Monday, September 15, 2008

By The Way, Which One's Pink...?

In the midst of the psychedelic sixties, a band emerged from the haze of the darkest London suburbs called The Abdabs. In 1965, three ordinary guys named Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright were the basis of this new band and it was only when they requested the poetic genius of Syd Barrett that they thought that the name Pink Floyd had more going for it. At least it meant some would take their music seriously…

It was Barrett who supplied the gentle, drifting vocals and guitar. He was also responsible for the bizarre, ‘out of this world’ lyrics. He became the leader, guiding his newfound flock into depths of creation and shrouded, unspoken imagination. Richard Wright graced our ears and took us to distant plains of the mind with his keyboards. Nick Mason was the man behind the beautifully timed drums and percussion and Roger Waters was responsible for bass, more percussion and vocals.

It wasn’t long before they were a resident musical interlude at certain discerning clubs. Already with the ‘Ally Pally’ under their belts, they had there, headed one of the most presstiduous psychedelic events in music history. It was a gruelling 14 hours titled the ‘Technicolor Dream’- a perfect fuzz filled name for a gathering of musicians, travellers, hippies and other walks of life. It was one of those ‘you had to be there’ type events, but for Pink Floyd, it was enough to grace the ‘amateur hall of fame.’

Their first single release was the ordinarily titled ‘Arnold Layne’ in March 1967. (About a thieving washing line transvestite.) The Position of number 20 was a modest claim for a new diverse band, for when a time when everything ‘swung’ and the chart was a ‘free for all’, it was a chance for Pink Floyd to strike a timely chord with the alternative listeners. ‘See Emily Play’ immediately followed this single and it reached an impressive number 6. It was surprising that due to these fairly well ranking singles, the band didn’t release anything until December 1979; 12 years had gone by with only a handful of albums to go on before we heard the unique ‘Another Brick In The Wall Part Two.’ It was obvious from the start that Pink Floyd were not a band to bash out one single after another, in fact, this band were playing to a more selective audience of intellectual listeners who sat cross legged and analysed music intensely rather than bopped to it.

In the hysteria of the late Sixties, it was clear that Barrett’s lyrics were being fuelled by a strong drug addiction. Unfortunately for geniuses of that era they either swam with the drug fuelled tide and rode on the waves of creative writing or they sank like a stone whose voice, no one could understand. It was the latter that crowned Barrett. Because of the failed man finding LSD more favourable than writing studio work or turning up to gigs, a talented young man stepped in by the name of David Gilmour whilst Barrett fell out. The shadow left shortly afterwards under a strained cloud. The band then could have been in trouble creatively, no unlike the legendary Peter Green on leaving Fleetwood Mac. The backbone had been Barrett and the rest practically picked short straws as to who was going to write.

From 1967 to 1975 they released 10 albums, all doing well in regard to position and staying power. The release of ‘Atom Heart Mother’ hit the number one slot straight off and ‘Obscured By Clouds’- a soundtrack released in June 1972 managed an almost permanent residence completing 82 weeks in the album chart.

‘Wish You Were Here’ was their second number one album. Released in September 1975, an album indirectly dedicated to Syd Barrett who strangely turned up one-day whilst the band were recording the six-month album. His presence certainly their in the control room and yet also on the album. Even though it had been several years since Barrett left, Pink Floyd still hadn’t got the ghost out of their systems. ‘Shine On’ was a specific tribute to Barrett and even seen as a letter to him from the member of the band. Perhaps the title of the album itself may denote certain smugness towards Barrett at the success he had decided to leave behind. Already with ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ behind them, perhaps their greatest album to date, they could afford to poke a little fun at the defenceless Syd Barrett, although, Waters was reported to have said in recent years that when recording this album, they had all wished they were somewhere else….

With only five tracks but yet all of some considerable length, it was chosen to be digitally remastered in 1994 and this is the album that can be purchased today. Written predominately by Waters, it wasn’t seen as their greatest album but to a newcomer of Pink Floyd, it offers a good starting point without commitment…

Known for their adverse ‘Salvador Dhali’ style album covers, these sleeves represent the depth of the creation within. Pink Floyd represented themselves, a ‘no holes barred’ approach to experimental rock. Mixing futuristic machine themes and strangled keyboards with mellow guitar riffs, they wrote a line that undoubtedly appealed to all.

The opening our album is the piece titled ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part One)’ I shall call them pieces as any Pink Floyd album is quite like listening to a instrumental tale, (Peter Gabriel’s Genesis minus the lambs and foxes) rather than just an album with one track following another. Pink Floyd presents us with themes rather than songs and they flow gently together like one long artistic project, so this is how I will try to respect that….

It is Wright that has the upper hand as this first piece opens gently, soothing us for what is to come. Gilmour idly teases the strings for a short time that is rather like a backdrop for soaring over the Scottish Highlands. A harsh four noted riff sounds like satanistic bells and then we are finally taken into the extended introduction to the piece. Gilmour flutters effortlessly around the strings to a mellow and sleepy blues theme. The whole theme to this piece is bluesy jazz whilst the member takes us through the instruments at their fingertips. Wright works his way through the repertoire of the keyboard just as Gilmour, who sounds instantly woken from heavy sleep? The listener get this feeling that they are just masters at instruments and is pleasantly surprised when their voices blend beautifully, however, like with all Pink Floyd albums, it is the quality of music that is the fundamental basis for the success of this band, not the lyrical content although it has always seen as an added bonus What does ironically make the album work is the primary subject, Syd Barrett and in this piece they are truly talking about his life, his highs and falls. ‘Well you wore out your welcome with random precision, rode on the steel breeze…’

What we do experience with this first piece is fusion of both instruments and musicians. They naturally inject each piece with euphonious conclusions of mind and spirit. This first piece breathes life and that life is consistent from beginning to end.

