Pink Floyd Albums From Worst To Best
How appropriate that Pink Floyd would find their beginnings in the same year that saw the first person walk in space. It’s a fitting foreword to the band’s story which, over the last fifty years of their existence, has seen them embrace the rarity and mythos that is rock and roll legend with a disarming sense of apprehension, paranoia, and oftentimes rage. Pink Floyd’s most distinctive quality is likely the very thing that provided the greatest friction for the members themselves. While their contemporaries honed in on every brilliant pop music formula from places like Liverpool and Southern California, Pink Floyd’s music quickly transformed into both a cautionary tale for the easily starstruck and a deeply personal narrative that became increasingly bleak and, at its most powerful, utterly heartbreaking.
The story of the band’s beginnings has been well documented with all manner of devoted fans eager to point out the fact that after several name changes (which included the always delightful and mildly prophetic Meggadeaths), the art students-turned-musicians derived the final permutation of the band’s name from blues artists Pinkney “Pink” Anderson and Floyd Council. Originally called “The Pink Floyd Sound,” the name was an off-the-cuff moniker created by original vocalist/guitarist Syd Barrett in what would mark an almost cruel prelude for a band who despite earning every possible level of fame and fortune, would never be able to fully come to grips with those realities of losing friends, family, and even themselves along the way.
While the music of Pink Floyd has, for the most part, never embraced the happy-go-lucky ethos of so many of the band’s popular music counterparts in the late ’60s, the disparity between the band’s sound during the brief tenure of vocalist/guitarist Syd Barrett and what came in the wake of his departure is noteworthy when considering the whole of the band’s career. Barrett’s friendship with band mate and eventual sole lyricist and bassist for Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, culminated in the artistic relationship that would create the wholly distinctive sound on the band’s debut, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. Primarily a blues band in their earliest days, it was not until Barrett took on the role of frontman and lyricist that Pink Floyd began to distance themselves both sonically and thematically from their contemporaries.
Having already established themselves as a force in the London underground of experimental music, the band’s 1967 full-length debut was met with considerable success both critically and commercially, though the celebration would be cruelly brief due to what had quickly become Barrett’s now completely unhinged mental state. The subject of endless speculation and mythology, Barrett’s struggle with mental illness was of course tragic in its own right as a viciously unforgiving disease, yet the effects were undoubtedly driven to insurmountable levels once brought under the microscope of celebrity and media scrutiny. Along with Waters, Richard Wright (keyboards), and Nick Mason (drums), Barrett’s role in Pink Floyd would extend far beyond the reach of Piper and into the very heart of some of rock and roll’s most flawless and perfectly realized albums.
With Barrett’s mental state rapidly deteriorating to the point of crisis, his band mates decided to bring on a young guitar player from Cambridge named David Gilmour as an additional member. Familiar with the band and even more so with Barrett himself, as the two had traveled and studied together, Gilmour’s addition at the end of 1967 would prove to be a game changer for a band who’d already garnered interest from critics and fans alike for taking experimental risks. Just two months after a photo shoot which showed a clearly disconnected Barrett standing among his band mates, Pink Floyd parted ways with the troubled yet immensely talented musician in March 1968.
Over the course of the next fourteen years, with Gilmour taking over for Barrett on vocals and guitars, and with Waters writing the lyrics, Pink Floyd would venture into a progressively darker sound as confessional as it was prophetic, with the music manifesting the pathos and disquiet of its individual creators. Of course the definitive thematic focus of Pink Floyd is not solely linked to the experience of watching their band mate’s gradual mental breakdown. Waters was as quick to explore the literal and metaphorical misgivings he had regarding Western patriarchy as he was in delving into a merciless kind of self-awareness regarding the industry hivemind and his unavoidable role as an integral part of its machinery.
Though forever (and justifiably) categorized as a “psychedelic band,” Pink Floyd’s music has always thrived and found the full depth of its power in the cruel reality of its presentation. From the thematic structure of albums such as Wish You Were Here or The Wall to the more free form and ethereal compositions of Meddle and Atom Heart Mother, Pink Floyd’s narrative has remained largely consistent in the disarming and powerful fragility of its delivery. Though the culmination of grandeur and spectacle became fully realized from a visual standpoint with 1979’s The Wall, the full scope of Pink Floyd’s music had always been as colossal as the space it inhabited.
Occasionally the music world is afforded the anomalous perfection of those bands who seem destined for legend even at their very beginnings. Though Pink Floyd is certainly a band of unequivocal legend in rock and roll’s history, theirs is not a story of perfection or even near-perfection. From the idiosyncratic keyboard and synth tremors of Richard Wright to Nick Mason’s spatial yet exacting drumming to the frantic howls and sneering cynicism of Waters paired alongside the achingly lonesome guitar and vocal work of Gilmour, Pink Floyd’s story is one that capitalized on the various imperfections and frailties of its members.
Last year, twenty years after their last full-length (1994’s The Division Bell), Pink Floyd released a post script of sorts by way of The Endless River — an album that, according to Gilmour himself, was a kind of an homage to Richard Wright, who succumbed to cancer in 2008. With fifty years of existence, the story of Pink Floyd is a narrative unlike any other in rock and roll, not for the fact that the band explored nearly every sonic and lyrical corner of the unconscious mind, but because they allowed listeners the opportunity to come along for that journey and to experience with the band those dark and harrowing realities of human existence.
The Endless River (2014)
It happens to the best of bands. For most groups, the death groan is an arduous process replete with near-embarrassing attempts to drain every last drop of dignity from an otherwise nearly untouchable career. For a few, the end reads much like the post-script to creative exhaustion, with the band giving a nod to their work without fully delving into what's likely an already spent creative hive mind. For Pink Floyd, the end came by way of a very fragmented glance at the pathos that had defined their sound and, to a large degree, the reality of their personal lives as well.
Twenty years after what many assumed was the band's unofficial farewell with 1994's The Division Bell, Pink Floyd released last year's The Endless River. Explicitly marketed as a swan song for Richard Wright, The Endless River is primarily an instrumental album pieced together from previously unreleased material largely composed by the founding member and keyboardist who passed away in 2008. Written and recorded during The Division Bell sessions, Wright's material is immediately reminiscent of that album's synth wash atmospherics with Gilmour adding in his blues descant right on cue. And that's just the thing here. It's a beautiful rendering of what made Wright such a veritable force in the band, but the music here is a formulaic response.
Gilmour's outstanding effort in 1994 was largely due to his refocusing the band's compositional framework as it had always been intended. That is, the music of Pink Floyd works best when there's equitable instrumentation. Sure, there's the solo flair and the justifiable moments of virtuosic prowess, but the band's nearly matchless power has always derived from the musical solidarity they shared against the odds of their subject matter. I'm not so cynical as to assume that The Endless River was a release purely conjured up by the marketing savvy of Gilmour, and even if that were the endgame it'd be an exercise in petty hypocrisy to dismiss the album entirely.
From a thematic standpoint, the album's source material is all too familiar. Another member lost. Another elegy. While much of that melancholy is lost in the New Age atmospheric yawn of the album, the familiarity of Wright's keyboard matched alongside Gilmour's characteristic guitar is an elegant reminder of just one of the many components that contributed to the group's success. Perhaps it's precisely the way a band like Pink Floyd needed to end, with a mournful if fragmented look at a career that had burdened itself with the same things to great success and equally as devastating losses.
Released as a double album with the first record composed of four live tracks and the second record serving as the actual full-length, Ummagumma remains an anomalous part of Pink Floyd's discography for a number of reasons, the least of them being that the album's creation came as a result of keyboardist Richard Wright's desire to have each individual member create their own hermetic solo contribution completely removed from the other members. The "let's all make solo records" trope has proven itself to be the Russian roulette of career moves with the handful of success stories handily overshadowed by the number of well-meaning but no less terrible efforts by integral parts of a better whole.
But Ummagumma isn't a terrible record at all. If anything the album serves as a transition piece between the pop rock savvy of the band's prior release More and the full foray into the avant-garde orchestration of what would follow with 1970's Atom Heart Mother. What's most impressive with Ummagumma is that while most albums created in the midst of a band reinventing their sound skew toward the unlistenable end of the spectrum, the five songs here are enjoyable in their own right. Beginning with Wright's four-part keyboard opus "Sysyphus," Ummagumma immediately portrays an ambitious if slightly disjointed compositional makeup, with each song playing to the obvious strengths of its creator but not fully capitalizing on those strengths as the singular unit of the band working together.
Both "Grantchester Meadows" and "Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave and Grooving With A Pict" display the same proclivity for contrast and deceptive tenuousness that Waters would soon shape into one of the band's most defining characteristics, with the former's genteel ode to the English countryside working as a kind of mocking introduction to the frenetic electronics and groundbreaking sound manipulations of the latter. Waters' innate ability of peeling the veneer away from those societal deceptions, exposing the ugliness just below the surface, had already begun to root itself to the band's narrative thread.
"The Narrow Way" is Gilmour's three-part exploration of guitar atmospherics and the pliability of multiple overdubs, featuring the vocalist/guitarist's lyrical debut as well. While still young and likely in the throes of what had already been a relatively successful career as a musician, Gilmour's distinctive style and refusal to let his instincts take a backseat to superfluity reveal a maturity and sense of timing that even in the song's missteps provide an early picture for what would eventually develop into a definitive sound both for himself and for Pink Floyd.
Providing an end cap to Ummagumma is Mason's "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party," a three-part excursion into all manner of percussion subterfuge. Mason's oftentimes unfairly overlooked contributions to Pink Floyd are likely as such due to the fact that his style is less bombastic and explosive than that of Bonham or Moon and more subdued and measured, allowing for subtlety and, yet again, a clever sense of space to do its proper work for the tone and mood of the music. The song functions on a level of experimentation simply given the characteristic of the album's entirety, but it also highlights those traits of understated nuance that give Mason's drumming its most commanding power.
