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  • My Vinyl Collection

    5 jul 2014, 19:19

    (Last updated: 7/13/2014)

    *Olias of Sunhillow - Jon Anderson

    *Friend or Foe - Adam Ant

    *"Applesauce" single (B-side: "Crimson") - Animal Collective

    *Fall Be Kind EP - Animal Collective

    *"Before Your Very Eyes..." (B-side: "Magic Beanz") - Atoms for Peace

    *"Judge, Jury, and Executioner" single (B-side: "S.A.D.") - Atoms for Peace

    *Pet Sounds - The Beach Boys

    *Baal EP - David Bowie

    *1984" Picture Disc (B-side: "1984" Live on the Dick Cavett Show - December 4th, 1974) - David Bowie

    *David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" - David Bowie feat. Eugene Ormandy and the Philidelphia Orchestra

    *"Drive-In Saturday" Picture Disc (B-side: "Drive-In..." Live on Russel Hardy) - David Bowie

    *Island Intervals - Death Vessel

    *Bryter Layter - Nick Drake

    *Pink Moon - Nick Drake

    *Pictures at an Exhibition - Emerson, Lake, and Palmer

    *Exposure - Robert Fripp

    *The League of Gentlemen - Robert Fripp

    *Peter Gabriel II (Scratch) - Peter Gabriel

    *Peter Gabriel III (Melt) - Peter Gabriel

    *About Face - David Gilmour

    *An Ideal for Living EP - Joy Division

    *"Philosophize in It! Chemicalize with It!" single (B-side: "Song for the Sold") - Kishi Bashi

    *Room for Dream EP - Kishi Bashi

    *Side-by-Side Series: "7 and 7 is" Single (B-side: "7 and 7 is (cover)" by Rush) - Love

    *A Question of Balance - The Moody Blues

    *The Final Cut - Pink Floyd

    *The King of Limbs - Radiohead

    *Prologue - Renaissance

    *Sound Mirror - Syd Arthur

    *Live Versions - Tame Impala

    *Lonerism - Tame Impala

    *Self-Titled EP - Tame Impala

    *MOJO Presents "Return to the Dark Side of the Moon" - Various Artists

    *Journey to the Centre of the Earth - Rick Wakeman

    *Scott 2 - Scott Walker

    *Heavy Weather - Weather Report

    *Cover Version - Steven Wilson

    *Tales from Topographic Oceans - Yes

    *Yessongs - Yes

    *Freak Out! - Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
  • The Division Bell: A Review

    20 jan 2012, 00:49

    The Division Bell (1994)



    Pink Floyd took a break from recording to tour their recently-released Momentary Lapse of Reason from 1987 to 1990, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t ideas churning in the band members’ heads. After years of brain-storming and working on the rough edges of their performance on their previous album, the band released The Division Bell in 1994. By this time, the band had regained their confidence and went all-out in promoting the album, including their hugely-successful P.U.L.S.E. world tour, which cemented the band’s reputation for futuristic laser light shows that accompanied the music. The band’s chemistry was back in full swing, and judging by the fruits of their labor, it definitely shows.

    The album opens with “Cluster One”, an ambient instrumental track that, at first, makes me think my speakers are broken. There’s a cluttering of noises at the beginning that sounds like the combination of water bubbling and static. It’s a little pestering at first, but I immediately forget about that once I get to the heart of the song. The track is essentially an experiment between David Gilmour’s guitar and Rick Wright’s keyboard.One of the members must have thought one day, “What if we can record our instruments having a conversation amongst each other”, and this was the result. I didn’t really catch on to the pattern of “dialogue” between the two instruments until halfway through the song, which probably indicates how well the two factors blend into their environment. The rest of the track almost seems like the less-sinister cousin of “Careful with that Axe, Eugene”. This is either a love-it-or-hate-it track and can probably act as the deciding factor as to whether or not you’ll enjoy the rest of the album. In my case, I was right on board.

    The next track, “What Do You Want From Me”, has a little more punch to it and the most attitude out of any of the songs on the album. The song, which is based on an argument between Gilmour and his then-new wife and co-lyricist, Polly Samson, is confrontational without being demeaning. Gilmour’s delivery is that of a cornered animal wanting to make its move, but can’t due to a soft spot that’s constantly being exposed. He wants to prove his point, but is afraid to because he might hurt himself as well as the person he’s fighting against, a “Hedgehog’s Dilemma” that would reap more consequences than benefits. Gilmour is not trying to be like Roger Waters with the unflinching snake bite in his lyrics, but he does want to stand his ground as a strong voice for the band. The backing vocals add to the funk style of the track, which is lifted from “Have a Cigar” yet again. The second half of the song switches into a melodic key change, adding to the panache that the song has to offer. The fighter becomes more sympathetic.

    If I were to condense The Division Bell into five words, one of those words would be “euphoric”. The album spares no expense in creating a vast sound for the listener’s imagination to run around in. The music of the album soars above valleys and clouds, beginning with “Poles Apart”. The song is essentially an career introspection disguised as a direction forward. The “golden boy” in the song is possibly a reference to Syd Barrett, making this Gilmour’s turn to talk to the musical madcap through new material. Unlike Waters’ odes of Barrett, however, it’s not smothered in the occasional self-gloating. It accepts Barrett for who he is and the choices he’s made. The musical interlude about halfway into the song brings back some familiar sound effects, including the motorcycle engine from the Atom Heart Mother Suite and the bells from “Fat Old Sun”. The clownish excerpt may seem out of place, but it does little to ruin a touching and overall solid song.

    The second instrumental, “Marooned”, is more concrete in direction and concept. The track was written to emulate the feeling of being stranded on a deserted island, but it also acts a showcase of Gilmour’s guitar playing. Basically, the song is a giant Gilmour guitar solo with a story behind it. The level of admiration the listener has for Gilmour as a musician and songwriter will most likely determine how good of a track this is. The delay and control on the guitar flows and changes constantly, leaving nary a dull moment in the song. He even applies a “seagull effect” that’s similar to the one used in “Echoes”, another shoutout to the band’s glory days. The song earned the band a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental, so they must have been doing something right with this song.

    The weakest song on the album is “A Great Day For Freedom”, which may be about the band breaking away from Waters, but that’s up for debate. The song is melodramatic in melody and could almost pass off as being a parody of over-indulgent stadium rock. The chorus’ mellowness isn’t working in favor of the song this time. It sounds like it was pasted from another song that was recorded for the album, but never used. The song is probably a filler track and a vehicle for Gilmour to use in an attempt to squeeze in a solo. I really can’t think of any important reason why the song should have been kept on the album in the first place. The band wouldn’t have lost anything if they decided to take it out. If you’re an album completist and you feel you need to listen to every song on an album to complete the experience, consider this an intermission.