With souls cleansed and mind free of all dark, intrusive thoughts, we are awoken to the second piece from this album entitled ‘Welcome To The Machine.’ It is the second leg of our journey. As with all albums by wide ranging artists, and it even can be said for commercialism, production line Brit pop to an extent, that an album is a piece of history in the long range event of that artist/bands life. Here, we are exposed to the joys and more than not, sorrows that were the epitome of Pink Floyd.
A man presses a buzzer to open a steel door inside a giant machine orientated factory, presses another buzzer and the pulse of the machine from behind the door thunders louder as we hear another door open. It is questioned where the direction was pointing when Roger Waters wrote this futuristic, harsh piece. Through the lyrics we can hear perhaps another tribute to the downfall of Barrett, but we must remember that by the time this album was recorded, the flattened, worn out, crushed spirited Pink Floyd were yet another super group to become disillusioned with touring and screaming to crammed stadium audiences who wailed so much that they couldn’t have possibly heard the band above the din. Like The Beatles had retreated to the studio for something for them, Pink Floyd had become distant to the world and Waters couldn’t bear the stadium thought again. Ironically what they had created with this album was another run up the ladder nearer to another packed out stadium.
The door closes on this synthesized, unmelodic piece. It is a cold piece and holds none of the warmth from the previous piece. The machine is unwelcoming and after a listen once or twice, we may start to feel uncomfortable with the musical content laden with lyrics that show no emotion. To describe a machine using lyrics and sounds, then it’s perfect.

Waters then presents us with another solitary written piece entitled ‘Have A Cigar.’ A heavy blues theme runs the length of this piece and the lyrics are little tongue in cheek. We experience some beautifully gliding pieces of Gilmour’s guitar work. To turn the tables, the listener becomes the listened. This piece ends with the actually the track being played on a radio. Our listener get fed up and tries to find another suitable station, he flicks around for a short while when his ears stumble across a slide guitar being picked away at in solo mode. The listener picks up a guitar and picks out an accompanying riff to the radio. Gently, our other members join to open the fourth leg of our tour around the minds of Pink Floyd, entitled ‘Wish You Were Here.’

This piece was collaboration between Waters and Dave Gilmour. We wonder actually if they are perhaps reciting the lyrics to each other. To say that this might be yet another piece directed at the lost presence of Syd Barrett could be open for argument. I feel that in this stage of the album, they could well be having a dig at each other. We must remember that despite the title of this piece and the album, this was not a time of exciting highs for the band. They were practically worn out form working and the untrained ear through their voices can hear it. The lyrics, ‘So, so you think you can tell heaven from hell, blue skies from pain…’ may be seen as the idea that Pink Floyd were running thin creatively still from the departure of the very visionary who lead the members through the eyes and mind of himself. With the theme on the same vein as the blue than blues piece, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, we find that perhaps this is the album where we hear the band playing collectively, not unlike The Beatles, all so individual at the time, coming together to produce the very together ‘White Album.’ The piece is soothing to our ears and we hops soothing to the players, despite the digging lyrics. The wind blows and dies and the listener shudders as perhaps another ‘Machine’ piece, but what we are hearing is apart from a double note from the bass of Waters, is the second and concluding part of the story which is titled ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part Two).’

Predominately instrumental, it is a part two, but yet not sounding the same. The members ramble around their instruments like a quick practise session in the studio of nothing at all before recording. Perhaps this is how part one actually started off in the fist place? Gilmour shows us exactly what he can do with a guitar, he leaves nothing to the imagination of sliding great lengths up and down to the plundering blues drums of Mason, then suddenly the tempo changes and we hear the unmistakeable twang of guitar that can only be ‘Part One’, with a quick burst of recognisable lyrics of Part one to please the listener, its time to linger back into a meandering guitar riff, a tap of soothing drums and percussion and the band are back to pleasing themselves again. Once again Gilmour and Wright play at a double act together and we wonder if we are being intrusive to there private jamming session.

There is a certain isolation that comes across from Pink Floyd. It is almost as if they have taken on the gloomy persona of Barrett to complete a highly acclaimed album. The mood is somewhat dark and pessimistic throughout and we asked ourselves what this album had been designed for. What we do understand is that it is there to illuminate how a strong influence of one man can have such an effect on the lives around him, even when he is far from the person he really is. We can feel a harmonious pull together from the members although it is perhaps tinged with an element of pain and even anger at the long departed Barrett. I do feel that the fundamental bottom line of this album and what it actually meant flew far above most heads at the time. It is only when the lyrics are read as words then we get an idea of what was hidden within.

Musically, it was as ever inventive, dream inspired and insightful as the next Pink Floyd album, but one ends up seeing through that and finding the whole experience a little disturbing. The album, I have to be honest leaves me feeling uncomfortable, but I am the type to take notice of lyrics! It is an album worth having on a musical term. It portrays Pink Floyd at their second best, behind ‘Dark Side Of The Moon.’ But it feels strained, as said before, they had wished they were somewhere else…

Pink Floyd today look more like our dads rather than accomplished gods of rock, and very wealthy ones at that too. They will continue to be worshipped as long as there is a shop to sell their records. Incidentally David Gilmour is on tour (again?!) packing out venues no doubt. He is covering a range of European dates including three at the Royal Albert Hall this year (May 29-31) These tickets will go very quickly.

As regard to another electrifying reunion since Live 8, that’s debatable…

I bought ‘Wish You Were Here’ about five years ago for around fifteen pounds. Unfortunately in the high street shops, because Floyd CD’s go by the bucket load, they will always hold a high price.

PJ MD 2006/08