Ummagumma's placement in the Pink Floyd catalogue is less an opportunity to deride a rare overall misstep for the band and more a glimpse of how completely integral each individual member was in creating the sound that would define their existence. The album is a striking representation of those most definitive characteristics of a band whose exploration of the furthest reaches of both sound and theme would find them in the unenviably rare position of originality and stardom. Once in a place of congruence, the disjointed elements of Ummagumma would open the door to what would become Pink Floyd's at once most compelling and hauntingly unnerving creative period.
A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987)
Four years after the release of what had been Waters' sole creative vision in The Final Cut, Pink Floyd's existence was at best a fragmented and embittered shadow of the force it had been only a decade earlier. The year was 1987, and though Waters had officially announced his departure from the band two years earlier having felt that Pink Floyd was exhausted creatively, the man who'd long been the primary creative force behind the band was unequivocally resistant to the band continuing on in his absence. Before chalking up that move to rock star arrogance, it's important to note the cruel irony such a situation would likely present for Waters, whose thematic obsession with the corruption and tyranny of Westernized patriarchy was now being fully manifested in the legal battle to protect the name of the band he'd spent the majority of his life so far helping to establish.
Despite the legal threats from both sides of the Pink Floyd spectrum, Gilmour along with Mason and Wright began working on what would eventually become A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. Mired in the same familiar and somewhat clichéd nuance of a band in the throes of nearly supernatural stardom attempting to work together as a singular creative force, Pink Floyd's remaining members created an excellent rock and roll record with A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, albeit one glaringly absent the sneering cynicism and epic vision of Waters. It's not that the album fails because of the void left by Waters, but that its relationship to the rest of Pink Floyd's catalogue is obviously one wholly removed from the central themes both musically and lyrically established by the band up to that point.
Recorded primarily on Gilmour's houseboat Astoria, the number of musicians credited on the album would easily rival a small orchestra -- a fairly new and somewhat overwrought departure for a band that had up to that point been able to capture the epic scale of its production using its primary members and a handful of other studio musicians. For legal reasons, Wright's own official status as a member of Pink Floyd would be relegated to studio musician, with his presence likely serving more as a legal safety net than as a crucial component to the album's creation. Even Mason's own contributions to the album were minimal simply due to the fact that the drummer had been somewhat out of practice. Much like The Final Cut had found Waters essentially creating a solo record masking itself as a new Pink Floyd album, Gilmour would do the same just four years later with the ten tracks on A Momentary Lapse of Reason.
That isn't to say that the album is lacking in terms of Gilmour's distinctive lonesome blues sound as the guitar solo on "On The Turning Away" is easily one of his finest. Though the absence of the band's characteristically theme-focused creative vision might seem as offering less of a distraction, that lack of congruence works against the album as a whole, despite the handful of outstanding individual tracks. "Yet Another Movie" along with its complementary instrumental track "Round And Around" most closely resembles those progressive orchestration techniques from Pink Floyd's mid-'70s output. Conversely, the hugely successful "Learning To Fly" fully taps into the razor sharp slickness of '80s production at its glossiest.
Gilmour's foray into the political disenchantment of his former bandmate on the song "The Dogs Of War" succeeds in so much that it underscores the guitarist's penchant for composing songs in such a way that builds on a melodic foundation and into a climactic lead out. While the song's bleak lyrical suggestions are in line with what the band had capitalized on over the bulk of their career in the wake of Barrett's departure, it and the album as a whole lacks the sneering cynicism of Waters. As a collection of excellent David Gilmour songs, A Momentary Lapse Of Reason works on nearly every level. As a Pink Floyd album, it shows the delicate but no less powerful force that came with all four musicians working in solidarity.
Much like Ummagumma, the album's faults come in the form of its fragmentation. Both Gilmour and Waters managed to produce outstanding solo work in their own right of course, but the Pink Floyd sound is not one easily patched together, much less in the midst of ego-stroking and legal caterwauling. That said, the album is impressive as a collection of rock songs from the man who, along with Waters, had created an entire world balancing itself just between the utter darkness and ethereal light just as the edges of the world it inhabited.
In which Pink Floyd goes metal (at least a little). Released just a few months before Ummagumma, More was a definitive move away from the primarily psychedelic sound of the band's first two albums. The band's first venture into film soundtracking, More is the sound of a band purging the angst of what had undoubtedly been an unusually trying and even tragic beginning. The album was also the first to feature Gilmour as the sole lead vocalist -- a characteristic that would not be repeated until nearly twenty years later with 1987's A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. While the psychedelic expositions of the band's first two releases are still present here (see opener "Cirrus Minor" for example), they became more of a backdrop to the central melodies and hook-friendly compositions of songs like "The Nile Song" and "Ibiza Bar" -- both of which are two of the heaviest songs Pink Floyd ever put to tape.
After the hallucinatory ease of opener "Cirrus Minor," More quickly takes shape as the riff-centered album it is with "The Nile Song" and its unhinged cyclical chord progressions paired alongside those atypically abrasive vocal stylizations of Gilmour. Interestingly enough, the normally muted and husk-tinged vocals of the guitarist took on those howls and gravel-throated traits of the blues musicians who'd long been informing his instrumentations. This same trait is heard on the nearly as heavy sounding "Ibiza Bar" and its more straightforward blues-rock aesthetic. The stylizations of these two songs in particular are noteworthy for the likes of those bands, particularly those in America, of the mid- to late-1970s era of hard rock.
Much of More still contains the pastoral balladry that Waters utilized both for its disarming characteristics as well as the contrasts presented to the more visceral sounds being created. "Crying Song" is the album's primary example of this kind of folk-infused psychedelia as Gilmour's vocals float just above the surface of Wright's vibraphone and Waters' subdued bass line and Mason's minimal use of the snare drum. The disparity between songs on More gives the album a similar sequence to A Momentary Lapse of Reason with regards to each track serving less as complement to the whole and more as wholly individual and separate compositions.
More or less an apt musical precursor to the isolated compositional structure of Ummagumma, More capitalizes on the experimentation of the band's more psychedelic beginnings and the progressive experimentation and sound manipulation that would be fully realized in the band's later material. Transitions are difficult for any band, especially one still seemingly mired in the recovery of losing what was likely its most creative mind. More's tendency to parallel the rock and roll stylizations of Pink Floyd's late-'60s contemporaries is obvious, yet in such a way that speaks to the band's seemingly instinctive predisposition to never let the music stay grounded for too long.
The most impressive tracks on More are its six instrumentals. An abnormally large number of instrumentals even by Pink Floyd's standards, each song demonstrates the incredible depth of the band's multifaceted and virtually endless musical repertoire, whether in the Mason/Wright penned electric jazz "Up The Khyber" or the hypnotic drone of "Main Theme." The eerie ambiance of "Quicksilver," with its use of multi-layered soundscapes grounded by Wright's characteristic keyboard accents, can be seen as an early indication of the band's impending change in direction to the moody rhythmic pulses on The Dark Side Of The Moon.
An important note regarding More is that the album was Pink Floyd's first to be entirely produced by the band itself. It's reasonable to assume that having fully removed Barrett from the band and separated themselves from a potentially creatively constricting producer, the band members gravitated to the most extreme aspects of their individual desires as musicians. From a motivational perspective, it's difficult to imagine the members wanting to continue on in their previous creative direction as it was one rooted almost exclusively to the psychedelic sensibilities of their newly former band mate and friend whose absence would eventually find its way into virtually every aspect of the band's creative psyche.
More is especially remarkable in that it shows both the band's tendency for experimentation and the avant-garde as well as Pink Floyd's uncanny ability at marrying those sonic conceptualizations to catchy hooks and foundational melodies. The album also showcases the band's improvisational propensities, with songs like "More Blues" betraying that sense of free-form and unhinged vulnerability the band would later develop on a grander scale both thematically and musically. More is a bit of a testament to precisely what it is that would definitively set Pink Floyd apart from virtually all other rock and roll bands, only instead of those intricate parts working in near perfect machination they are splayed out and separated into their individual parts. Even with those parts not yet working in synchronicity, the fact that More still works as well as it does is further proof of the incredible creative command of those musicians behind its creation.
A Saucerful Of Secrets (1968)
The only Pink Floyd full-length album to feature all five members, A Saucerful Of Secrets is at once a striking portrayal of the band's clout as one of psychedelic rock's most influential acts and yet also a cruel reminder of Barrett's mental instability and eventual removal from the band. Recorded while in the midst of various attempts by the other members to work around or even with Barrett's continually deteriorating mental state, the album's succinct cohesion is all the more astounding given the fact that the band had every reason to walk away once it became clear that their primary creative force would no longer be capable of contributing his enormous talents.
It was on this album that Gilmour made his Pink Floyd debut, joining the band more as insurance than improvement at the time in December, 1967. A school friend of Barrett's, Gilmour's addition provided the stability needed for the band to at least write and record the new material that would become A Saucerful Of Secrets, though no one could have imagined where the story would go from there. The stories of Barrett's aberrant behavior have been well documented enough to the point that the severity of its reality for both the band and the musician's family members has been largely overlooked.
Several songs recorded both for this album as well as the band's debut were either left off both releases or included on differing versions for UK and US audiences or on the various number of compilations released since. Of the seven songs featured on A Saucerful Of Secrets, Barrett appears on three, with a songwriting credit on only one -- album closer "Jugband Blues." Nostalgic romanticizing aside, the album's distinction as Pink Floyd's last hurrah of sorts with all members represented is noteworthy primarily because it signals a shift for the band both emotionally and musically -- a move invariably tied to the band's own eerie similarities as a collective in distancing themselves from comparison.
