enforced end, such as with Ronnie James Dio dying, an unforeseen end as in Genesis, or indeed a planned lowering of the curtain like REM decided to do, it's the end of a era and quite possibly signals the end, to many people, of an association they have had for most of their lives. In some ways, it's probably like a death (sometimes, of course, it is exactly that), or the worst break-up you've ever had, and there's no going back, usually. It's not you, it's them.

Then there are the albums that get released after the band or artiste has finished recording forever. Unreleased material. Newly discovered tracks, unfinished songs. Enough to squeeze out a whole new album after the artiste has died, or retired. Posthumous albums --- whether released after an actual death or just the end of the artiste's career --- are always a little hard to take. They can have a certain creepy quality, as you realise you're listening to the words and/or music of a man, woman or band who in many cases is no longer alive.

Although still with us, the corpse of Pink Floyd has been floating down the (endless) river for some time now, just waiting for someone to fish it out and give it the decent burial it deserves. There are those (and they are many and vociferous) who will tell you that Floyd died when founder and creative light Roger Waters left them in the acrimonious split to end all acrimonious splits in 1985, and indeed even before that, “The Wall” was 99% his vision and his project and the last album to feature him, “The final cut”, featured so little input from the other two members (and none at all from Richard Wright) that it may as well have been his solo album in all but name. Shortly after that he left the band to pursue that solo career, and Pink Floyd were considered all but dead.

But I'm one of the few (hah) that enjoyed the two non-Waters Floyd albums that followed his departure, and while 1987's “A momentary lapse of reason” and 1994's “The division bell” can't in fairness hold a candle to albums like “Wish you were here”, “Animals” or “Dark side of the moon”, I thought they were pretty cool. I've always been one of those who refuse to cry “Band X is no use without singer Y!” I went through the trauma of Fish parting ways with Marillion, got used to Genesis without Gabriel and enjoyed an Ozzy-less Sabbath. To me, a band is more than just a singer or a frontman, and those who whine that the band will never be the same without the main vocalist and/or creator/founder are I think doing that band a great disservice. And so it was that I was prepared to accept Floyd after Waters, and though it was odd to hear the songs without his distinctive, tortured voice, I thought Gilmour did a decent job. But when the final notes faded away on “High hopes” as “The division bell” came to an end, I, like probably everybody else, believed we were hearing the very last music ever to be released by this band which was now a shadow of its former self. With the death of Richard Wright in 2008, I mourned and thought well that is definitely it: they can't come back now. It's over.

But it isn't over.

Or is it? When news broke of a “new” Pink Floyd album there was of course a flurry of expectations and my own emotions went from disbelief to joy to finally settle on suspicion as the details began to filter through. Not so much a new album then as a collection of studio outtakes and cutting-room floor debris from the sessions for the last “proper” Floyd album. But the obvious question came up: if this material was not deemed good enough to find its way onto “The division bell”, why was it now thought suitable for release? What had changed? All right, the story goes that much of the music that appears on “The endless river” was composed by Wright, and Gilmour and Mason wanted to create a sort of tribute to him, and that's all right as far as it goes. But to announce it as a new album? Was that not pushing it ever so slightly?

I'm reminded uncomfortably (numb) of a comment Gilmour made in the book “Comfortably numb: the inside story of Pink Floyd” when speaking of the making of “The final cut”. He asked, “If these songs (the ones being considered for “The final cut” which had been part of the sessions for “The Wall” but had not made it) were not good enough for “The Wall”, why are they good enough now?” Indeed, David. Indeed. A question we must all have been asking ourselves about this new project.

So are they? Good I mean. It's a perfectly valid question: if, when making what should have been their final album, Gilmour, Wright and Mason discarded these pieces of music (can't really call them songs) then why should they be considered acceptable not only to be released now, twenty years later, but to form the basis of a so-called “new” Pink Floyd album? Have the guys suddenly realised they were after all better than they believed they were in 1994, or is it really just that they want to honour their fallen bandmate by presenting to the world music he wrote but which never saw the light of day, until now?

Or, indeed, as many have hinted and I have to also ask, is this new album, the last ever from Pink Floyd --- and we have that officially: no Eagles “Hell freezes over” ambiguity here! --- nothing more than an exercise in cynicism and money-grabbing, a last chance to make some cash off the hard-pressed fans in this troubled economy? And if so, shouldn't the remaining members of Pink Floyd hang their heads in shame, having already broken records by releasing arguably the biggest attempt to rip fans off with their “Immersion” boxsets, each of which contained approximately SIX discs PER ALBUM and cost in the region of 100 EURO EACH! Sure, nobody put a gun to anyone's head and forced them to buy the sets, but if, as a diehard Floyd fan, you had to have these, then even for the main albums you're looking at shelling out over a THOUSAND Euro! That's bigtime rip-off in my book, I don't care what anyone says.

