Friday, November 21, 2014

Pink Floyd 18: The Endless River

And you thought seven years was a long time between albums? Try twenty. That’s how many had gone by since the last Pink Floyd studio album, and with the passing of Rick Wright it looked like the band was finally done. Sure, Roger Waters took his improved multimedia upgrade of The Wall on the road, and managed to convince Nick Mason and even David Gilmour to show up for a few dates, but new music appeared out of the question.
That changed when Gilmour put off work on a solo album to “finish up” some jams left over from the early stages of the Division Bell sessions. With Nick Mason in tow, The Endless River is a tribute to Wright, an ambient experiment, and likely the last thing ever to be remotely labeled a Pink Floyd album.
Designed as a four-part suite, it’s largely instrumental, many tracks less than two minutes, and moody little pieces they are. “Things Left Unsaid” begins with snippets of conversation in proper Queen’s English, over a few minutes of atmospherics along the lines of “Cluster One”. The aptly titled “It’s What We Do” is built around sounds familiar from Wish You Were Here; a little “Welcome To The Machine” here, some “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” there. “Ebb And Flow” finishes the first section with some heavily panned electric piano and acoustic.
“Sum” conjures images of the racecars Gilmour and Mason adore; that track and “Skins” feature some of the most energetic drumming Nick Mason’s done in decades. The hand of co-producer Youth is noticeable here. The brief “Unsaid”, set up the more majestic “Anisina”, combining the piano bass of “Us And Them” with the swirling strings of “Comfortably Numb” underneath slide guitar, saxophone and hearty “ooh”s.
A lot of the titles seem tossed off; calling one track “The Lost Art Of Conversation” continues the communication theme of the last album but rings weirdly on an album with no vocals. Similarly, “On Noodle Street” sounds just what it is, a smooth jazz riff. “Night Light” is another nondescript interlude before the ‘80s sound (think more “Blue Light” than “Run Like Hell”) of “Allons-Y”. This piece is bisected by “Autumn ‘68”, a vintage recording of Rick Wright on the glorious Royal Albert Hall organ we wish was longer and less adorned. We didn’t really need more soundbites from Stephen Hawking, but there he is, inevitably, halfway through “Talkin’ Hawkin’”, which is at least musically different from “Keep Talking”. Is that a howl from Dark Side buried in there?
Some of the guitar-less moments resemble sci-fi movie soundtracks, and “Calling”, “Eyes To Pearls” and “Surfacing” don’t always catch. Then the chimes of Big Ben reappear at the start of “Louder Than Words”, the only song with a vocal on the album and something of a weary summation until the closing solo, ending the album in a minor key. Not much at first, it improves with familiarity. (Despite the insistence that the album was to be treated like a four-sided LP, the deluxe DVD and Blu-ray packages included some extra music, dominated by extended jams on “Wearing The Inside Out” and one rocking track called “Nervana”.)
So while The Endless River isn’t a grand finale, it is something of a conclusion, and a fitting one. People can and will argue whether this would be more or less valuable in a deluxe anniversary edition of The Division Bell—one of which had appeared earlier in the year, boasting a surround sound mix and a double LP pressing that matched the CD, unlike the original edited LP—but it sure is nice to hear the guys again.

Pink Floyd The Endless River (2014)—3

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