Opening with "Let There Be More Light," A Saucerful Of Secrets still holds strongly to the ethereal nature of its predecessor, only now the stratosphere of the music was grounded somewhat by Waters' own astuteness as a songwriter more concerned with the tangibility of paranoia than with the abstract notion of its effects on him personally. From its simplistic but exacting bass line opening to the full bloom of Gilmour's lead out solo, "Let There Be More Light" sets the tone for the album's comparatively more linear musical thread than the erratic but no less brilliantly composed songs of the band's debut.
The Wright-penned "Remember A Day" features Barrett on slide guitar and, despite the little fanfare given to it, is one of the finest songs from the band's early days. Wright's bari-tenor vocals offer an eerily complementary nuance to the hiccupped percussion from Mason and the at times jarring slide guitar from Barrett. The album's most likely recognizable track is the hypnotically serpentine "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" -- a five-and-a-half minute digression into psychedelic minimalism and the earliest indicator of what would become Pink Floyd's balance between paranoid psychosis and popular culture.
Though the subject of Barrett's contribution to the song alongside Gilmour will likely remain eternally scrutinized, both musicians take a backseat to the combination of Mason, Waters, and most of all, Wright in "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" Wright's proclivity for texturing a song without saturating its tone with unnecessary meanderings was such an immense and crucial part of what defined Pink Floyd's sound from the very beginning and, interestingly enough, one of the very few characteristics that remained largely unhindered throughout the band's few evolutionary changes in sound.
The seemingly endless number of permutations of the song give due credit both to Waters' musicianship as well as the band's versatility and improvisational instinct. Shoehorned with Wright's spooky Farfisa organ and the rhythmic hypnosis of Mason's timpani percussion, Waters' vocals undoubtedly made quick work of any speculation that Pink Floyd would falter in the wake of its abrupt and largely unwanted lineup change. A clear depiction of every powerful component of Pink Floyd's sound and dynamic as a group, "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" is arguably the definitive song from this era of the group's existence and a hauntingly beautiful picture of the band's most successful and powerful formula of less is more.
Featuring Gilmour, Mason, and Wright on vocals "Corporal Clegg" plays primarily to the psychedelic leanings of Piper with layered voiceovers and bizarre instrumentation taking the spotlight of each verse leading into the by-the-numbers '60s-era vocal harmonization of the chorus. It's not to say the song is meritless in its own right but rather that it echoes the song structure typical of those psychedelic and experimental contemporaries of Pink Floyd. Even with the obvious influence or mirroring of the pop music context of the time, Gilmour's guitar work cleverly incorporating the relatively few pedal options at the time alongside the deliberately ridiculous kazoo-lead bridge give the song the characteristic of being one only Pink Floyd could write.
The album's title track is a masterful achievement both from a sound technology perspective and for the band members themselves as the instrumental's nearly twelve minutes plays in such a way as to suggest a long-rooted understanding between each musicians rather than the reality of this being their first creative collaboration with all members (excluding Barrett) credited as songwriters. For all its extremity and avant-garde gesticulations, the album's title track is the first glimpse of how rewarding the band's congruency could be both for themselves as artists and the listening audience as well.
Closing out A Saucerful Of Secrets is the eerily appropriate "Jugband Blues," seeming like another one of Barrett's harmless if slightly off kilter and absurd pop songs. Listening to the song's lyrics and considering the context of when Barrett would have likely written them, and "Jugband Blues" becomes something of a ghost in the Pink Floyd catalogue, standing at the tail end of an album that while signaling a farewell to the troubled musician could not every fully rid themselves of his presence within virtually every aspect of the band's success and eventual twilight.
Barrett's typically abstract if sparsely referenced lyrical mode is somewhat muted on "Jugband Blues," making a substantially well-suited argument that lines such as "I'm awfully considerate of you to think of me here / And I'm much obliged to you for making it clear / That I'm not here" are little more than directed statements at his band mates. The song also continues the at the time ever present indication that Barrett had most probably lost a general sense of reality and was entering a full state of psychosis with lines like " And I'm wondering who could be writing this song" offering at least minimal proof of the same emotional detachment that had plagued both Barrett himself and his band mates and friends.
The song would be the last Barrett would write for Pink Floyd and even as the album's most disjointed track from a comparative standpoint, "Jugband Blues" is difficult to listen to without considering the weight of its words both on the fragmented mind of its creator and the conflicted band mates and friends who felt compelled to keep the track on the album. Barrett's distinguishing vocals are as disarming as ever, making the track that much more unsettling in the larger picture surrounding its creation. Whatever childlike naivety and brilliance may have overcome the adult mind of Barrett, "Jugband Blues" remains a captivating if tragic end piece both for the first permutation of Pink Floyd's ever evolving sound and for the man who'd lost himself along the way, far too soon.
Obscured By Clouds (1972)
To understand the oddity that is Obscured By Clouds you have to understand the context of the album's creation and subsequent rushed recording process. Having had a considerable amount of experience and success in the creation of soundtracks by this time in their career, the band agreed to write yet another one, this time for the 1972 Barbet Schroeder film La Vallée. Despite being less than a year removed from the band's defining release The Dark Side Of The Moon, Obscured By Clouds bears little if any resemblance to that album. Given the fact that the band actually took a brief break from recording that album to write and record Obscured By Clouds makes the story and, more importantly, the music of the album that much more interesting.
The album's distinction from the rest of the band's catalogue is primarily found in the fanfare and generally upbeat nature of the music, with the somewhat contemptuous lyrical content serving as the only commonality with their other material. As their seventh studio album, Obscured By Clouds is an apt if slightly uncharacteristic midpoint for Pink Floyd's catalogue. Much like More or A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, the album's songwriting credits are indicative of the musical direction, as Gilmour helmed the lion's share of writing duties as opposed to the responsibility being solely on the shoulders of Waters.
Another similarity with the previously mentioned soundtrack More is the inclusion of several instrumentals, yet instead of providing a framework for the avant-garde experimentation of that album, these instrumentals serve more as complementary compositions than stand-alone tracks. Especially present is the band's then fully developed use of synthesizer and electronic instrumentation, as on the album's opening title track featuring Wright's characteristic atmospherics by way of an EMS VCS 3 paired alongside Mason's electronic drumming and the blues wail of Gilmour's guitar. The disparity between the pulsing churn of this song and the band's previous album Meddle is striking if only for the fact that it provides a clear cut line of departure from that album's ethereal free-form tendencies.
Considering the fact that Pink Floyd had already written and begun recording a large portion of The Dark Side Of The Moon when the opportunity to create this soundtrack presented itself, the contrasts between the two albums become that much more fascinating and, perhaps more importantly, a testament to their songwriting versatility. The incalculable success of The Dark Side Of The Moon almost immediately overshadowed any kind of recognition for Obscured By Clouds, and while the former is unquestionably a greater achievement for the band, the latter has over time established itself as an overlooked gem of straightforward rock and roll from a band who'd largely built their career from going brilliantly off script.
That Pink Floyd could write an album of fairly straightforward pop rock songs in 1972 is nothing overtly impressive as the band had shown itself a versatile force with releases like More being followed up just a year later with the inherently different Atom Heart Mother. That the band could write these ten songs at the midpoint of writing the album that would indisputably change the course of their creativity and essentially bridge the gap between experimentation in music and mainstream audiences is absolutely astounding. Pink Floyd's clout as a veritable force in rock and roll would undoubtedly be assured with the release of The Dark Side Of The Moon, but their sheer talents and adaptability as songwriters came quietly in the months prior with the release of Obscured By Clouds.
Gilmour's signature pop sensibilities alongside those tendencies for compositional texturing from the likes of Waters and Wright are the formula for success on the ten tracks of Obscured By Clouds. Though Gilmour's solo work and that of Pink Floyd's Waters-less days would find the guitarist/vocalist taking on a similar approach, the difference here is still the same congruency that would find the band at their most creatively and commercially successful. Even the Waters-penned (and as such characteristically dark) song "Free Four" moves with an affable tempo contrasting the lyrics to the point of overshadowing their autobiographical nature concerning Waters' father -- a narrative thread that would be fully and hauntingly realized in the musician's final years with the band.
In the alternate universe that is the completely radio-friendly Pink Floyd of Obscured By Clouds, tracks such as "The Gold It's In The ..." with its upbeat tempo and care free lyrical narrative play with a strange and inviting ease as opposed to the deliberately abrasive trademark of the band's other material. While this song as well as the near positivist "Wot's ... Uh The Deal?" might sound like the categorical 1970s venture into rock balladry by any other band, the context of its creation as well as the comparison to the band's entire catalogue suggests that perhaps this album itself was the apex of Pink Floyd's experimentation with the rest of their material simply echoing the band's own singular form of creative normalcy.
Though the band had nothing to prove in the way of their diversity and obviously could not have had any clue as to the overwhelming success and universal acclaim that would soon be at their door, Obscured by Clouds works in such a way as to suggest that if Pink Floyd had wished to creatively align themselves with the glut of 1970s blues-tinged rock and roll, they could have done so quite successfully even outside the spectrum of their reputation for experimentation and the near mythology of their beginnings with Barrett. In retrospect the album now stands as an eerily hopeful creative farewell just before the era that would find the band fully enveloping their music in an unforgivingly dark brilliance.
The Division Bell (1994)
Even in the aftermath of the various lawsuits and threats of lawsuits concerning, among other things, floating pigs, band names, members as non-members, and more, the distant memory of Roger Waters as a member of Pink Floyd seemed no less strange to the band's fans, and presumably to the remaining band members themselves. Released in 1994, the band's fourteenth studio album The Division Bell now renders a sobering look at the whole of Pink Floyd's existence as a band that, even in their obvious twilight, were still fully capable of creating powerfully compelling music. The eleven songs here are less an exercise for Gilmour in flexing his creative muscle outside the scope of Waters' creative vision and more a collaborative creative effort with Pink Floyd as the sole focus.