So if, as one of these diehard fans, you outlaid the money on these sets in 2011, what would you expect from a new Pink Floyd album? I'd venture to say it would not be rehashed, re-recorded half songs that were not deemed good enough for the recording of “The division bell”. But that's what you get, and as this is your final ever chance to hear new (!) Pink Floyd music, do you buy the album and take a chance, or refuse to be the instrument by which Dave Gilmour buys a new house or Nick Mason adds to his classic car collection? This is Pink Floyd's final ever album, their swan song, as I note above, but is it one worth hearing? Or to put it another way, in the words of the ever-witty and acerbic humoured Urban, is this “The endless river” or “The endless pension”? After all this waffle --- over a thousand words before we even get to the review, but that's me for you --- and two decades, it's time to find out.

The Endless River --- Pink Floyd --- 2014 (Parlophone)

The first thing I'm struck by, despite the album's filching of the last few words of “High hopes”, is the echoes (hah, again!) of 1987's “A momentary lapse of reason”. That album began with the sound of a man rowing, and here on the cover of this album we see ... a man rowing. Well, punting, but it's very close. So the themes of rivers has been something flowing (sorry, sorry) through the post-Waters Floyd, has it? Well, no not really. Other than those two songs, which reference waters (ah, I know: sorry, I couldn't resist!) there's no real connection, but when you look incidentally at the tracklisting for both albums there are song titles there, many of which could refer to this album and its release: “What do you want from me?” might be an idea of Gilmour's frustration at some of the reviews of the album, though if he's surprised at its reception then he should not be. “Poles apart”? Sure. “High hopes”, certainly, though probably in vain. Not to mention “Coming back to life” and, er, “Lost for words”. As for “A momentary lapse”? Well “A new machine” is a possible link, as is “Yet another movie”, but in reality I think the closing track from that album sums up a lot of feelings about the direction this has gone. Yeah, “Sorrow” more or less covers it.

But in all this analysis and all these clever, self-congratulatory comments, has the music itself become lost, relegated to the sidelines, a bit player destined to be overlooked as critics argue back and forth about the merits of releasing an album of basically extra tracks from a twenty-year-old recording session? Well not here anyway. Grab a set of oars, make sure your lifejacket is inflated, and take your seasick pills if you need them, cos we're climbing on board and we're going in.

Well, ambient they say it would be and ambient is definitely the feeling as “Things left unsaid” opens with a spacey keyboard and spoken words, sort of putting me in mind of the start of “Dark side of the moon”, then one big bouncy echoey drumbeat before the keys go into a melody that this time reminds me of “Signs of life” from “A Momentary lapse of reason”. Gilmour's guitar comes in then, moaning and crying like a violin as the spacey atmospheric soundscape continues to pulse behind him, but it's now clear that, as ever, Gilmour is in charge and standing in the spotlight. In much the same way as, in the beginning, “Shine on you crazy diamond” rode on Wright's keyboard, but once Gilmour broke in he took the tune over, so too here he stands astride the piece like an undeniable colossus. Some really nice organ from the ghostly fingers of Wright before we're pulled into “It's what we do”. Gilmour has said that this album is not for “the itunes, download-a-song generation” and needs to be listened to in one sitting, and you can see the intention there as the music all drifts together, one piece flowing seamlessly into the next, so that it's almost like one long symphony. However, it's hard to forgive the second track being basically the closing section of “Shine on” polished (sorry) up and extended. I do love the classic song --- who doesn't? --- but this is something of a cop-out. If these are unused tunes from the “Division Bell” sessions, why is such old material here? There are echoes of “Welcome to the machine” too, particularly in Gilmour's chords. It drifts right back to the “Shine on” theme though, and as the piece comes to an end you're really waiting for Gilmour to sing “Remember when you were young”...

It's great music, there's no doubt about that. It's just that it is, generally, music we've heard before, and many years ago in most cases. “Ebb and flow” sounds very close to the last few moments of “Shine on, you crazy diamond, Part IX” stretched out to an unnecessary and in some cases unsustainable two minutes almost, and while there are lovely organ and synth touches from Wright, as well as of course superb piano, it's a bit of a non-event. More looking back to “Signs of life” then for “Sums”, throwing in some effects used in “Welcome to the machine” with some shimmery keyboard before finally we get a proper attack from Gilmour as his guitar screams in fury at having been held back so long, but again it's “Welcome to the machine” all over again. It's a great guitar piece, sure, and it reminds us what a god Gilmour is, but have the idol's feet turned to clay? There's nothing very new or innovative here. In fact, I'm surprised to say that we're now four tracks in and I don't hear anything resembling any track from “The division bell”, nothing that could have been considered for that album, as this is supposed to be.