    “Wearing the Inside Out” is Rick Wright’s greatest achievement since rejoining Pink Floyd, which is incredible given how minimal his creative input was during the 80s. The song is also my favorite on the entire album, painting a picture of a man yearning for communication and human warmth, with only a messy room and a television to keep him company. The themes in the song are very reminiscent of The Wall’s general thematic content, but unlike the story in the latter, there’s a glimmer of hope for redemption rather than the inevitability of cycling through self-inflicted isolation. That hope comes in the form of Gilmour chiming in for a verse, essentially telling the narrator that there are people out there who can give him a helping hand. The backing vocals act as reality’s echo from the perspective of the narrator. While Wright sings of how he feels, the vocalists map out the situation at hand. This haunting scenario is fittingly accompanied by hypnotic, synth-driven instrumentation, which is to be expected, given that this track was completely written by Wright himself. A cameo appearance by Dick Parry on his sax, his first album collaboration with the band since Wish You Were Here, adds to the bittersweet flavor of the song.

    “Take It Back” was the major single off of the album, receiving a lukewarm response among listeners mainly due to it sounding like the band pulled a fast one on U2. Lyrically, it can be interpreted as either the portrayal of a dysfunctional relationship or man’s mistreatment towards the earth. The track is rich with rippling guitar effects, featuring an intro that signifies big things to come. Nick Mason’s drumming contributions to the album have been insignificant up to this point, where one can really notices his drumming efforts on the track. Not one of his best, but definitely something to note in regards to this album. The instrumental break features the nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosie”, a possible allusion to Barrett once again, but it’s use in the song has yet to be determined. Despite that, the track never fails to provide me with an adrenaline rush from beginning to end.

    The jubilation continues with “Coming Back to Life”, a liberating track that actually serves as a dedication to Gilmour’s wife. It is also the only song on the album to be completely written by him, and ironically, it’s one of the album’s strongest tracks. The song opens with an arresting yet soulful acoustic solo before breaking into Gilmour’s eagle call of a vocal solo. The vastness of the intro makes it seem like the track was recorded on top of a mountain. The rest of the track lives up to the intro, especially towards the end. It might not be as big as the intro, but it is still an uplifting experience that makes me feel alive. The song’s themes of rebirth are presented in both a spiritual and human sense. One could say that they overlap with each other.. By starting a new life with the one his loves, he’s being reborn. Gilmour breaks out into one of the best guitar solos on the album, keeping up the momentum until the very end of the song. I’m left bewildered by the journey-within-a-journey that I had just been on.

    The themes of communication are readdressed in the song “Keep Talking”. This song is noted for using voice samples from a UK TV ad featuring physicist Stephen Hawking as springboards to address the themes of the song. The song could be seen as a sequel to “What Do You Want From Me”, since it features the same confrontational nature minus the fire. The sympathetic tone from the latter is more emphasized, illustrating the yearning for connectivity that the narrator desires. Also like in a previous song, “Wearing…”, the backing vocalists act as the inner voice of the narrator, saying what he really wants to say, but rewords them so he can make it seem like he’s unafraid to ask those questions. The instrumentation is similar to that of Lapse, which is slightly underwhelming given how strong their musical efforts had been up to this point. Luckily, the strength of the song in its lyrics, making it worth a listen based on that alone.

    “Lost for Words” is one of the happiest “take that” songs you will hear. It’s an attack on Roger Waters, and for the three-man Pink Floyd, this song was a long time coming. I don’t know if this was intentional, but the folk rock style that the band used underneath the album’s production style seemed ironic to use, since the bulk of Waters’ output were pastoral tracks like “Grantchester Meadows” and his work on his solo album Music from The Body. The use of the footsteps at the beginning might not seem much, but they do a lot for me in framing the topic of the song. It gave me images of Gilmour walking into a studio and confronting Waters there. The sound effects even compare the tension between the two to a boxing match at one point. The music is somewhat reminiscent of “Cruise”, a track off of Gilmour’s solo album About Face. The only difference is that this track is more folk/Americana-based while the other is reggae-inspired. The last two lines of the song couldn’t have been more blatant: “Well they told me that I could go fuck myself/You know you just can’t win”. The song has an air of self-satisfaction to it without being bloated. The band got something off of their chest and went on their way.

    Despite all the different opinions people have on the album, many consider “High Hopes” to be in the pantheon of great Pink Floyd songs. The song carries the weight of it being both the last song on the album and the last of the band’s career. Nevertheless, it’s an appropriate swan song featuring sweeping orchestrations, passionate lyrics, and an overall epic feel. The lyrics, according to Gilmour, tell of the gains and losses people have faced in life, but with an autobiographical twist to it. The orchestrations, arranged by Michael Kamen, underscore the thundering chorus of the song, which thread into the message of nothing truly ending (“the endless river/forever and ever…”). The song’s melancholy is still there, but it transpires into a message of realism and seeing life as it is. Whether that is an uplifting or depressing message is up to the listener. The song sounds like a product of its time thanks to the piano and drums, but when a song like this sounds this good, age shouldn’t matter.

    Pink Floyd went on to tour the album for several years until breaking up during the mid 90s, much to the dismay of its fans. Even so, it wasn’t like the band would lose anything by making that move, since they had long since cemented their place in music history. The Division Bell is an album that has its advocates, but I can see how people who are more biased towards Waters’ Floyd can hate this album. The lyrics are nowhere near as fierce and intense as Waters and the heaviness of the music is gone. The problem with that is that this album was being compared to that era. It’s better to take on this album as if it were made by a completely different band, which it kind of is. Everything that I love about Pink Floyd is here: the melodic structure of the music, the existential lyrics, the enormity of the album’s scale, etc. It was easy for me to like this album as much as I did. It’s an incredible improvement over A Momentary Lapse of Reason, a sophomoric effort compared to this one. The band sounded more tight-knit this time around and the musicianship was just as serious. The Division Bell plays with emotions more than intellect, though there’s a fair amount of substance between both. The balance between the two was what made the album work in my favor. The album may have been the band’s final salute, but it did little to sour the band’s career. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.

    4.5/5

    Key tracks: “Cluster One”, “Marooned”, “Wearing the Inside Out”, “Coming Back to Life”, “Lost for Words”, “High Hopes”
  • A Momentary Lapse of Reason: A Review

    20 jan 2012, 00:46

    A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)



    After the release of The Final Cut, the band went off their separate ways, but not without Roger Waters observing their every motive with hawk-like precision. He wanted to make sure that he was the owner of Pink Floyd, that the band was his and that none of the other members would do anything to jeopardize his possession. Four years of recording solo albums and playing with other artists almost saw the end of the band, but not on David Gilmour’s watch. By the mid-80s, he managed to bring back Nick Mason and Richard Wright all while assembling a entourage of musicians to all record under the name of “Pink Floyd”, much to the dismay of Waters (and the legal system, but that’s another story). The band had risen from the ashes like the phoenix that it is, but is it ready to fly?