Sidestepping the band's previous direction of avoiding any overarching themes with A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, The Division Bell found its primary writers, Gilmour and Wright, exploring the concept of communication and its inevitable tendency toward entropy or, more fittingly for Pink Floyd, disillusionment. Though overly long, the album has aged considerably well in the twenty years since its creation and much more so than its predecessor where distraction and creative misdirection had allowed the music to falter. Though initially and unfairly scrutinized, the inclusion of Gilmour's then-wife Polly Samson as a co-lyricist has since proven itself a wise move on the part of the vocalist/guitarist in offering a multifaceted perspective in place of a tired and by that time largely irrelevant formula.
The Division Bell offers an interesting perspective on those most powerful components of Pink Floyd's music and why the thematic focus and narrative thread of their music played such a vital role in their creative output. With Waters gone, the album is understandably devoid of the trademark wit and dark sarcasm of the bassist/vocalist, but the welcomed absence of legal and personal distraction for Gilmour had an undeniable positive impact on creating a sound for The Division Bell that was unmistakably Pink Floyd. Though now not technically the band's swansong, it's difficult to see the album as anything less than a final display of rock and roll greatness for a band who'd made their struggle with that very identity the core of their creativity for so long.
Especially with regards to the first four tracks, The Division Bell takes on Pink Floyd's most notable characteristics as atmospherics meet melody in the same synchronized fluidity that allowed albums such as Meddle and Wish You Were Here to wield their own singularly powerful sound. The instrumental "Marooned" stands out primarily as a song that sounds as much like Pink Floyd as anything on their mid-'70s releases. The song roots itself to Gilmour's familiar lonesome melodic guitar descants threading themselves through the trademark mood setting and foundation of Mason's drum work and the invaluable Wright's keyboard deviations.
Initially dismissed by a number of critics, The Division Bell is the representation of the best Pink Floyd could possibly be in the absence of now two of its original and primary creative forces. The album is not without its missteps such as the lyrically heavy-handed "A Great Day For Freedom" and its not so vague references to the band being liberated from Waters (despite Gilmour's vehement denial to the contrary). As the last song to feature Wright on vocals and the only Pink Floyd song past The Dark Side Of The Moon not to feature either Waters or Gilmour as songwriter, the new age gloss of "Wearing The Inside Out" too often detracts from a melody line that might otherwise fit perfectly in the band's early albums.
"Take It Back" finds Gilmour in rare upbeat form with an arpeggio closely resembling the likes of U2's The Edge and lending itself much in the same way to creating a layered framework for the song's primary melodic line. The song is not especially memorable as a Pink Floyd work necessarily but certainly indicative of Gilmour's near limitless abilities as a pop rock guitarist fully capable of adapting into a variance of styles depending on what specific sound most viably served to complement the song's structure. "Coming Back To Life" is another example of this as Gilmour's penchant for well-timed crescendo into lead out solo take full and successful form, though slightly detracted by overly-slick production.
With its judicious use of sound technology and Wright's synth brilliance, "Keep Talking" closely resembles the simmering pulse of The Wall with the airy chorus of voices contrasting against the brooding churn of the music driving their melody. The song is another example of the album's success in mirroring the same compositional sentiments that had proven time and again to be Pink Floyd's most reliable creative ally. In terms of evocative post-scripts for those bands in the sunset of a career as defined by the members' public personal struggles as it was by the groundbreaking music they created, "High Hopes" is an aptly emotional end piece to The Division Bell.
As much an auditory manifestation of Gilmour's own personal life, "High Hopes" is also a somber look back both musically and lyrically at Pink Floyd's existence and the open-ended question of what paths its members took as opposed to the ones that took them regardless of individual choice. Though Waters' absence is readily apparent on The Division Bell from a creative standpoint, it also serves as a kind of sobering reminder of the fragile and often bleak introspection that defined Pink Floyd without regard to the various attempts by its individual members to avoid facing the cold reality of that dilemma. Twenty years later, The Division Bell looks strikingly different than it did upon its initial release as time has allowed these songs to offer their full if slowly realized rewards much in the same way that defined the band who created them.
Atom Heart Mother (1970)
On their fifth studio release, Pink Floyd began to piece together the brilliant though disjointed fragments of their avant-garde propensities. Even in its missteps and pretentious structuring, Ummagumma had displayed all the makings of what would be almost fully realized in the band's follow-up to that album the next year in Atom Heart Mother. As opposed to the individualized and as such fractured stylizations of its predecessor, Atom Heart Mother is the culmination of what was likely an equal share of creative and personal frustrations for the members of Pink Floyd as now fully removed from the fully psychedelic sound of their beginnings, the impetus for successful transition in sound without creative compromise was wholly on them.
The first Pink Floyd album to reach #1 in the UK, Atom Heart Mother is a masterful achievement both in its quadraphonic sound and in the band's successful paralleling of pure experimentation and pop rock. Though likely difficult to see at the time of its release, the album was a distinct and deliberate on the part of the band members to fully distance themselves from the "psychedelic rock" compartmentalization they'd been relegated to since their debut just three years earlier. The shift was a particularly noteworthy move for Pink Floyd as well as a clear depiction of just how much had changed in their sound in a relatively short amount of time.
Aside from its compositional departure for the band, Atom Heart Mother included a visual line of distinction by way of its artwork. With their previous albums Pink Floyd had stayed largely within the psychedelic spectrum from the iconic kaleidoscope cover of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn to the Droste mirroring tricks of Ummagumma. Using the services of the art design group Hipgnosis, with whom they'd already established what would be a career-defining relationship for all involved, the band sought to go in a more demure direction for the album's artwork. Avoiding any photographs of the members themselves or even the band's name, the now iconic cow in the pasture of Atom Heart Mother is a point of demarcation from the aesthetic of the band's past, though that departure would be limited only to the band's musical style.
Much like Storm Thorgerson's picture of a random cow in a field, Atom Heart Mother plays along the happenstance musical thread of Pink Floyd's habit for providing the illusion that even their most experimental music deliberately lacked structure. The clever deception quickly unravels when closely listening to the album's six-part opener and title track that coils the entirety of Side One around a common melody that swells to the point of orchestral epic before settling into the band's ever present blues rock sensibilities which were by that time fully helmed by Gilmour and accented by the dexterity of Wright. With its mellotron and noise conclusion, the title track sets the de facto tone for the album's constant flirtation with full on collapse contrasting against the disarming nature of its more subdued tracks.
The follow up of "If" to the album's title track is nothing if not a portrayal of the band's and especially Waters' appreciation for dark humor. A master of sonic contrasts to the point of being unsettling or jarring, Waters again taps into the familiarity of his pastoral folk roots for the first track of Side B's nearly five minutes. Though the lyrical delivery initially suggests a middling excursion into rhyming patterns for the lyricist, the song offers a bit more in the context of being the album's first vocal track as well as a stark if simplistic glimpse into the mind of an introspective Roger Waters.
Wright's final contribution as sole writer for a Pink Floyd track came by way of the oddity that is "Summer '68," an obvious if somewhat overwrought melodic homage to the same layered vocal harmonies employed and by then practically trademarked by the Beach Boys. With Gilmour taking on the role of multi-instrumentalist paired only alongside Wright's keyboard work, "Fat Old Sun" is an often overlooked gem, with the various and expanded live versions of the song at times even eclipsing the studio version in terms of expanding on the song's jazz blues fusion tendencies that are strangely but no less successfully rooted in folk balladry. Gilmour's seemingly inescapable magnetism towards the entrenched-in-blues progressive sound lends the song the kind of amorphousness and flexibility that allowed the band to give the music a multitude of variations and interpretations to a great deal of success in the live setting.
Though credited to all four members, the album's closer "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" was written primarily by Mason and as the name suggests renders a fairly tripped-out three-part suite including the band providing background music for roadie Alan Styles's overdubbed and detailed descriptions of the various breakfasts he's enjoyed, including the one he was preparing at the time of the recording. Though cheeky in name and premise, "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" is somewhat representative of what had become the band's indifference to what had essentially been watered down to "space rock" for the psychedelic rock genre. Of particular note is the song's full use of the quadraphonic sound, especially with regards to Wright's winding keyboard sounds in the song's third movement "Morning Glory."
Though largely devoid of the band's more radio/mainstream ready music from their first three releases and a far cry from the fragmented if well-meaning experimentation of its predecessor in Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother was an especially important release for Pink Floyd as it found the band tipping their creative scale less to the end of sounding weird but catchy and more to the end of sounding weird but interesting. The album found the band in the creatively risky place of continuing on with the formula of psychedelic pop or, in the case of More, hard rock, or they could expound on the instinct for experimentation. At only five tracks, Atom Heart Mother was Pink Floyd's introduction to a decade as dark and haunting as it was successful for the band both musically and personally.
The Final Cut (1983)
Yes, 1983's The Final Cut is essentially a Roger Waters solo album, but to dismiss it as invalid is a tragic misstep on the part of listeners looking to glean the full emotional breadth of Pink Floyd's dimming light, captured in the just under 45 minutes of the album. Now known as much for the backstory surrounding its creation as it is for the twelve (at the time of its release) songs it contained, the deeply personal and autobiographical narrative of The Final Cut was a fairly predictable progression given the fact that the band's last three releases had been largely exclusive to the introspection of Waters in dealing primarily with the grief over his father as well as Barrett.
