The biggest news this year, even this lifetime maybe, for me, and it was a well-kept secret, was the news that the almighty Pink Floyd were releasing a new album. To me, Pink Floyd is the omnipresent stratosphere that orbits ordinary rock music. Nothing compares to them, nothing, that’s why they are the only band nobody else sounds like, their songs are rarely covered as perfection can’t be improved upon. If Beethoven or Bach were alive today, Pink Floyd would be their favourite band, they are classical music in an age of none, they are classical tunesmithery in a genre of rock. Their storied and illustrious career shines like a crazy diamond with awards, achievements, broken records, brilliant records, tragedies, highs, lows, casualties, drama, intrigue, enigma…They are a fascinating group to behold, and in my opinion five of the most creatively talented individuals to come together on this Earth!
Even without drugs, their music will take you on a magical journey, into stratospheres, landscapes and nirvanas unknown to human imagination. With drugs, it’s the most mind-opening and fantastical experience the human mind can undertake, it gives wings to the soul. There are three layered stages to the band’s progression, the early years saw the work of Syd Barrett at the helm of the band, with the psychedelic golden nugget that is Piper At The Gates of Dawn and various other ‘floaters’. Barrett went mad through copious hallucinogen abuse and the band replaced him with an unknown musician who would go on to become one of the world’s greatest guitarists, David Gilmour.
With Roger Waters on bass and songwriting, Gilmour on guitar, Nick Mason doing drums and the late Rick Wright on keyboards, the band in this incarnation would go on to conquer the world, with such unbelievably majestic opuses, in the form of concept albums such as; Darkside of the Moon, one of the most musically rich and textured albums ever produced, which went straight to no.1 and remained on the album chart for a subsequent 14 years! Selling more than 40 million copies worldwide. Wish You Were Here, six times platinum, 13 million copies sold. The Wall, 11 million copies sold, and many other successes including Obscured By Clouds, Atom Heart Mother, Saucerful of Secrets, Meddle, Animals and The Final Cut to name a handful.
In the mid-80s, Waters departed the band; there was always tension and musical difficulties between him and Gilmour. Gilmour went on to lead the Pink Floyd, eventually releasing the excellent Momentary Lapse of Reason in ’87 and the equally divine Division Bell in ’94…and apart from a brief yet triumphant reunion at Live 8, and a smattering of quality solo projects, that was the last we heard from the boys of the Floyd…which brings us nicely to 2014…
The band started in 1965, releasing their debut album in ’67, and now, nearly fifty years later, they announce they are releasing their final album. Upon hearing this news a mixture of excitement and trepidation crept up my spine, they’ve never released a bad song in 50 years (we’ll not include Ummagumma in that), they’re one of the most successful bands to ever arise from anywhere, will they fuck all this up and release a bad album? Do they still have what it takes? My family have listened to Floyd all my life, and theirs, and I became a proper fan of them when I was nineteen years old in 2004, so I have never experienced a new Pink Floyd release since becoming obsessed with them eleven years ago. I was scared, but also extremely energized by the thought of getting to hear some new Floyd material, after all, a band this consistently good couldn’t put a foot wrong…could they?
The album came out on 7th November (two weeks ago) and straight away the world, media and social media alike was abuzz with talk of these Relics of the past, these dinosaurs, arisen once more from the dead. My newsfeed was twittering with my friends’ anxious expectations. Most Floyd fans among my friends rushed out and bought or downloaded the record straight away – I showed a little restraint, when I heard this Holy Grail of modern albums it had to be met with the perfect conditions or not at all; on vinyl, through headphones, alone, in a dark room, with a strong joint…100% devotion to the listening of it. Reviews both professional and from my friends began to seep through – and it wasn’t good, negative criticisms, disappointments, cast aspersions and being described as everything from elevator music to a haphazardly put together dirges of sorts…this was not good.
I was not to be shaken however, there was only one thing for it, I needed to hear the album for myself, not only could I not wait any longer (after 48 hours), but I needed to formulate an opinion so I knew whether to defend against, or join in with, the slating of the album, so far I had been defending the Floyd against the critics on the basis of their past achievements, but until I actually heard the album I couldn’t defend the work on it. Therefore, out of the blue, I hopped up, scraped together my last twenty quid, and caught a late bus into the city centre to purchase Endless River…
I got a thrilling buzz of electricity just from holding the thing in my hands. Pink Floyd have always had fantastic enthralling and imaginative designs on their album sleeves and Endless River’s was no exception, simple, but bold and very Pink Floydesque. In a palpitating rush I hurried home and nervously put the groove under the needle, the obligatory crackle and then the customary silence as the album slowly ebbed into life…I caught my first impressions by scribbling them down on paper as I listened track by track, cross-legged before the stereo like a child, headphones on, joint in mouth, and here is what it says in my notepad;
“Endless River – is musical mastership – you people must have been expecting Darkside of the Moon or something! It is what it is, a Rick Wright piece, an appropriate swan song, it’s poignant enough to give me goosebumps. David Gilmour doesn’t need vocals to tell the tale, his distinctive excellent guitarwork tells the tale all by itself with each tender lick. The album is telling the story of the band’s final chapter in a long, illustrious lifespan, neatly wrapped up and drawn to a heartfelt close. Floyd never released a B – sides album, consider this theirs given that it is reconstructed from material twenty years’ old. Those trippy guitar effects on track 4 made me have an acid flashback…that’s a good sign.