    Ors being pushed with a focused force. The swishing of water as a boat rows by. The creaking of the wood as the ors turn and turn. These are the first sounds the listener hears on the album. For a Pink Floyd comeback album, something a little more triumphant would be expected, but now that David Gilmour is in charge, things are going to be a little different. Waters’ anger and spite will soon be replaced by ambient landscapes and relaxed musicianship. For here on out, it will be all about the music. The rowing in question is featured on the opening track “Signs of Life”. Once the synths begin to blair, it was evident to me that I was no longer on Earth. The music was taking me somewhere far away, a quality about Floyd’s music that I had long missed since the days of Wish You Were Here. I’d actually wished that the instrumental track had continued. By the time I invest myself in the track, the album remembers that it has a single to promote.

    “Learning to Fly” takes me from the misty lake of the opening track to heights unseen. The rhythm of the track is neither tribal nor electronic. It’s organic, but it’s also synthetic. The instruments all seem to move into each other like cogs in the machine, which could act as an appropriate piece of evidence for those who don’t like the album. The album isn’t ready to highlight Gilmour’s guitar work just yet. His playing on the track is just a warm-up for now. Even though the track is about Gilmour and Mason’s experiences with flying, it can also be cited as a piece about the fear of the unknown and not knowing what to do or where to go when one is hurled into complete uncertainty. The band was smart in making this a single, as it is an uplifting track with good production values. It feels so good to write the former about a Pink Floyd track after all this time.

    The third in a series of good album tracks is “The Dogs of War”, Gilmour’s take on the theme of war and how the higher-ups use money and other manipulative tactics to ignite fighting against other nations. Despite me saying that this is a good track, the song is plagued with the kind of average lyricism that many listeners criticize Gilmour for penning, even with the help of a few writers. Waters-esque political commentary this is not. On the positive side, this is also proof that Gilmour is one who is more concerned (possibly subconsciously) about making a track sound good than the track’s message. He’s stated numerous times that he’s not good at writing lyrics, but he’s more than confident in his playing. What I find most interesting about the track is the juxtaposition of industrial, synth-driven playing and Gilmour’s bluesy vocal delivery. It’s nice to hear that both his playing and singing have held up even after his departure from Waters’ Floyd. The instrumental break speeds up the tempo and keeps things interesting. The sax solo adds a little spice to the track, making this one of the stronger efforts on the album.

    Just when I thought this album couldn’t get any better…the quality recedes a little. “One Slip” seems like a step back from the headstrong determination of the first three tracks. The track sounds like it could have been off of Gilmour’s About Face album, which was released several years prior to Lapse. This track has nothing notable to offer with its commercial 80s pop sound. Good thing another noteworthy track is to follow on the album.

    With its arresting, near-a cappella opener, “On the Turning Away” is one of those songs where you have to stop what you are doing and listen. The main melody, seemingly celtic in nature, is strong enough that I don’t mind how it is used for every verse of the song. The main theme, so to speak, is only strengthened by the choral backing on Gilmour’s vocals and the empowering solo at the end of the song. Gilmour the guitarist is back, ladies and gentlemen.

    “Yet Another Movie” is, for me, the most interesting song on the album in terms of lyrics. The majority of the lines in the song seem like they were taken from a stream of consciousness rather than thought-out complete sentences. The song seems to detail the possibility of escapism losing its power. In the case of films, it’s stating that people are becoming so blasé towards familiar tropes and writing schemes that the world is becoming unfazed by the magic of suspending one’s disbelief. The music, as a whole, is slightly nostalgic, since it sounds like some of the Madonna music and late 80s/early 90s pop that I grew up with as a child. The song is underwhelming compared to the previous track, but it’s still worth a listen nonetheless. The track “Round and Round” is practically an extended ending for the song and is of no concern to this reviewer.

    The “New Machine” tracks are just two of some Gilmour-what-the-hell-were-you-thinking moments that have happened throughout his career. There seems to be no purpose to the song outside of it being an intro to the instrumental “Terminal Frost”, and even then the placement of this track is awkward, as is the placement of the second “New Machine” track. The lyrics of the tracks and detached effect on Gilmour’s voice, for some reason, make me think of the movie Ghost in the Shell. It gives me the impression that the voice is coming from some kind of mechanical body that humans take for granted, most likely from a computer. Even so, the tracks are both unnecessary and add nothing to the album.

    “Terminal Frost” however, is undeserving of being sandwiched inbetween such random tracks, as it is an instrumental track that firmly establishes the staying power of the band’s musicianship. The piano riff sounds cinematic borderlining on melodramatic and the soprano sax puts the track in danger of reducing the song to muzak level, but fortunately, Gilmour’s smooth guitar work has managed to elevate the track to credible heights, making all these elements work in favor of each other. The track is a grower, but for those who can’t wait, it’s a nice track that really pays off in the end.

    “Sorrow” was one track that I was anxious to listen to. I’ve heard many great things about the song, but I hate to say that I was unimpressed with it as a whole. The intro is a startling (in a good way) piece of distortion, the solo is great, and the chorus is wonderful, but aside from that, it didn’t seem to offer anything else. I was hoping for something a little more as the counterpart to “Signs of Life”.

    My expectations for the album were very low, given how many fans have panned it in comparison to the cynical bite and innovative musicianship of their glory days. In fact, that’s probably the main reason why this album is considered unfavorable by so many fans. They were so underwhelmed by the fact that this is nothing compared to the band’s stronger efforts that it was deemed as just “bad” by a lot of fans. I may be a Pink Floyd and David Gilmour fan, but I am being completely unbiased when I say that I liked this album. Nostalgia isn’t even a factor, either. I just like the sound of the 80s production working in favor (well, mostly) of the band’s technique. The production, at times, may have sabotaged the band’s efforts to create something vast and majestic only to make it seem dated and pretentious, but when it works, it’s a joy to listen to. I like this album, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. It’s no Dark Side, but it’s a nice return to the idea that music can tell its own story, even without strong lyrics. Boys, it’s good to have you back..sort of.

    4/5

    Key tracks: “Learning to Fly”, “The Dogs of War”, “On the Turning Away”, “Terminal Frost”, “Sorrow”
  • The Final Cut: A Review

    20 jan 2012, 00:44

    The Final Cut (1983)




    By the early 80s, Pink Floyd was basically finished. It was no longer a cooperative unit of musicians, but a full-fledged act led by Roger Waters, who now had absolute control over songwriting duties in the band. With Rick Wright gone, Nick Mason and David Gilmour were now nothing more than just a bunch of musicians that he happened to know really well. Waters and these musicians recorded another album, The Final Cut, a fitting name for such a project, as this would be the last time they would record any music together.

    I’m not sure if this applies to any other CD edition of the album, but the 2011 remastered version of some of the songs on the album features Holophonic audio (I actually had to look that one up), which I wish could have been featured on some of Pink Floyd’s earlier albums. The planes whizzing above in the opening track and the footsteps in “Paranoid Eyes” all set the mood for their respective pieces. Had this kind of virtual reality existed during the early 70s, the band could have done wonders with the sound effects featured on their best works. It works best when listening to it on headphones rather than through speakers or on vinyl.