Though the overly romanticized tensions between Waters and Gilmour were reaching critical mass by the time of the album's release, those same creative and impersonal differences had been building to a head since The Dark Side Of The Moon. Originally conceived by Waters as a soundtrack to the feature film based on The Wall, he eventually changed his creative direction into the deliberately political and at times disturbingly personal spectrum heard on The Final Cut. This gradual trend toward the political sphere had been the primary point of contention between Waters and Gilmour and would lend itself to the eventual dissolution of their partnership.
While The Wall explored a more metaphorical notion of war and its incomparably horrific effects on all of those involved, The Final Cut is an unabashed memoir of sorts for the emotional disrepair and even dysfunction afforded Waters at the cost of his father's life. Conceptualized as an anti-war album and generally critiqued from that perspective, The Final Cut is as much about Waters' own misgivings concerning grief over the absence of his father as it is about Margaret Thatcher or the Falklands War. The distinction between the two concepts is important if for nothing else than to contextually understand not only how the band's narrative trajectory had evolved up to that point but why.
Waters' inherent grief over losing his father to war is the obvious primary informant of The Final Cut with him officially dedicating the album to a man he'd never had the opportunity to know but who'd invariably shaped nearly every aspect of the musician's life. Even with its thematic misgivings and tendency to rehash the same compositional trappings of its monolithic predecessor, The Final Cut is not simply a postlude to that album's epic-scale opus. Songs such as "Your Possible Pasts" and "The Gunner's Dream" don't as much provide a continuation of the compositional grandeur of the band's most recent material as much they provide a kind of brief and somehow even more sinister deviation from what had long been Pink Floyd's ominous storyline.
Though The Final Cut was not the first album to feature Waters venturing into the hyper-political spectrum, it is undoubtedly his most inherently and unrelentingly personal, at times bordering on self-importance. Then again that's precisely what allowed the material on albums like Animals and Wish You Were Here to successfully capture their overwhelming emotional magnitude in two separate contexts. Most of where the disparity lies for Waters is in the fact that even at his most autobiographical, he eagerly includes the listener as an active participant in the dread. Honestly capturing a glimpse into the cruelty of one's own personal fears, paranoia and grief is difficult enough. Bringing that reality to the listener in such an intimate way that the experiences become their own in many ways is songwriting mastery.
One of the most interesting issues inadvertently raised by The Final Cut is that of the album's nearly unhinged introspection. Though not an entirely new thematic direction for Pink Floyd, the self-doubt and disillusionment threaded throughout the album's twelve original tracks are an eerily mirrored image of the kind of writing that came at the band's very beginnings with Barrett. Whereas the former vocalist/guitarist for the band had channeled his own brand of detachment and societal rejection through the more absurdist conduit of whimsy and humor, Waters bookends his own trajectory with the band on a similar if more abrasively straightforward note.
Despite his overall absence from the majority of The Final Cut, Gilmour's occasional appearance is no more commanding than in the album's finest moment "The Fletcher Memorial Home" -- a captivating and unreservedly poignant song containing some of the guitarist's most achingly powerful solo work. The uncertainty both of the band's future and of Waters' own emotional distress are joined together for the song's four minutes in such a way that captures the very heart and essence of Pink Floyd's innate genius in bridging world-weary misanthropy and fear to the pop sensibilities an audience could and would relate to invariably.
As it stands in the band's catalogue, The Final Cut has turned into a strangely appropriate closing remark from the man who'd spent the majority of the band's existence offering a variance of nuanced declarations on all manner of society's ills. Waters' most successful moments as a lyricist are those in which he finds himself offering more questions than answers or in the case of "The Fletcher Memorial Home" tying an obvious emotional vulnerability to the easily accessed metaphor of the political sphere. For much of what would come in the post-Barrett Floyd years, Waters had largely shifted the lyrical focus to a less self-involved narrative, though there would be the occasional deviation, the most obvious example of which would be Wish You Were Here.
Even on that album, though, Waters is less inclined to speak to his own personal misgivings and instead focuses on the metaphorical and literal loss of friendship and creative innocence. For The Final Cut, those same reflections are turned fiercely inward, though Waters cleverly masks the introspection against the album's political backdrop. Using the most visceral components of his serrated lyrical wit, Waters manages to render an intensely personal scene as something strikingly familiar -- a nearly impossible achievement in light of the fact that Waters could evoke that kind of intimacy given the chilling detachment of the album and what would prove itself to be his denouement with the band.
The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967)
Pink Floyd's introduction to the world in 1967 came somewhat as a result of good fortune as EMI's otherwise meager record deal for the newly signed band gave them relatively free creative reign to take the music in whatever direction they saw fit. It was recorded at Abbey Road Studios under the production of Norman Smith (who'd already established his own reputation from his work with the Beatles) working alongside engineer Pete Bown, whose contributions to the album's exorbitant use of sound effects and manipulations is often overlooked. And here Smith helped guide the four young members of Pink Floyd to create their groundbreaking debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
Showing the band's seemingly innate ability to create radio-ready pop songs, Piper also made quick work of any comparative handwringing from listening audiences and critics. The same record that contained immediately accessible tracks such as "See Emily Play" (for the US release) and "Bike" also took listeners down the psychedelic rabbit hole of songs like "Interstellar Overdrive" and "Astronomy Domine." The result of the dually-natured tracklist is an album that could just as aptly be referred to as caustic pop, if only for the reason that the catchiness of the music itself is directly paired to an almost sinister narrative in the guise of a seemingly unobtrusive and at times even playful context.
Multiple biographies and accounts of the album's recording process have indicated that it was a fairly uneventful ordeal even if Barrett's drug use had rapidly increased during its creation. Smith's more traditional bent for song structure would occasionally clash with what had already been established among the band members as a definitive direction of the band members to the more experimental end of the creative spectrum. With the vast majority of the album being credit to Barrett, the overall sound of Pink Floyd's debut would understandably be inherently different from the material without him, yet the band's career-defining inclination for framing their songs within the coexisting world of the ethereal and the terrifyingly real was already firmly rooted in the band's ethos from the very beginning.
For the well-worn, lazy narrative stating that drug use equals brilliance, Syd Barrett's story provides an interesting counterpoint: Though his drug use brought him a legendary status he would never be fully able to grasp or even care about, it also robbed a musically brilliant mind of the normalcy it deserved. It's also important to note that Barrett's use of LSD wasn't the sole provocation of his mental breakdown but rather one of many mitigating and just as exacerbating factors that would eventually break the dam of his sanity and nearly that of his band mates as well.
Just as Waters would capture so chillingly a decade later with Animals, Barrett's doubts, delusions, and general aversion to a society he didn't understand or that, better yet, didn't understand him is the undercurrent of the only album with his nearly exclusive creative perspective. Initially dismissed as the incoherent lyrical ramblings of a drug-addled rock star, the songs of Piper are deliberately deceptive in the presentation, and it's likely that Barrett would have taken great pleasure in knowing that his lyrics were often being derided as childish or fantastical. For Barrett and what would carry on through Pink Floyd throughout the 1970s, that vulnerability and childish wonderment paired against the backdrop of a foreboding world was at once the ultimate creative catalyst and detriment for the band.
For an audience likely acclimated to the easy listening bubblegum pop of bands like the Beatles or the Beach Boys, Pink Floyd's debut, with its jarring melodic twists and echoing soundscapes, was likely a point of initial discomfort. Barrett's thick British accent lays out over the music like a hazed-out phantom with his delivery barely audible or discernible from the music itself -- all in stark contrast to the safe pseudo-transatlantic vocalizations that had no doubt contributed to at least some of the band's contemporaries at the time.
Though Barrett's radio-rock savvy was impressive in its own right, the album's most powerfully echoed and near prophetic tracks are those featuring the band taking full advantage of their improvisational skills. No better example of that creative propensity exists on Piper than in the nearly ten minutes of "Interstellar Overdrive." A song both oddly and exactingly executed, "Interstellar Overdrive" would have been an outstanding achievement for a band five albums deep into a career, much less one at the dawn of its existence and with the uncertainty of its future looming just in front of the microphone.
Covered and sampled by an almost infinite number of artists ranging from Pearl Jam to Death Grips, the song's exploration of technique and of the definitive rewards that would come from the band's first creative instinct are most perfectly captured on the studio version, though the various number of live (and at times incredibly lengthy) versions offer yet another perspective on just how malleable the music of the band was from the very start. That open-ended compositional style makes sense in the context of the time before Pink Floyd released their debut, as the band had established a reputation for improvisational experimentation in their shows prior to recording.
While Barrett's brief creative contributions to Pink Floyd would understandably be seen as the incoherent musings of a madman upon the initial release of Piper, the benefit of history now provides that same critical lens with a perspective that's far less sensationalistic and instead more contextually concerned with the hazy line between Barrett's creative genius and the potentially exploitative nature surrounding both the album's initial release and the singer/guitarist's eventual legacy. Rock and roll's tendency to create its own romanticized mythology in place of the hard (read: unmarketable) truths of its most devastating realities presents a dubious question with regards to the entertainment or even artistic value of Piper.
Without resorting to the self-righteous direction of self-imposed quarantine from any art created by any person seen as troubled (best of luck with that), the question of enjoying or being entertained by those songs written by Barrett while in a repeatedly documented and verified state of mental disrepair and eventual psychosis is one that at the very least demands attention if not an attempt to discover just at what point the reality escaped the musician. Though the answer to that may be as perplexing as the artist it concerns, the question is an invariably important one both in understanding the terrifying reality of Syd Barrett's mental illness and the inevitable emotional devastation it brought to his band mates for years to come.
Drawing together the few loose ends of Atom Heart Mother and finding the band as creatively interconnected as they'd been up to that point, 1971's Meddle is the full representation of Pink Floyd's most successful attempts at experimentation and compositional versatility. Sidestepping the heady if well-meaning scope and direction of its predecessor, Meddle found the members of Pink Floyd in a state of near-perfect creative cohesion that they would, in the album's aftermath, begin to descend from to the point of Waters' departure. The album's six tracks provide a striking view of the band's career crescendo up to that point, resulting in the borrowed components of those most successful musical directions of their past and a forward-thinking sense of discovery in its execution.