Oddly, though this is all on one disc, Floyd (one assume Gilmour) seem to have published it almost as a double LP, with track sets broken up into "sides", like they used to be. Nostalgia rearing its head perhaps, or another attempt to make people feel they're purchasing an original Pink Floyd record? Hmm. At any rate, quickly then we pass into “Skins”, where Mason gets to unleash his expertise on the sticks, almost a drum solo with Gilmour adding little flourishes here and there. Only just over two and a half minutes but my lest favourite on the album so far. As Vim Fuego said in “Bad News”, can't stand drum solos. Then with more “Shine on” descending keys we're into “Unsung”, a mere minute of almost trancey keyboard with guitar screeching over it, reminiscent of “The Wall” I feel, as “Anisina” closes out "side two", sounding to me unaccountably like The Alan Parsons Project's “Time”. Weird. Very piano driven, nice tune, and at least it doesn't sound like any previous Floyd recording. The first one I've actually enjoyed on the album. Sounds like it has sax on it too: yeah, definitely sax, courtesy of Israeli jazz hornman Gilad Atzmon. Very stirring and dramatic.

Of the seven tracks that follow ("side three"), six are less than two minutes and three, weirdly, are exactly 1:43. Not only that, but they're the first three. “The lost art of conversation” has a deep, luscious synth and Gilmour's high-pitched guitar, but then settles down to allow Wright's sumptuous piano to drive it. It is however only getting going when it's over, and “On Noodle Street” carries the tune into a sort of Knopfleresque slow boogie, with Gilmour coming much more to the fore and Guy Pratt filling in really well for Waters, as he has done for some time now. Electric piano from Wright comes in before “Night light” returns the spotlight to the man on the frets, and again we're back shining on, you crazy diamond, with a slight, almost Genesisesque twist in the melody.

“Allons-y (1) gives us “Run like Hell” revisited, with Gilmour cranking up the guitar and the tempo, Mason's drumming much more animated and the organ from Wright pretty much pushed into the background. It's derivative, incredibly and annoyingly so, but at least it kicks the album up the arse and gives you something to tap your fingers to, if not shake your head. In other words, it lifts the album out of the quiet, soporific torpor it has been sliding into and delivers something of a punch from an album that seemed to be falling asleep. An almost Bach-like organ takes “Autumn '68”, slowing things back down with a feeling of Pink Floyd meets Vangelis before we move into “Allons-y (2)”, which builds a lush soundscape on the synth, then kicks up into another memorable Floyd piece, kind of more “Run like Hell” really. Then we have the pretty godawful (and terribly titled) “Talkin' Hawkin'”, which is essentially the spoken parts from “Keep talking” extended, backed with a slow organ melody, the first appearance of those iconic Pink Floyd female backing vocals so associated with Waters and never, to my recollection, used after he departed. Nice guitar work certainly, but I could do without the Professor droning on. I didn't like it on “Keep talking” and I certainly don't like the extended version. It's also very badly mixed, (the only one that is, and it's so odd it stands out) as Glimour's guitar and indeed Mason's drumming often overpower the spoken parts, making it hard to make out what is being said, which is pretty ironic for a song so titled.

And so we move into the final part of the album, or “side four”, with a strange little ambient beginning to “Calling”, then some moaning guitar and thick bass before the keys rise into the mix and an almost arabic passage takes the tune. More nice understated piano, then guitar surfaces like some beast out of the depths. As the piece nears its end it drops back to soft piano, choral vocals and slow, echoey drumming and takes us into “Eyes to pearls”, a definite vehicle for the strumming guitar work of Gilmour, but very –-and I mean very --- close in melody to Marillion's “Berlin”. Spooky. Rushing, crashing percussion washes over the tune and carries us away, and we find ourselves “Surfacing”, with acoustic guitar and more “Shine on” closing parts, with echoes of “Your possible pasts” there if you listen for them closely enough, or are as anal as I am.

There is some lovely interplay between Gilmour and Wright here though, and I'd probably class this as my second favourite, one of the longer tracks at just shy of three minutes. Personally, I think both in title, mood and music this would have been the perfect track to end the album on, but this is seen as a new Pink Floyd album after all, the last one ever, and the record companies will have their pound of flesh (“We're just knocked out/ We heard about the sellout”) meaning that the instrumental nature of the album has to be destroyed by a vocal song. Now while I really like “Louder than words”, it comes as something of a jarring experience after nearly forty minutes of pure music. Gilmour still has it as a vocalist though, and it's a good song, it's just it's a pity it's so transparently written as an attempt to hit the singles charts. One final sellout before you go, lads?

TRACKLISTING

1. Things left unsaid
2. It's what we do
3. Ebb and flow
4. Sums
5. Skins
6. Unsung
7. Anisina
8. The lost art of conversation
9. On Noodle Street
10. Night light
11. Allons-y (1)
12. Autumn '68
13. Allons-y (2)
14. Talkin' Hawkin'
15. Calling
16. Eyes to pearls
17. Surfacing
18. Louder than words
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