    The Final Cut is yet another conceptual piece by Roger Waters, who seems to have gotten more than comfortable with writing in such a narrative style. Remember the schoolmaster from The Wall? The one who was barely mentioned in several songs? He’s the protagonist of the story, which reveals that he is actually a war veteran who tries to find his place back in society, only to come down with post-war depression, severe alcoholism, and the pain of facing the enemy once again. Think of it as an addendum to The Wall, or a prologue. It’s not required to listen to in order to understand the previous album better, but it will satisfy your curiosity if you ever wondered about that cranky ol’ teacher who would bat around his students.

    The album features an unequal lyric-to-music ratio. Waters is more of a wordsmith than a musician. He’s a man who has many things to say, but only 40-something minutes to say it. Because of this, the songs are highly lyrical and jam-packed with information to decipher on many levels, causing the music to suffer as a sort of afterthought. Compared to the lyrics, the music is incredibly calculated and formulaic. If this is the first Pink Floyd album that a person will ever listen to in full, then the music will be incredibly impressive, but to someone who has been following the group for some time, the music will almost seem like a parody of the orchestral rock mix of The Wall and will feature tropes that are all-too characteristic of the band’s style. The album’s style may work in favor of Waters’ fans and those who value a song’s message over the music, but not for those who prefer the other way around. This album has its fans, but that probably didn’t matter to Waters when he wrote it.

    Before getting into the main story, the album starts off with a two-song introduction in the forms of “The Post War Dream” and “Your Possible Pasts”. In a matter of minutes, Waters manages to reintroduce his favorite character, his father, and talk down on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and refer to the Japanese and their role in World War II. The track is mainly orchestral, which makes it seem like Waters had forgotten that he was recording a rock album until the last verse. The song, like the majority of the album, tries to be grandiose and epic, but it lacks the sort of connection it needs to move a listener like me. I usually look forward to tracks like that on albums of any kind, and if the melodies are mostly going to be variations of “Nobody Home”, “Vera”, and “Bring the Boys Back Home” off of The Wall, then those efforts should be reduced to a minimum.

    We’re finally introduced to the war veteran-turned-educator “One of the Few”, which was inspired by some of the teachers Waters knew in his youth. There is beauty in simplicity, making the lyrics in this some of the most attentive in the entire album. Instead of trying to pour out as many words as there are emotions, Waters goes back to the minimalistic style that he often used in the first half of The Wall. Unfortunately, this is the most the album will display of this kind of style. A shame, since it would make the album more poignant by having both the artist and listener work together in connecting their perceptions of the events before them.

    “When the Tigers Broke Free” wasn’t featured on the album’s original release, but at the time, it was used as a piece of expositional songwriting in the film adaptation of The Wall. In both cases, the song talks about the death of Eric Waters, a horse of a concept that has surely been beaten to death by this point. The placement of the song on the album is fitting, but in terms of content, it’s slightly confusing as to what the song is trying to address. It might just be Waters switching out of story mode to tell us about his father or it might be the son of a soldier talking about how he lost his father. The last line of the song, “And that’s how the high command took my daddy from me”, is painful to listen to and almost ruins a beautifully-arranged song. It’s one giant whine and a good piece of evidence to use in Gilmour’s favor as to why he decided to reform Pink Floyd without Waters. Musically, the song features a lush chorus and a trumpet playing in the distance. It’s chilling to listen to and enjoyable both in and out of the album’s context.

    “The Hero’s Return” chronicles the schoolteacher’s mourning over one of his fellow comrades. It’s an overly-long, flavorless intro track to the much better and satisfying “The Gunner’s Dream”, which is about said soldier’s hope for a better world. This track, while it ultimately ends up being one of the strongest tracks on the entire album, has a lot more potential to it. It didn’t tug on my heartstrings as much as it should have, given its theme and orchestration, whatever emotion it did leave me with was only ephemeral. The “hold on to the dream” part was the only thing that really engaged me in the song. Of course, I knew that the lyrics were written with as much sincerity as possible, but I felt that the song was put there as just an anvilicious message to get out to the “ignorant masses”. Clearly, Waters has underestimated his audience.

    “Paranoid Eyes” is unremarkable in melody and lyrics, but it presents the protagonist as a man suffering from severe alcoholism as a way to erase the painful memories of the war. The next track, “Keep Your Filthy Hands Off Of My Desert”, is, once again, Waters pausing the story to make a rant about all the fighting going on in various countries. While this may be another rant, it sounds nice to listen to and good enough to arrest my attention before going on to “The Fletcher Memorial Home”.

    “Home” is undoubtedly the best track on the album. In a continuation of Waters’ raving and stream of consciousness (isn’t there a war vet we have to get back to?), the song is a fantasy sequence about rounding up major political leaders from around the world and putting them in a place where they can rot to death. Waters’ delivery on the track allows the album to be at its most visual. I can’t help but imagine Waters’ standing in front of these leaders in a function hall, dressed in his finest tux, and holding a glass of champagne as he recites the spoken part, breaking the glass in his hand out of rage soon after. The song also features Gilmour’s best solo on the album. Compared to his other guitar work on the album, this one actually has life to it. Poor guy.

    “Southampton Dock” marks a turning point in the story where the schoolmaster goes off to war once again, leaving his wife to wait for him back at home. This is another brief track that serves as a set-up for the title track, another strong track on the album. The song is the canvas on which Waters’ paints his most beautiful vocal performance. The sincerity in his voice actually matches the self-evaluating lyrics of the character, where he analyzes himself and how others think of him just before he plunges himself into battle. What makes this track even more poignant are the references to previous Pink Floyd works scattered among the lyrics. Waters is also doing some self-evaluating here, looking back on the good times and realizing that he may be losing some very important people.

    But never mind the sentimentalities. There are enemy forces to kill and bars to find, as indicated by the hard rock track “Not Now John”. The tension of the bouncing voices nicely illustrates the protagonist’s dependency on alcohol all while trying to maintain his composure in the line of duty. Waters isn’t afraid to drop a few bombs of his own on the track, launching enough F-bombs to take out the listener in several minutes. It’s a tiring track, but one that finally manages to squeeze life into the album, even for a few minutes.

    The last track, “Two Suns in the Sunset”, ends the story with a nuclear holocaust and everyone dying within the vicinity of the blast. How cheerful. I first listened to this album on vinyl and, for some reason, I liked it more then than I do now. Must have been the sax. The last line, “We were all equal in the end”, has enough leverage to make the track, not necessarily the whole album, weigh on my mind for some time. A heavy ending to a heavy album.

    A lot of fans are divided as to whether or not this is an acceptable part of the Pink Floyd catalogue. I say that this is only a PInk Floyd album in name. The chemistry between the band members is so non-existant that this might as well have been a Roger Waters solo project. It certainly feels that way. The music is all too predictable, the compassion in the lyrics is half-hearted at times, and it’s more about Waters making himself feel better rather than engaging the listener in a story that could be relevant to them. What if someone, like me, wasn’t a politically-minded person and could not relate to a lot of the material talked about in the album? Then, I suppose, this was made for a limited audience. The Final Cut is the worst Pink Floyd album I’ve listened to yet. The music was beautiful and Waters’ intentions were clear, but they lacked the heart to make them work. The album sucked my soul dry to the point where I didn’t want to write this review. Hopefully, I can gain it back through Gilmour’s incarnation of the band.