This record appears to be a journey through the band’s back catalogue, a requiem , and a sorrowed but joyful farewell. CLOSURE is the key word here, the music you hear is saturated with history. Floyd remain head and shoulders above all the giants, never to be toppled. Sinister psychedelic freakouts in parts, magnificent radiant beauty in others, but mostly rewarding, like a long rest after a marathon, Floyd in a nutshell, well-rounded off lads.
The album flows together as seamlessly as their career has. I didn’t go into this album with high expectations other than hearing a bunch of unearthed b-side material, and was pleasantly surprised nonetheless. It describes, purely and skilfully with music alone, the life, works, and death s, of an amazing and storied band, from Barrett to Waters, Gilmour to Wright and all the loves and casualties in between… all this just from my first unadulterated impression… so, surely an exponential grower! Some of these songs exude unabated love. Consider this album one big song, and to the trained ear it tells a detailed story. Stephen Hawkings’ brief words on track 14 are a perfect analogy to the band’s evolution.
This release is for the fans, the BIG fans, the VERY big fans, they are the ones who will get it. You have to know your Floyd like you know your own face in the mirror, then you’ll understand. I understood by a few tracks in, maybe I understood before I even heard it. Nonetheless, it takes you ‘neath the waves and over the stars as all Floyd albums do. What a concept album! Waters is noticeable by his absence though, that’s his fault, he should have got involved, that would have been fairytale perfect, especially as in these days of technological advancements you don’t even need to be in the same room let alone the same country to record a song, even just one song!! He could have contributed, if only as one last kiss to make the boo-boo better, if for no-one else, then for the fans, that put him where he is today, in his mansions with his ten million guitars …………The C**t!”.
Now, a fortnight later, I have listened to the album many times, and although my initial and only negative criticism was that it was too short for a Pink Floyd album, every time I’ve listened to it since it seems to have inexplicably gotten longer! A weird phenomenon typical of Floyd’s powers of sorcery. The album is lacking by Roger Waters’ absence, only the lack of his lyricism though, the bass is easily replaced and the bassist(s) that Gilmour has used on the last three Floyd albums blow Waters out of…well, the waters. Polly Samson was a good lyricist on Division Bell and Gilmour’s solo On An island. but despite the lack of lyrics on Endless River it doesn’t suffer, the music has plenty beauty and skill enough. Barret, Waters and Gilmour have all been recognised in various Floyd releases, Endless River is Rick Wright finally getting his share of the limelight as his influence on this album is heavy and great, just as Barret’s demise was the muse for most the Floyd’s 70’s material, Wright’s demise is the catalyst for Endless River, a poignant and fitting swan song to the greatest band that ever surfaced in the musical kingdom, Gods among Gods, Pink Floyd…
As with all albums by this astounding band it is best enjoyed on acid or other hallucinogens. Pink Floyd’s music, whether they deny it or not, is music created by acid, on acid, for acid. Their sound remains psychedelic to this day, because without the psychedelia, it just isn’t Floyd. So the seventh or so time I heard the album I dropped some 2CB and enjoyed it in all its splendid glory, seeing as well as hearing the music and can report that it is as equally as good to trip out to as any of their past offerings. But let’s take a more in depth look, track by track…
The album starts eerily and with Wright’s haunting ethereal vocals drifting in and out of hearing. There are nods to the back catalogue riddled cleverly throughout this album and only discernible to the trained ear, but I hear Echoes of sound effects and sound bites Meddling into the music, from such past greats as Animals, Darkside, Momentary, Division Bell, Wish You Were Here and others. Apart from the last song, the poignant and appropriate ‘Louder Than Words’, no one track on this album can be enjoyed individually, as with most of their compositions it goes together as one long Journey Through Space and Time, or endless river as it were. As early as the second track we’ve already kicked in with distinctively great-sounding Pink Floyd, as good as anything they did on parts of Wish You Were Here and an obvious tribute to that era. The drums, keys and strings are having an incredibly mellowing effect, more soothing than lavender in your bath, or any grease-down and a shiatsu.