Up to the point of Meddle's release, Pink Floyd's music had expanded to include all manner of experimentation yet often lacked the uniformity to give the music a sense of equilibrium. That is, the variables for the complex equation of their music had been honed to exactness, now all the band members needed was to bring the components together and shape them into a solution. That solidarity is immediately and profoundly evident on the album's opening track and one of the band's most powerful arrangements, "One Of These Days." With a variance of sound effects, clever double-tracked bass, and the trademark atmospheric chemistry of Wright, Meddle begins with a nearly six-minute instrumental declaration of auditory absolutism for Pink Floyd.
The song's cyclical nature segues perfectly into the austere and subdued "A Pillow Of Winds" with Gilmour's muted work on the acoustic and pedal steel guitars laying a kind of bare vulnerability in contrast to the daunting command of the song preceding it. Despite the distinction between both tracks, each carries the album's overarching compositional tone of being less forced into the enclosure of its own music and more deliberately orchestrated to complement the album as a whole. The same common threading finds its way throughout the album's entirety in such a way that might otherwise suggest accidental genius were it not for the fact that the band managed to repeat the concept to even greater effect over the next three releases.
With its inclusion of the Liverpool F.C.'s Kop chanting "You'll Never Walk Alone" taken from a field recording, "Fearless" is a criminally overlooked work of songwriting mastery for Pink Floyd. Turning the full share of its six minutes into a deceptively innocuous anthem of sorts with Waters taking on acoustic guitar duty alongside Gilmour's lead guitar and vocals, "Fearless" contains the instantly memorable open-tuning chord progression underscoring the characteristically hazy vocals and mid-tempo range. Combined with the well-placed chants as background, the song again capitalizes on the album's commonality in tone with the band following the pull of the music's narrative itself instead of arbitrarily forcing it to go in multiple directions.
Meddle's anomaly "San Tropez" is so due to the fact that it's the album's only track not resulting from collaboration but is instead the sole creative work of Waters. Along with the ode-to-a-dog "Seamus," "San Tropez" is an inherently odd track given the rest of the album's more layered and progressive mood, yet both tracks bear the significance of digression in that they offer a brief and altogether entertaining reprieve from any one single creative direction and as a contrasting introduction to the antithesis of brevity and simplicity that is "Echoes."
Spanning the entirety of Side Two, "Echoes" stands as a point of reference for Pink Floyd at their most creatively and successfully tenacious. Having previously explored the magnitude and scope of marathon-length compositions, "Echoes" offers a familiar framework in terms of its length and the band's compositional tendencies toward improvisation. What sets the song and in effect the entirety of the album apart is that "Echoes" found the band trimming away the last few ineffectual remnants that had detracted from the overall effectiveness of those more experimentally-focused tracks prior to it. Though those tracks in particular exemplified the whole of the band's enormous talents as individuals, none had yet fully captured the uninhibited focus and direction of "Echoes."
Even with its multiple transitions and movements, "Echoes" is inherently seamless and devoid of the somewhat fragmented nature of the band's previous lengthy excursions, most notably the title track to the album's predecessor, Atom Heart Mother. It's not to suggest that the lot of Pink Floyd's more experimental efforts prior to "Echoes" were invariably flawed as a prime example of the same creative cohesion was seen even in the band's genesis with "Interstellar Overdrive." What "Echoes" suggests instead is that the band then three years removed from the departure of Barrett had finally found its own creative solidity fully outside the creative but certainly not emotional influence of their friend and former band mate.
Much of what allows "Echoes" to be the songs that it is can be found in the more subtle idiosyncrasies and "auditory accidents" that serve to complement the entirety of the album's more unobtrusive mood. What's even more impressive about the song is that its eventual final form came from multiple fragments of songs and a multitude of experiments with sound of which the most recognizable and aptly incorporated would be Wright's distinct submarine "ping" serving as the song's sort of ethereal metronome and also providing a clear if unintentional line of dissimilarity between itself and the more immediately accessible songs preceding it. From there the song deliberately follows the ease of the album, strangely holding to that pattern while expanding the sonic reach to nearly every possible extreme.
Meddle's concluding track remains as daring a track today as it was upon the album's release and perhaps even more so given the level of patience it must have demanded from its individual creators. Like many of their lengthier tracks, "Echoes" gives credence, though likely unintentional, to the architectural background of both Waters and Mason. Often misconceived as organized chaos, free-form improvisation demands a creative sense of autonomy, maturity, and instinct from those musicians hoping to capitalize on its most rewarding effects. From that perspective, as much as the song waivers between the convex and concave sound spectrum and the seemingly infinite chasm between them, "Echoes" is grounded to an absolutely structural foundation that, in the song's execution, works to every successful end for the simple fact that it's nearly impossible to decipher.
Meddle's placement in Pink Floyd's discography is especially important as the album works as a creative fulcrum between the band's ambitious if fragmented musicianship in the wake of Barrett's departure and the more progressive and topically despondent releases that would cement their legend in rock and roll's history. Though the band would repeat the album's sense of creative congruency to enormously successful ends, Meddle remains the band's most singularly comfortable album both in terms of the disarmingly restrained mood of the music and of the members themselves in its implementation. It's a characteristic that provides a clear distinction for the album and places it in a realm of near positivity for the band who interestingly enough would find even further depths to their music by exploring the antithesis.
The Wall (1979)
The last Pink Floyd album to feature all four integral members, The Wall has for many fans and critics been a point of as much contention as the album that would follow it, The Final Cut. A magnum opus by any standards, the album is seen as much the work of an egomaniacal, self-obsessed Waters as it is the "true" final statement of one of rock and roll's greatest bands. Both claims are somewhat justified in light of the album's visionary focus coming almost solely from the intensely personal experiences and emotional perspective of Waters, and also with regards to the album's inclusion of the classic lineup, as Wright would be fired by Waters two years after its release.
However, for all its enormity and conceptual magnitude, The Wall's origins and overall premise are rooted to the band's humble beginnings and, more specifically, their former band mate's inability to grapple with himself or the world that surrounded him. Like much of Pink Floyd's story, the creative impetus for The Wall has been well-documented including the most well-known story of the band's unpleasant interaction with an especially rowdy group of fans in Montreal providing the ultimate catalyst for the album's creation. The last show of the band's In the Flesh Tour, the incident especially affected Waters who'd gone so far as to spit at a group of the unruly fans.
Whatever success may have been afforded Pink Floyd by that time, what became ultimately clear was that the disconnect between the band and their audience and, more importantly, the rapidly growing rift between the members themselves were both proving detrimental to the group's future. In a testament to the band's creative vitality, The Wall's meta-narrative concerning Waters' own misgivings about the band's success pairs eerily well with the storyline's literal mirroring of the isolation and mental depravity that Barrett had experienced years earlier largely due to the same issues, albeit in the context of an already ill mind.
Waters' use of his own personal experiences and the erratic behaviors he'd witnessed from Barrett as a dual inspiration for the album's focal character, Pink, provide a fascinating dynamic, however unintentional it may have been, to the overall storyline of The Wall. Whereas Barrett's isolation came as a result of the exacerbating effects of drug use on his already unstable mental condition, Waters' own isolation had come gradually by way of grief over his father's death and the growing disillusionment with and detachment from his identity as a "rock star." Though both lives contribute to the album's overt theme of isolation, the origins are indisputably disparate.
Over the course of the album's hour and twenty-odd minutes, Waters uses his already well-polished metaphorical skill set to eviscerate everything from the recording industry to the educational system to the patriarchal (and yes, even matriarchal) corruption and villainy of the British government. In contrast to the album's predecessor, Animals, The Wall found Waters in a state of emotional vulnerability, with the musician replacing the former album's seething rage with the latter's hopeless desperation. The result is an album that seems less an autobiography for Waters (see: The Final Cut) or an homage to Barrett (see: Wish You Were Here) and more a painfully accurate portrayal of the band who created it.
From start to finish, The Wall is an overture to the perils of rock stardom and the inevitable betrayals of self it brings to those artists who achieve it. What might have otherwise lent itself handily to epic-scale self-loathing for virtually any other band served a different purpose for Pink Floyd with The Wall as the songs and overall storyline speak to the most viscerally human commonalities of fear, regret, and grief. Channeled through what are some of the band's most powerfully enduring songs, The Wall allowed Pink Floyd the rarity to write an album about the introspective struggle of their celebrity without sacrificing its merits to self-important posturing of the highest order.
Beginning with a pointedly titled "In The Flesh?" Waters' primary writing credits are immediately apparent with the song's overtly theatrical flair hovering over the song's cautionary tale characterization. From there the album shows itself to be a compositional deviation for the band with the previously elongated and largely improvisational songs replaced by a relatively short pop rock-ready framework. Even with the transition, the songs of The Wall are not augmented in terms of what was already well known as the band's penchant for uninhibited insight and depth. In fact, the songs seemingly follow the deliberate pop rock formula almost like a clever wink from Rogers to the band's earliest days as a more radio friendly band on the verge of commercial success.
To that end, The Wall could be seen as a deliberately overwrought declaration of isolation and disillusionment with Waters hedging his bets on a full-scale production and the self-mocking underpinnings of the album's entirety. Whatever creative direction he may have initially set into motion for the album, Waters' meta-narrative quickly became nearly indistinguishable from the realities of Pink Floyd's past as well as those impending fractures of their immediate future. Regardless of the album's finality as a work of art, The Wall's most compelling trait is its harrowing portrayal of the rise and fall of the very band performing it -- an effect unlikely to have been deliberately rendered by the band members themselves.