    3/5

    Key tracks: “When the Tigers Broke Free”, “The Gunner’s Dream”, “The Fletcher Memorial Home”, “The Final Cut”
  • The Wall: A Review

    20 jan 2012, 00:41

    The Wall (1979)



    “-we came in?”

    Some time during the late seventies, Roger Waters presented the band with two possible projects that they could work on for their next album. One of them was a concept piece about an emotionally-disturbed rock star who would deaden the memories of his troubled past with drugs and television. The other was another concept piece (what a surprise) that seemed far too personal to the rest of the other band members, so they decided to go with the former. That project was called The Wall, and it was more than just an album in the mind of Roger Waters. It was a multimedia phenomenon combining an album, a stage show, and a film all revolved around this one concept. As expected, this project allowed Waters to maintain even more creative control on the band, holding them in a vice grip and even kicking out one of the founding band members mid-production, Despite these problems, what came out of the gunfire and rubble was their biggest work since Dark Side of the Moon.

    Seeing how the album stretches over two discs, I’m not going to do a complete song-by-song routine. Even if I did do that, my efforts would have been futile considering how concise of a narrative this album has. The Wall is the first real concept piece that the band had put together, creating a story that could easily translate over into movie and theatrical from, the latter of which Waters is currently working on, possibly as an attempt to preserve live interpretations of the story long after Waters has passed from this Earth. Even so, my inner theater fan is itching to go to at least one showing of this.Taking a hint from The Who, Waters decided to work with concrete characters plowing through an allegorical storyline. Since the story is being told through such an amorphous medium as music, the narrative would have been at risk of exposing major plot holes and other writing errors, but surprisingly, I could follow the story extremely well. There were no major problems with the narrative and everything made logical sense as far as the universe of the story goes. Add the fact that it’s a psychoanalytical piece and this story seemed to have been tailor-made for me. Of course, I took the bait, but I loved what I got out of it.

    The character of Pink, the protagonist of the story, seems to set himself up like a house of cards. The first disc of the album is dedicated to Pink’s past, how he got to where he is in the story, and how he has been able to build a metaphorical “wall”, a form of self-inflicted isolation, between himself and the rest of the world. “In the Flesh” brings us to an integral part of the story with a parody of self-indulgent rock acts that seemed to have popular at the time, but the bombast and adrenaline-pumping production makes way for the lulling and cautionary “The Thin Ice”. One thing about that track, and for the rest of the album, is that David Gilmour’s contribution to the album is slowly being diminished to the rank of session musician. His influence on the music is barely there aside from several tracks on the album. In terms of where you stand as a Floyd listener, the Pink Floyd sound is either fading or getting stronger.

    The anvil of the disc can be found in “Another Brick in the Wall, part I”, the first of many expositional tracks on the album, which tells about Pink remembering his father, who died while serving his country in World War II. If you have some knowledge of Pink Floyd history, this may sound very familiar to you. It’s easy to take this track out of context and relate it to -what else- Roger Waters remembering his soldier father, which is basically is. Some of the tracks are so unavoidably autobiographical that it should be able to bring out facepalms from some of the most cynical listeners. Still, when you think about it, did the album get as big as it did because people were listening to it for Waters’ sob story? Ignoring that, it’s just a piece of fact given to understand the character more and nothing else.

    The biggest piece of story in the album is the linked track “The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick in the Wall, part II”. This is the disco track of Pink Floyd’s career, but even they can make disco sound good. The thumping beat and bass do much to underscore the rebellious nature of the lyrics, which often cause the song to be misinterpreted out of context by the masses as a protest song against the establishment. “Yeah, school sucks,” they think, when really, it’s about the manipulative, assembly-line method of education that Waters is picking at, where schools only prep children to be robots without a sense of individuality. “Brick, part II” is catchy, the closest thing to a dance song that the band has written, and the basis on which Gilmour plays a thick, bluesy solo, one of the best of his career. The song has every right to be a radio hit, but unlike “Money”, this is one that I would like to fade into obscurity.

    “Mother” is one of the most frightening tracks on the entire album, and fittingly enough, it’s followed by the bleak anti-war track “Goodbye Blue Sky”. The former is an introduction of the relationship between Pink and his mother, a helicopter parent who means well, but she is willing to go as far as prevent her son from enjoying a life of his own in order to protect him. What makes this song more harrowing are the vocal styles, one desperate and the other calming, for both Waters and Gilmour, who sing as Pink and his mother, respectively. “Blue Sky” isn’t much of a pick-me-up, either. The minor chords and twinkling acoustic would work well against images of war-stricken victims.

    The best juxtaposition between songs on the disc would have to go to “Empty Spaces/Young Lust”. The former, a shortened version of the much-superior “What Shall We Do Now?”, radiates Pink’s plea for human compassion and communication. Cut to “Young Lust”, which fills that void like junk food to a hungry person. The latter is fun, vibrant, and daring. Pink Floyd was never really known as “sexy”, but this comes close. With all the storytelling that’s going on on the album, it’s nice to see that the band still had an experimental spirit flowing through some of the tracks. “One of My Turns” is Pink snapping on a groupie he brings to his hotel room. Waters’ delivery on the track proves that he’s more of an actor than a vocalist. For an album like this, having that kind of ability compensates for a lot. “Don’t Leave Me Now” is a little repetitive, but it’s nice to see the album slow down once in a while and allow the listener to collect their thoughts. the pace picks up again with “Another Brick…part III” and “Goodbye Cruel World”. The desperate cliffhanger will probably make you want to throw the album against the wall for being so angsty or make you want to continue due to its intrigue. The choice is yours, but take my word for it…it’s worth it.

    ———————

    Disc 2 opens with “Hey You”, an o.k. opener as a song (the “it was only fantasy” verse was especially awkward melodically) but, like the rest of the lyrics, definitely get the ball rolling for the purpose of the second act: to try to tear down the metaphorical wall that Pink is isolating himself in. “Is There Anybody Out There?”, despite having only the title as lyrics, is a much more effective piece. The ambience and sound effects in between the lines perfectly capture Pink’s isolation and inability to reach out to others. That is carefully illustrated in the almost-a-musical number “Nobody Home”. Here, we get a taste of the orchestral tinges that are scattered across the disc, making this the stronger act of the two in terms of music. “Vera/Bring the Boys Back Home” settle the father/son dilemma once and for all. What starts out as a beautifully yet pompously orchestrated middle finger to the war that took Pink’s father away, however, descends into a noise of voices and haunting memories. An impressive face-heel turn on Waters’ part.