There is no need for words, they can be left unsaid, with such telling and tear-jerking, tantalising and tremendous teals of the guitar as Gilmour is throwing out here, the warm licks he expertly produces on that instrument conjure imagery and descriptions that tell a story all of their own. The albums takes on a typically trippy and somewhat sinister tone somewhere around track 5, if I wasn’t an experienced Floydophile and acid-freak it maybe have given me a bad jolt in this heightened and sensitive state, but as I know all too well, through tripping to such rollercoaster rides as Atom Heart Mother and Echoes, Floyd will take you to the depths, but only to reward your perseverance when they bring you back out of the reverie and release you like a dove to the firmament, with a chord progression so beautiful to make all the Gods in all the Worlds weep like broken-hearted children, joyous, cathartic, music indulgence for the listener is always just around the corner of any temporary Floyd ‘freak-out’, and I’m right, as by track 7 a subtle Floydian slip takes us back into a rolling river of meandering mellifluous faithful Floydesque flourishes of genius.
The eight track ‘The Lost Art of Conversation’ and the subsequent tracks it flows into are so breathtakingly beautiful my heart welled up to my bottom eyelids, with a lump in my throat, I don’t ever want this album to end…
The trip is peaking now and track eleven is an obvious ode to the Wall, energetic and lively, waking up anybody that has succumb to the blissful reverie of it all. Endless River is a perfect name on many levels, their career is basically an endless river, this album loops on itself like an endless river, and listening to it is akin to lying back in a rowing boat, floating under a starry sky under the influence of copious psychotropic substances (as John Peel did to enjoy a Floyd concert at Hyde Park in 1968). The church organs on track twelve are a highlight, one last major solo from Wright, chillingly eerie splendour resonates from his playing, tickling your already tingling goosebumps.
The guitar has been building into a soaring crescendo the whole way, the album, produced by Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music) is so well put together, when Stephen Hawkings’ comes in with his unbearably emotional and apt speech over the serene music of track 14, it describes to me exactly, the career of this band in a perfect analogy;
“Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future, with the technology at our disposal the possibilities are unbounded…all we need to do is keep talking”
This hints heart-wrenchingly at not only the silence between Waters and Gilmour and the desertion by the band of Syd, his apostasy. It also tells me of Pink Floyd’s music being among the greatest achievements of our species, up there, if you ask me, with the Pyramids, splitting the atom, and landing on the moon etc.
With contribution from the girl choir now, that important part of the band’s history is not overlooked and you think the album’s over, but it has one last parting shot up its sleeve, and a truly Floyd-defining one at that. The stand-alone classic ‘Louder Than Words’ with heart wrenchingly true and final words describing the band’s ultimate fate, and a tribute to what lies at the core of the matter, the fact that the thing that this band do, is beyond even them, it’s louder than words, it’s bigger than planets, it’s immortal and unequivocal!
“We bitch and we fight, diss each other on sight, but this thing that we do, these times together, rain or shine, stormy weather. With world-weary grace, we’ve taken our place, we could nurse it and give it a name, or stay home by the fire, filled by desire, stoking the flame, but we’re here for the ride. This thing that we do, it’s louder than words, the way it unfurls, the beat of our hearts, the sum of our parts. The strings bend and slide as the hours glide by, an old pair of shoes, your favourite blues, gonna tap out the rhythm, let’s go with the flow wherever it goes, we’re more than alive. The thing they call soul is there with a pulse that’s louder than words…”
Left on repeat, just like The Wall, the album will start back at the beginning as seamless as it ended, constantly looping…endless, eternal, just like the music as a whole.
Endless River is to me, Pink Floyd wrapped up neatly in one perfect package, everything you need to know about this band is contained in this album and it is the perfect curtain call on a truly unique and utterly astonishing chapter in music, and indeed, human history.
Listening to this album encouraged me and a lot of my friends to listen back through the long back catalogue, from the dawn of Piper to the running out of the River and everything in between, nothing like Pink Floyd has ever happened in music and likely never will again. In true heroic Floyd fashion they swaggered back on to the scene half a century after their original inception and smashed all the dross in their way aside. Destroying all competition (not that there’s much of it about these days) and sweeping aside current chart-toppers Robbie Williams and One Direction with a single stroke of Gilmour’s Stratocaster. To me, this album is recounting the incredible history of an incredible band, like a greatest hits, but much better because it is original unreleased material. This album proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this band were, are, and always will be, the absolute best in the world at what they do, no matter what they do.
RIP Syd Barrett
RIP Richard Wright
Gone to the Great Gig in the Sky.
But you live on through the ‘endless river’ of your music.
And thankyou, to Nick Mason, Roger Waters and David Gilmour, for quite simply giving me the greatest musical and acid experiences of my life, and being the soundtrack to the greatest times of my life! My respect and love for Pink Floyd is an Endless River, which increases and develops into a roaring waterfall that will roar forever with the Delicate Sound of Thunder!
And now, to go back to the beginning of the album and enjoy it all over again…and again…and again………………………………………
See ya’ on the Darkside of the Moon!