Alongside what would become some of the band's biggest commercial hits like "Another Brick In The Wall Part 2" and "Comfortably Numb," The Wall contains the metaphorical domesticity as war tracks such as "Mother" and "Goodbye Blue Sky" -- two tracks that find a rare lyrical moment for Waters in his exploration of matriarchy and its representation both of the government and his own struggles in growing up without a father yet surrounded by the ghosts of his memories in war memorabilia. The illusion of presence, both paternally and artistically, takes thematic center stage for much of The Wall, translating many of the songs into a near frenzy of paranoia and self-doubt.
The album's constant questioning both of Pink to himself and to the world he inhabits no doubt reflects the achingly introspective projections of Waters himself, and with the album's methodical deflection and avoidance of any semblance of an answer to those questions, it achieves the purpose, however grand in scale, of what its name and its creator intended. Another unlikely intentional effect of The Wall is its musically foreboding compositions -- all of which lighten the near disturbing darkness of Animals only to turn that same general cynicism inward to devastating results. With its theatrical eccentricities and offhanded melodies such as those found in the harmoniously brooding "The Show Must Go On" or near the album's close with the Broadway-ready "The Trial," even The Wall's most sonically inviting songs are the very wolves in sheep's clothing suggested throughout the album's entirety.
Though much of what carries the plotline of The Wall is Waters' obsession with the pitfalls of success personified by the character Pink, the album is inexorably tied to the musician's grief over his own childhood as well as the loss of innocence both he and his band mates had endured through the ironic fate of their nearly incalculable success. The album's exploration of that grief is most successfully translated in its longest track "Comfortably Numb" -- one of only three songs on The Wall that would be credited to both Gilmour and Waters. The endless accolades and praise heaped on the song is more than well deserved not simply for Gilmour's phenomenal blues guitar craftsmanship but for the aching vulnerability of the lyrics running parallel to the music's lonesome narrative.
Thirty-five years after its release, The Wall still feels strangely linked to a cultural pulse seemingly defined by its celebrity status or the pursuit thereof. As massive in scale as it is, the album's most compelling characteristic is in its cruelly honest depiction of what emotional and mental costs Pink Floyd had incurred in the pursuit of art. It would not prove itself to be the band's most musically successful attempt at retrospective as the album occasionally falters under its own weight, but The Wall is exactly the beast it means to be in showing the inherent isolation and detachment culminating from the well-deserved but equally as formidable successes of the band.
The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)
741. That's seven hundred forty-one. It's the number of consecutive weeks Pink Floyd's eighth and far and away most commercially successful release The Dark Side Of The Moon would spend on the Billboard charts. The unprecedented success of the album presented a conflict of sorts for the band, allowing them the rare opportunities afforded to those very few bands who manage to achieve it but also the daunting task of expectation inevitably following in its wake. Given the slowly transitioning sound and accessibility of the material released before it and with Meddle in particular, The Dark Side Of The Moon appears in Pink Floyd's catalogue as an entirely natural step for the band members rather than a boldly experimental shift in their sound.
Recorded over a six-month period of time from 1972-1973 and briefly interrupted by the band's commission to soundtrack what would become the anomalous Obscured By Clouds, the creative scope and direction of The Dark Side Of The Moon demanded an incredible amount of effort, time, and patience on the part of both the band members themselves as well as the numerous studio musicians, producers, and engineers involved in its development. For its theme and what would eventually become the band's MO for the duration of his tenure with the band, Waters took over the sole lyrical and thematic responsibilities of what would eventually become the new album.
While their previous releases had focused on common themes and narratives to the degree of one or two lengthy songs per album, Waters made clear his creative desire to see the band's new material take on a unified theme with each track working as a compositional complement both musically and lyrically to the whole of the album. As opposed to what had been a largely abstract lyrical disposition for their material up to that point, Waters' lyrics are more pointed and exacting on the album -- an important shift especially given the explicitly topical nature of the band's later releases and what would eventually prove to be a point of division among the members.
From that perspective, The Dark Side Of The Moon remains Pink Floyd's most important release though not the band's best. Four years removed from one of prog rock's primary launching points -- King Crimson's debut In The Court Of The Crimson King -- Pink Floyd's eighth studio album would end up providing the immediately relatable connective tissue between the more experimental and at times self-involved beginnings of the genre and what would come in this album's aftermath with its most intricately realized culmination coming in the form of Genesis' seminal 1974 release, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.
With its grounded and ultimately relevant lyrical landscape tied to the societal conditions of greed, mortality, mental illness, and the unavoidable passing of time, The Dark Side Of The Moon was, somewhat in contrast to its title, a landing of sorts for Pink Floyd. The band's prior sonic explorations had seen their lyrical expositions take a distant backseat to the at times massive compositional framework of the songs themselves. Eight albums into their career, the band members had unquestionably experienced the overwhelming pressures both from the music industry and, even more relentlessly, their own creative ambitions. The stark reality brought on by these experiences would be dealt with directly and with Waters' trademark biting humor on The Dark Side Of The Moon.
Containing some of the band's most recognizable and in at least one certain case their most ironically successful songs, The Dark Side Of The Moon begins with a literal genesis of sorts, jumbling random chaotic fragments taken from various songs and rooting them to a common pulse in the Mason-penned "Speak To Me." The brief but crucial instrumental intro to the album provides the elliptical overture that surfaces continually throughout before reaching its open-ended conclusion with "Eclipse." Though each individual track contains its own fundamental distinction from the rest, the correspondence between them is executed by the band with stunning congruency.
In the time since the release of the album, the use of continuous music to achieve that same sense of congruency has been utilized by countless bands and artists, though very few have managed to capture it with the kind of natural track-to-track, note-to-note progression heard on the ten tracks of The Dark Side Of The Moon. Though absent the near positivity and innocuous undercurrent of Meddle, the songs here are the result and mirroring of that album's same creative harmony, only now with a declarative and measured thematic focus. The progression showed that aside from their respective vitality as musicians, Pink Floyd's members were also adept at exploiting their strengths and excising the few weaknesses that detracted from them.
Again highlighting their most compelling and commanding attributes as a collective of vastly talented musicians, The Dark Side Of The Moon succeeds primarily because of the music's equity and balance. Even with Waters' exclusive writing credits on the album, Pink Floyd's eighth album is the definitive result of the band's near-mythical rarity in being able to perfectly manifest their creative solidarity through every song. In an album featuring the likes of Gilmour's iconic solo from "Money" or Wright's beautiful and heart wrenching keyboard work on "Us And Them" as well as the numerous other key moments offered by each track, the fact that no song plays like the characteristic thumbprint of any one member is one of the album's more subtle but no less powerful traits.
The inclusion of Dick Parry's now universally recognizable saxophone solo, the now duly credited Clare Torry's work on "The Great Gig In The Sky," hell, even the fabled engineering work of Alan Parsons and the various semi-truths associated with the album and Monty Python's Flying Circus are all a part of the album's lore, lending it an oftentimes skewed appraisal when considering the band's entire catalogue. In the same way that its iconic prism artwork displays the varied spectrum of visible light, neatly ordered and succinct to an exact and literal science, The Dark Side Of The Moon was and still remains Pink Floyd's unparalleled masterpiece in terms of what the band was capable of creating at the zenith of their creative synchronization, though its members would soon discover that their most powerful music was derived from a ruthlessly vulnerable place of imperfection.
For all that the 1970s offered in the realm of bleak music, many of those sociocultural reflections were hardwired to a cursory disenchantment with nearly every generic brand of Westernized domesticity. In music, misanthropy and societal rejection could be heard on many releases over a range of genres, but the unhinged rancor and vitriol of Pink Floyd's Animals stands wholly and distantly unmatched. Released in 1977, the band's tenth studio album is at once their bleakest and most thematically fractured, with the music itself boiling out of the instruments with a near -renzied urgency.
Containing five tracks at a running time of just over forty minutes, Animals is the absolute apex for Waters as a lyricist, with his affinity for metaphor taking a decidedly darker, more vicious turn throughout the album's narrative. Coming just two years after the band's most achingly personal work in 1975's Wish You Were Here, Animals serves as a sort of primal contrast to its predecessor's more somber and mournfully reflective tone. A bastardization of Orwell's anti-Stalinism in Animal Farm, the album's thematic plotline is as nihilistic as the then-fetal punk-rock movement it supposedly critiques.
In retrospect, the five songs of Animals play less like the arbitrary ravings of an egocentric band and more like the genuinely honest protestations of band utterly exhausted with the world around them and perhaps even with the status they'd achieved within it. Though Waters would further explore his own personal disillusionment over the course of Pink Floyd's next two releases, Animals is categorically distinctive both in its premise and in its overall compositional manifestation. Waters' lyrical obsession with lunacy, patriarchy, government, and the inextricable futility of the pursuit of identity amongst those things works in the music here with a sinister machination.
Bookending the album and providing its sole (and appropriately brief) ode to hope and positivity are the two "Pigs On The Wing" tracks. The song's overarching question of "What If" plays contradictorily to the remainder of the album's sardonic tone. The inclusion and clever placement of the song in its divided form offers a reprieving prelude of sorts for the terrible reality that exists between its parts. Exuding a hopeful fragility, the decision by Waters to separate the tracks to ensure the album would conclude on a question of hope rather than a declaration of utter antipathy suggests that for all its unbridled indignation, Animals is not entirely dismissive of its subject matter.
Originally written three years prior to the album's release, the harrowingly pessimistic "Dogs" is arguably Gilmour's finest achievement in Pink Floyd, leading the song down its elongated narrative pathway with a vocal and guitar delivery as mercilessly bleak as any put to tape in the post-'60s world. At seventeen minutes, the song was a return for the band to the more improvisational style, yet it remains distinctive both for the inclusion of Wright's vital synth work and what's easily the most chillingly delivered vocal performance by Gilmour. Though Waters lends his vocals to the song as well, the rare showing of urgency and worry from Gilmour alongside his equally as rare and frenetic guitar work underscores the track with his signature.