    We now go to what is probably the best-known (and best) song on the entire album: “Comfortably Numb”. Waters’ has stated in a radio interview last year that he and Gilmour had some troubles deciding who would write what while making the song. Eventually, it ended up with Waters writing the lyrics and the melody of the verses and Gilmour taking on the chorus. This is evident in the styles that they’ve written them in: Waters’ is gray, mournful, and puts a heavy emphasis on the Pink’s feelings while Gilmour’s chorus has an uplifting melody that shines through the song like a ray of light despite the discouraging lyrics. The listener is also treated to two of some of the best guitar solos ever recorded. If The Wall could be narrowed down to one track, it would be this one.

    How do you stand up to a song like that? Well…not exactly with Beach Boys-esque filler, but that’s what we get with “The Show Must Go On”. Fortunately, it’s short enough to make a nice lead-in to “In The Flesh”, Pink’s prejudiced rant influenced by the hallucinogenic drugs he was given before he left to perform his concert. During this song, he sees himself as a fascist leader commanding his “army” of fellow followers. Not only can this be seen as Pink imagining himself as one of the monsters that took away his father, but it can be seen as snide commentary of rock worship as well. Even with the connections to Waters’ father in this track, I can’t help be see an indirect influence from David Bowie’s Thin White Duke character in here as well.

    “Run Like Hell” and “Waiting for the Worms” don’t do a whole lot for the story as far as progression goes, but musically, they’re some of the best tracks on the disk. Both of the songs chronicle Pink’s tirade into the streets as he aims to kill anyone who isn’t a part of “the perfect race”. “Run” borrows a riff style that Gilmour had experimented with in the track “Short and Sweet” from his self-titled solo debut. The sonic sounds of the guitar, chorus, and synths make this more than fitting for any Pink Floyd light show. “Waiting” uses a militaristic rhythm to tell that part of the story, featuring Waters on a megaphone shouting nearly-incoherent ramblings at his cohorts. The build on the track, up until “Stop”, is incredible. It’s like reaching the worst part of a nightmare that seems like it doesn’t want to end.

    “The Trial” is the climax of Pink’s psychoanalysis, where Pink evaluates himself in a sort-of eccentric trial that’ll prove whether or not he is worthy to exist. Waters provides the voices of all the members of the court, including the Judge and Pink’s Wife. Again, his delivery in this track is more convincing than his singing, which makes me wonder why he never took up a side-job in voice acting. The song is primarily orchestral, making it sound like a rejected song written by Danny Elfman for a scrapped film project. “Outside the Wall” is the open-ended conclusion to the album. Even Waters himself doesn’t know how the album really ends. It’s up to interpretation based on what the listener thinks. I think that the album is in a cycle because of the brief spoken bits that are at the very beginning and end of the album, but take that with a grain of salt. And with that, the curtain closes.

    Whenever I listen to songs from this album, I don’t imagine a 36-year-old Roger Waters singing them. Instead, I imagine Waters now in his old age ranting and raving the lyrics with as much emotion as he can muster. What that means to me is that Waters was much wiser beyond his years. Even in his late 20s he was thinking about death and going insane when penning the lyrics to Dark Side. Even now, I find it impressive that, while he wasn’t that young, he was still young enough that he had much of life to experience before making any just opinions on the themes he discusses in The Wall. Yes, there are blatant references to Syd Barrett and Eric Fletcher Waters on the album, but as I stated earlier, not everyone is going to go into the album with an encyclopedic knowledge of Pink Floyd and weed out all the references. Those kinds of people are usually the ones who dismiss the album as pretentious and self-indulgent. For me, this album helped me come to grips with a very hard time in my life. Not to sound sentimental, but once upon a time, I built a wall of self-inflicted isolation to cope with the fact that I barely had any friends and that I was a little on the “weird” side. Detaching myself from that connection, I still find the album very enjoyable. It had something for me to sink my teeth into: a little in-depth characterization for me to pick at while listening to nicely written and performed music. It’s a win-win situation. Check this one out if you like a little “meat” on your rock lyrics with some excellent musicianship to boot.

    “Is this where-“

    5/5

    Key tracks (disc 1): “Another Brick in the Wall, part I”, “The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick in the Wall, part II”, “Mother”, “Goodbye Blue Sky”, “Young Lust”, “One of My Turns”

    Key tracks (disc 2): “Hey You”, “Is There Anybody Out There?”, “Comfortably Numb”, “In the Flesh”, “The Trial”
  • Animals: A Review

    19 jan 2012, 05:03

    Animals (1977)



    By 1977, the democracy of Pink Floyd began to switch over to the reign of Roger Waters, who sought to control every possible aspect of the band that he could fit under his thumb. One of the easiest ways to go about this was to make the rest of the material that the band recorded for the decade revolve around Waters’ opinions on capitalism and the social ladder. The only way the idea could have been more Waters-centric is to make it into a concept album…which is exactly what happened. The result was Animals, arguably the darkest album ever recorded by the band, and the mark of another definite change in the band’s style.

    With all the talk of the dystopian haze that seemed to hover over the entire album, I was surprised to find out that the bookend tracks of the album were Dylanesque folk ballads. The album starts with the offhandedly-romantic “Pigs on the Wing (Part One)”, a ballad Waters dedicated to his then-wife Carolyn. The song is simple and features an attempt from Waters to be as sentimental as he can be, but the brevity of the song suggests that there are darker times ahead and that carefree joy in the world is only fleeting. Why dwell on that when there are politicians to attack? Splitting the song into two parts to use before and after the storm of Orwellian ranting is a brilliant move on the band’s part, as I will discuss once I get to “Wing (part two)”.

    Before listening to this album, whenever I hear of this album or see people talking about it online, “Dogs” is usually the first aspect of the album to pop up. I can see why many people love the song, with its scathing lyrical content, variety and skillfulness in time signature changes, and what many have called some of David Gilmour’s best guitar work ever, but I see this song as a grower. There are many things that make this song great, but with an album like this, the lyrics should be the things taking center stage. You can have excellent musicianship in there, but I think the band should have put more focus on the lyrics. The song might as well be a musical duel between Gilmour and Waters. I’m not saying this song is bad. There’s just so much going on that it’s hard for me to form a single opinion on the song. It’s not like “Echoes”, “Atom Heart Mother”, or “Shine On…” where everything flows into each other and I can make some kind of connectivity between parts. Also, having heard this song in full only several times in my life, it’s going to take a while for me to swallow everything. At the time of this writing, I think it’s a great intro to the dark world that Roger Waters has created, but this is going to be one helluva song to pin down in the long run. On the positive side, this will mean that, once I am able to dissect every bar of this song, I’m going to be rewarded in ways that I couldn’t even imagine.

