1. Astronomy Domine
2. Lucifer Sam
3. Matilda Mother
5. Pow R Toc H
6. Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk
7. Interstellar Overdrive
8. The Gnome
9. Chapter 24
Ive never been completely certain about how to feel about this, the first album by Pink Floyd
and its only full length with Syd Barrett at the helm. Musically there are some very good songs on this album, so good in fact that at times I wish Barrett would just shut up and let the band be heard.
Im not a fan of Barrett, far from it in fact. I generally find his lyrics to be childish, inane and self consciously fey, cute and twee. Of course whimsy is what Barrett is known for and its the sort of thing that I guess you find endearing and are charmed by or just find to be unsophisticated and naive. I guess this is the sort of thing that the punk bands were reacting to a decade later. Taking my general dislike of Barrett into account I was surprised that I didnt absolutely abhor this album. Album opener "Astronomy Domine" kicks the album off in fine fashion with a beeping sound that gives way to a menacing guitar riff. The song progresses through several changes and is one of the albums more concise and structured songs, with a brilliantly empty middle section.
"Lucifer Sam" features a guitar riff that sounds like it belongs in a spy movie, a driving beat from Nick Mason and a short organ solo by Rick Wright that helps hold the whole thing together. The sound of Pink Floyd
during the Syd Barrett era was actually far more eclectic than the tag psychedelia would suggest and "Lucifer Sam" with its driving sound is a good example of this. In contrast "Matilda Mother" is pure psychedelia, with a spacey reverb effect on Barret's vocals giving the song a druggy, hazy atmosphere. Its a far softer sound than the albums first two songs and demonstrates that even early on the Floyd had range in terms of arrangements. "Flaming" similarly has a gentler sound than "Astronomy Domine."
Unfortunately this is the point at which the album takes a considerable nosedive. The experimental and directionless "Pow R. Toc H" comes across as nothing more than a pointless filler track the band decided to bung on there to fill up 5 minutes. It really doesnt warrant talking about. The same can be said of the frankly dreadful "Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk", featuring as it does possible the single most clumsy set of lyrics Ive ever had the displeasure of hearing and some incredibly bad guitar playing from Barrett that kind of sounds like a bee buzzing around inside of an empty beer can. Its notable solely for being Roger Waters first writing credit but certainly not for the composition itself.
The path downward continues with the nearly 10 minute long "Interstellar Overdrive", a song that kicks off with a nasty little riff so good you wish theyd based a song on it instead of tacking 8 minutes worth of directionless pointless jamming onto the end of it. Its got some innovative stero panning effects on it near the end but apart from that you can skip it after you've heard the first 50 seconds or so of riff. "The Gnome" is everything I hate about Syd Barrett's early songwriting all in a single song, so twee and quaint you might as well just watch an episode of Last of the Summer Wine
and so bloody childish you may as well have asked a 6 year old to set crayon to paper and come up with something.
"Chapter 24" is a great song musically, so great that you just want Barrett to stop going on about mysticism so you can actually hear the music in all its glory. A nice bit of arrangement, its features nothing but cymbal crashes, melodic bass playing and a pretty lttle organ melody. "The Scarecrow" is similarly minimalist and concise but certainly darker in tone. "Bike", like "The Gnome", is twee and naive and between the inane lyrics (especially the gingerbread men verse) and wacky sounds effects it has little to recommend it really.
It is clearly evident from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
that Pink Floyd wasted no time in experimenting with new sounds and that they had already moved away from the kaleidoscopic sound of their earlier records. For this reason there is nothing on Piper
that reaches the heights of "Arnold Layne" or the absolute musical peak of their very early years or "See Emily Play" as they named it. Neither of those singles appear on Piper
and in a sense its fitting that they don't because both songs, "See Emily Play" in particular, display a clarity of vision, both in terms of arrangement and production, that they failed to recapture here.