The song is the conceptual cornerstone of the album's entirety, exploring the social depravity and deception that Waters seemed utterly haunted by as a result of the band's lucrative success. Continuing the socio-political theme of Animals is the politically charged "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" -- a song featuring what would be Waters' most skewering lyrical attack on the government and political system he saw as hopelessly corrupt and tyrannical. Along with "Sheep," both songs are more lyrically pointed with the music itself taking a definitively contrasting turn, varying from the former's use of a talkbox and Gilmour's rare turn as a bassist and in the latter's churning style with Waters in one of his most effectively unnerving vocal performances.
Musically speaking, the world surrounding the group had become vastly different in the ten years since their debut. Despite their relatively short existence as a band, Pink Floyd were already being dismissed by the burgeoning punk scene for what was seen as their overly complex and needlessly intricate music that showed more but meant less. The paradox of that youth culture aversion to their music was likely not lost on the band members as their own counter-culture identity had itself been a resistance of sorts to the restrictions of the pop rock formula's simplicity.
That Animals would be released with its unabated prog-rock wrath to a listening audience likely still reeling from the one-two punch of the album's two predecessors would be daring enough, but alongside the historical context of its release in a time period of pop music known primarily for its near disposable creative homogenization and the five songs of Animals undoubtedly dropped with a near atomic force upon its release. For the band, the album represented an appropriately ominous turn of creative fortunes as Waters' weariness with society was matched only by Gilmour's weariness with Waters.
The growing tensions for both would approach critical mass throughout the recording of the album which also saw meager contributions from both Wright and Mason, the former of which would see Animals as the first Pink Floyd record to be released and not feature him as a credited writer. Additionally, Gilmour's own personal life as well as that of Waters provided an invariably fractured backdrop for any creativity the band could hope to capture. Despite circumstances that would have unquestionably crippled the creative force of most other bands, the fragmented and exhausted members would create their penultimate work in Animals, despite of and, strangely, due in part to the resistances both within and without their creative circle.
Though often and to a great extent justifiably viewed from the critical perspective that it was a pointed statement at the ills of society, government, and even religion, Animals is an inadvertent but no less effective confessional of the group's cynicism toward an identity that though they had managed to establish through their own creative vision, felt entirely foreign and invasive to their existence. Beginning with its predecessor, Pink Floyd's deliberate creative shift in the aftermath of Dark Side's immense commercial success was one that found the group exploring the veritable space created by pairing melodic minimalism to a bare compositional fluidity borrowing as much from their earliest psychedelic rock ventures as it does the progressive rock digressions of their most recent work at the time.
Looking at what would eventually prove to be their most fully realized material reveals a fascinating pattern of creative precision through resistance for Pink Floyd. Seemingly plagued by adversity both personal and professional throughout the entirety of their career, the group held themselves to the creative impetus that such situations afforded its individual members, pouring every bit of the resulting contempt and resentment into what would almost always develop into their most powerfully evocative songs. From the focused resilience of carrying the band in a new direction in the wake of Barrett's departure as evidenced by the atmospheric command and focus of Meddle or in the brilliantly pared electronic grandeur of The Dark Side Of The Moon and its fundamental turning point for the band, Pink Floyd's musicianship found the group reaping its greatest rewards at the cost of its greatest struggles.
Wish You Were Here (1975)
In the fall of 1974, Syd Barrett made what would be his last quiet attempt to create new music. The effort proved fruitless for the almost completely reclusive musician, and found the man whose troubled mind had given birth to Pink Floyd disappearing from the creative landscape he'd immeasurably (if unknowingly) influenced. The topic of discussion, debate, and even the occasional cruelly flippant criticism, Barrett's post-Pink Floyd life would become the drawing board for all manner of speculation for fans and critics alike, with many wondering just where the breaking point had been and how detrimental its impact on his band mates had been even beyond the didactic narrative presented in their releases after his departure.
Just a few months after Barrett's final creative impulse had faded into obscurity, his former band mates, now at the very apex of their own commercial and creative success, entered the studio to record their ninth and greatest album, Wish You Were Here. The emotional and physical toll of creating, promoting, and touring for their prior release The Dark Side Of The Moon would have no doubt created the obstacle of writer's block for all four members. That void and absence of what had been a seemingly immediate creative impulse up to that point of the group would unconsciously shape the longing and mournful tone of Wish You Were Here.
Though its predecessor found the members of the band near-perfectly shaping their most advantageous musical and thematic ideas around the groundbreaking sound technology of the time, Wish You Were Here would become Pink Floyd's most creatively uninhibited release due in equal measure to its compositional restraint and the agonizing honesty of its thematic narrative. The measure of the album's timelessness is impossible to ascertain without giving equal consideration to the context of its creation within the spectrum of 1970s rock and roll as well as that of the band's consistently deviating musical direction. Mired in the proverbial churn of a listening audience and music industry more inclined to gravitate to the easily digested pop rock fodder of the day, mainstream radio's eventual overall abandonment of more experimentally inclined music would provide a kind of unconscious but no less forceful response from artists new and those already well established.
Wish You Were Here's iconic artwork immediately betrays the emptiness and delusion of its subject matter from the mechanical handshake as well as that between the businessmen with one engulfed in the literal and metaphorical flames inextricably linked to the band's being fully aware by then of the looming threat of creative and even more poignantly mental devastation. As intended as the album was in paying due credence to Barrett, Wish You Were Here works just as adamantly in the compositional and lyrical disenchantment of the remaining members of the band themselves. This is primarily evident on tracks such as "Have A Cigar" and "Welcome To The Machine," both of which render a scene less focused on the retrospect of the album's elegiac tone and more on what the band observed in themselves at that present time.
In the same structural pattern that would be repeated on Animals, Wish You Were Here is bookended by the group's elegy to Syd Barrett, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." Almost half an hour in length and showcasing one of Wright's most commandingly subdued performances, the song's lyrics present a tribute to Barrett that threads its empathy through the awe-inspired perplexity of the band members at a man and, more accurately, a disease they could not hope to understand but one that had already mirrored itself in the social detachment brought on by their successes in his absence. Driving the song end-to-end is the absolute synth/keys mastery of Wright, whose impending removal from the band a few years later would provide the song with an unintentionally bitter irony.
At times equally endearing and painful, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" still maintains its eerily lingering presence, providing its obvious intention for Barrett with muted but no less gorgeously rendered austerity but also offering one of modern music's first and most successfully realized songs rooted in the uneasy vulnerability of honest introspection concerning success and stardom's toll on a band and the fragility of the creative mind as a result. Almost personifying its subject matter, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" features an occasional disruption of its otherwise dirge-like tempo, most notably with Dick Parry's saxophone gradually shifting from the unified melodic pace of the band and into an almost improvisational descant separate from the other members.
Barrett's sudden appearance in the studio during the recording of the song is as legendarily remembered as it is steeped in what now seems a natural occurrence of serendipity concerning Pink Floyd's self-imposed inability to fully remove their former band mate from their creative consciousness. Almost completely unrecognizable in appearance and displaying the textbook idiosyncratic behaviors of a mental illness that likely remained tragically undiagnosed, Barrett wandered into the studio and was afforded the opportunity to watch a very different band from the one he'd helped start, create a song specifically focused on the detrimental void left in his absence.
A song just as likely to fit within the thematic framework of Animals, "Welcome to the Machine" is as coldly executed a song lyrically and musically as any that Pink Floyd would ever put to tape, with Gilmour forcing the very limits of his vocal range over the robotic syncopations and odd time signatures of the music. With its deliberately shrill mechanical pulses, "Welcome to the Machine" works in stark contrast to the pensive character of the album's opener and provides a kind of topical prelude to the band's darker material after Wish You Were Here.
"Have A Cigar" works as a near complementary piece to the prior album's foray into dark humor laced around dejected sincerity with "Money." Both songs feature the trademark cynicism of Waters, though the former found a rare guest vocal performance for the band by way of the indelibly influential English folk rock singer Roy Harper. As effectively sardonic as both tracks are in the overall structure of Wish You Were Here, "Have A Cigar" and "Welcome To The Machine" offer the album's only deliberated pointed commentary outside the scope of Barrett.
Simplistic and direct, the title track to Wish You Were Here is interestingly enough one of Pink Floyd's greatest songs if only for the fact that it spends the duration of its nearly six minutes bridging the seemingly impassable gap of the band's current disillusionment of the time and the hopeful creative abandon of their beginnings. From Gilmour's radio effect guitar intro to the song's bare explication of the band's palpable ache, "Wish You Were Here" is as much directed at the shadow of Syd Barrett as it is that of the band members themselves. Wish You Were Here unfolds across the span of its 48 minutes like the voice of its inspiration as echoed through the minds of the friends and band mates who could seemingly do anything but separate themselves from his influence.
The rarity of a perfect album does not afford itself simply to occasion, and much like Barrett himself the brilliance will justifiably be forever debated, but the humanity and fragility of grief poured into each song of Wish You Were Here will remain inarguably captivating and unrivaled. In the year since its release and in the relatively recent death of Barrett himself in 2006, the album has become one decidedly concerned with more than just the fragmented mind of its inspiration. For all its intimately achieved grandeur, it represents one of modern music's most powerfully relevant introspective views of human fragility as well as the cruel indifference of grief. From that perspective, Wish You Were Here stands as Pink Floyd's unintended masterpiece, as much an anguished and reluctant farewell to their friend in Barrett as it was to themselves as a band they no longer recognized.