    Next, we have a song that I loved at first sound: “Pigs (Three Different Ones”. Using the same plastic funk style in Wish You Were Here’s “Have a Cigar”, Roger Waters takes a stab at the higher-ups (the “1%”, so to speak) who oversee all the chaos going down below and are in control of the businessmen (the “dogs” in the previous track) fighting to climb the social ladder. As Waters states, this is all an attempt for the pigs to maintain their positions as the puppetmasters of the whole situation. This is the point in the album where Waters’ Animal Farm theme is becoming more and more apparent. He has also turned his ruthlessness towards the British government up to 11. You can almost feel the acid he’s spewing from his mouth as he’s calling out people such as Margaret Thatcher and Mary Whitehouse (You f**ked up old hag! Ha ha…charade you are”). Gilmour makes some really interesting “singing pig” noises with a talk box during the middle of the song and ends the song with a grinding outtro, but aside from that, the album now belongs to Roger Waters.

    The last of the animal allegory tracks is “Sheep”, which features a jazzy intro from Richard Wright as he sounds like he’s playing amongst a field of yelping ovine. The song itself also ties into the other two animals featured in the album (“You better watch out ‘cause there are dogs about”) by describing people as sheep who try to avoid their problems as if they’re not happening, when in reality, they’re a part of the problem as well. Pink Floyd must really love their thumping, Doctor Who-esque basslines and rhythms because they bring that back for a third time once the song kicks into gear. The song makes interesting use of voice synthesizing technology. Hearing Waters’ voice disappear into a droning, electronic fuzz is a sure sign that he has distanced the listener from the band once and for all. The middle part of the song both amazes me and terrifies me. I don’t know how often this part gets recognized, but the synth Rick Wright uses to repeatedly play those two notes sounds unbelievable. As for Waters, his rendition of Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want…”) is one of the most frightening things the band has ever done, and by this point, I’m immune to most of their scary stuff. The fact that Waters can take a verse from the Bible and make it descend into a plea of animal cruelty and vengeance is a ballsy move for that time. In short, there is no quarter to be given; this is Pink Floyd at their most ferocious.

    And then we get to “Pigs on the Wing (Part Two)”, which is hilarious in hindsight, given all that happened over the past 40 minutes. Basically, Waters softly tells the listener to watch for all the dogs, pigs, and sheep that exist in our world. The term “Watching for pigs on the wing” takes on a more disturbing meaning. Simply put, it makes my heart sink. The dissonance of the track only magnifies the sheer impact that the album can have on the listener.

    The dooming aura of the album is an accurate reflection of the rough times the band were going through at the time the album was recorded. The band would fight over everything, from writing credits to creative contributions, and Waters would not be open to anything anyone would have to say. How this bottled-up form of egotism finally came to light is still unknown to many, but it helped to create a painfully-cynical piece of music. This is an album that takes no prisoners. It is a political commentary that frames a number of specific issues from a different time, but it could still be applied to today’s problems as well. I only wish I’d listened to this while I was studying Animal Farm back in high school. It would have cleared up so much for me. The progressive rock tendencies on the album might be on the brink of pretension for some, but for others, it’s a powerful work that is often overshadowed by the flying pig on the cover, an iconic symbol that is now commonly associated with the band. Oh, how ironic.

    4.5/5

    Key tracks: “Dogs”, “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”, “Sheep”
  • Wish You Were Here: A Review

    19 jan 2012, 05:01

    Wish You Were Here (1975)



    After touring for much of 1974 in an effort to promote their hugely-successful Dark Side of the Moon, the band decided to put down another album. What would have been a project consisting of songs played on nothing but household items turned into an attack on the music industry and an ode to their long-lost comrade, Syd Barrett. The demands and restraints of their record company were too much for the band, so they decided to fight back in a record filled with the unimaginable mix of scathing criticism and rare sentimentally. We have now entered the dark side of Pink Floyd.

    The album opens with the anthemic “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I - V)”, the first half of a much longer piece dedicated to Syd Barrett, who was reported to have been at the recording of this piece during a day at the studio. Unlike a lot of their known studio work, the majority of this piece relies heavily on blues-style chords and scales. In the past, it had either only been used as a template (“Money”) or a failed attempt to emulate a pure blues style altogether (“Seamus”). Here, blues has perfectly fused with the experimental tendencies of the band. The ringing of the wine glasses, a leftover part from the band’s abandoned Household Objects project, hypnotizes the listener long enough to grab their attention for David Gilmour’s guitar work.

    The guitar counteracts with the droning in the background, producing shrill vibrato while creating a thick sound at the end of each note. Once the reverberating four-note riff chimes in, I am completely arrested by the song. By this point, it becomes one of those songs that make you want to stop whatever you’re doing and listen. Every aspect of the piece becomes more and more melancholy, yet with a glimmer of hope and nostalgia. The guitar wails with the passion of a gospel singer, Rick Wright’s keyboard provides added textures, and Nick Mason’s drums hold everything together. Cue Roger Waters’ enthused vocal combined with the band members and backing singers and you have a chorus that can lift my heart to the skies. The members of Pink Floyd have often stated that this is one of the most important pieces they have ever done, and it shows. For a band that had a tendency to shelter itself in anonymity, they were brave enough to take a risk like this with the song. The risk has paid off and then some.

    “Welcome to the Machine” is definitely the darkest track on the album and the core of the anti-music industry theme that permeates a good chunk of the album. With the quality of the 2011 remaster, the machine in question sounds like it is surrounding the listener at an unspeakable height. The track is cold and uninviting, much like the bulk of Roger Waters’ work with Pink Floyd in years to come. Because of that, it may be a turn-off to some. I used to hate the track before due to the uniform vocals and screeching synth, but I’ve come to love it for the sparseness of its lyrics and the rhythm of the piece. It says a lot in such little words, but in terms of musicality, this is the kind of track that people make fun of when poking fun at progressive rock: few lyrics, extended musical interludes, and lots of synthesizer work. If you put that idea out of your mind, you may find enjoyment out of this track. The whirring sound of the machine at the end, which seems reminiscent of a tape being rewound, and the laughter of the bourgeoise in the background make this track for me. It’s a chilling and perfect ending to an overall great track.

    The weakest track on the album may be “Have a Cigar”, but that’s not saying much when it comes to this album. The vocals on the track are provided by Roy Harper, who filled in for Roger Waters when he threw his voice out singing “Shine”. The way the lyrics are structured in conjunction with the plastic, funky rhythm give the impression that the song could have been featured in a musical. If that were the case, then Harper’s performance would be breathing life into the character of the greasy, money-grubbing record executives that wanted to rope the band (or any band, for that matter) into whatever contract they had devised for the performers. In comparison to the tracks before it, this song is simply o.k., but it’s a lighter, more satirical take on the music industry issue of the album. Roger Waters’ sense of humor is back with a vengeance, and this time, there are no woodland creatures or a raving Pict to bring out the giggles.

    The title track is based around a poignant melody David Gilmour composed on his guitar while fiddling around with it one day. That melody grew to become a message from the band to Barrett saying, “We still care about you and think of you fondly,”. The lyrics deal with Barrett’s insanity and the distance between him and the band members, some of which were incredibly close to him. The song’s message has since then been recycled to fit the needs of those who miss the most important people in their lives. In terms of where the song is placed on the album, it serves as a reminder of the main purpose of the album, even amongst the cynicism of Waters’ attacks. For some, the song’s mellowness may grow stale overtime, but for the rest, it is a bittersweet and fond farewell to a man who was lost too soon.

    With the mention of Barrett out of the way, the album can now give its grand finale in the form of “Shine On…(Parts VI - IX)”. At first, this half of the piece acts as the distant cousin of “One of These Days” due to Gilmour’s squealing guitar amongst the hard rock rhythm. The instrumental outtro after the sung verses is probably the weakest part of the entire piece, but seeing how it’s the end of the album, I should have no other complaints. The keyboard reference to “See Emily Play” (“Emily tries but misunderstands”), an early hit for the band, at the end is especially heart-wrenching, leaving a powerful note to go off of when ending the album. If the band wanted an image of Syd to stick in the listener’s mind after that, then they have succeeded.

    Speaking of success, Pink Floyd had another success on their hands with this album, which is ironic, given the personal content and opinionated lyrics. This album isn’t wonderful in the sense that Dark Side is, since they are albums made in two completely different mind sets. While Dark Side’s music was as uplifting (on occasion) as it was philosophical, this album was designed to intimidate those who listened to it, and that was mainly due to Roger Waters beginning to unleash the full extent of his lyrical prowess. What we get from that, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. Wish You Were Here is an album that say a lot with very few lyrics, but manages to evoke a number of emotions through some of the band’s best musicianship. This album is no Dark Side, but it comes close.

    5/5

    Key tracks: “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (parts I - V)”, “Welcome to the Machine”, Title track
  • The Dark Side of the Moon: A Review

    19 jan 2012, 05:00

    The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)



    This is it. The Big One. No introductions needed. The Dark Side of the Moon is a behemoth of a record that has changed rock music as we know it. And 39 years after its debut, it still holds up.

    Dark Side is one of several concept pieces that band lyricist Roger Waters would conceive throughout the seventies, discussing a myriad of topics including time, death, capitalism, connectivity amongst humans, and insanity. The concept itself does not tell a concrete narrative, but exists as an abstract idea that can be pieced together by the listener. Putting those themes together, the album is essentially about life. Life doesn’t have a single story to tell; it has many. Part of the concept of the album lies in the listener pouring his or her own experiences within the themes presented in the songs. That is, I think, part of the appeal that this album has on many people who listen to it.

    As for the music itself, the band has taken everything that they have learned from Meddle onward, sharpened their skills, and put together the album as such. Many of the songs feature musique concrète, or using recorded sounds as the basis for musical compositions. This can consist of looping samples of sounds and voices or notes from a musical instrument. Although this technique is used throughout the album, it’s mainly prominent in “Speak to Me” and “On the Run”. “Speak” is essentially the overture to the album, introducing the piece as if you were attending a classical concert. The song is not that strong on its own, but it creates an excellent build as it segues into “Breathe”. It is a compilation of sound effects featuring in forthcoming songs and vocal samples from people that were interviewed for the project (“I’ve been mad for f**king years, absolutely years! Over the yonks!”) discussing their opinions on themes that will be featured on the album. It’s especially interesting to hear some future sound effects used out of context with their respective songs, such as Claire Torrey’s wailing from “The Great Gig in the Sky”.

    “Breathe” acts as the “main theme” of the album, since it is reprised in a later track, “Time”. Pink Floyd has written slow, psychedelic pieces before, but not with the same leverage that this song has. In the context of the album, there’s more to this song than meets the ear. The suspended sensation one could feel from this track is that of floating underwater without any plant life to obstruct the way. The lyrics then take hold, completing the experience and introducing the album’s theme of life, time, and death until the suspension is released for the fast-paced filler track “On the Run”. “Run” is an unremarkable track in and out of context of the album, but its place in history as one of the first possible “techno” tracks seems logical in this day and age.

    Then comes “Time”, one of the more substantial pieces on the album. The message of the song is pretty self-explanatory, warning the listener that life is quickly passing by and we aren’t aware of it until it is too late. The chiming clocks at the beginning may be too intense for some to handle, but Nick Mason’s rototom solo, one of the best performances of his career, alleviates the pain caused by the ringing. David Gilmour and Rick Wright share vocal duties on the track, which may surprise some, given Wright’s ability to imitate Gilmour’s voice as a backing vocalist so well. The most remarkable thing about the song, however, is the solo. This is the album that marks the beginning of GIlmour’s notoriety as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. The guitar tone is drawn out, raunchy, and full of that emotional kick that would become a part of Gilmour’s style.

    “The Great Gig in the Sky” is a number of things: Rick Wright’s greatest composition ever, the best song off of this album, and one of my all-time favorite Pink Floyd songs. Featuring a mere two voice clips regarding death, an uncompromising one-woman wail, and Pink Floyd as the backing band, this song is powerful in its simplicity. There are no real lyrics to it, yet it tells a perfect story of life and death, or rather, the ecstasy of life, reliving those moments as you’re dying, and finally accepting the time that you have to pass. The fact that this was done with music in its purest is an accomplishment in and of itself. Hats off to you, Mr. Wright and Ms. Torrey!

    Part 2 of the album starts off with the smash-hit “Money”, beginning with the rhythmic sounds of cash registers and money being handled in some fashion. The sounds combined with the suave bass riff, the cynical touch of Waters’ lyrics, and Gilmour’s bluesy delivery give the impression of slimy members of the higher-ups handling their so-called precious dough. The instrumental break is just as impressive as the lyrics, featuring Dick Parry on tenor saxophone. Once the time signature switches from the mechanical 7/4 to standard 4/4, a mini jam session seems to form within the song. Gilmour surpasses the solo on “Time” with this solo, which almost seems to imitate the saxophone in tone and control. Because of that, the solo seems incredibly surreal, making it one of the more unique guitar solos ever performed. I’ve noticed that a number of Pink Floyd fans hate this song for the amount of radio play it gets. I don’t care if I hear it on the radio a million times; I will still love every second of it.

    “Us and Them” slows the album down and presents the listener with a more introspective piece. While the rest of the album focuses on general issues that plague people’s day-to-day lives, “Them” turns the tables onto the listeners, who are asked to think about the relationships between themselves and the people in their lives and if they are really faithful to the connections that they share. There’s also something about war in there, too. Musically, the song takes the phrase “music is the space between notes” and runs with it. The way the lyrics echo between each other give the impression that these messages are coming from within ourselves. The listener is given more time to ponder on the crypticness of phrases like “up and down” and “with, without”. Parry’s satirically tacky saxophone from “Money” now has a change of heart and Rick Wright’s piano solo is especially poignant. The song segues into the filler jam “Any Colour You Like”, an overlooked piece that could take some time to grow on, but once the song clicks, it’s about as fun to listen to as any of the other songs on that side.

    “Brain Damage” is probably on the same level as “Money” in terms of popularity among the casual radio listener. This is the only song on the album performed by Roger Waters, and after hearing the song sung like this, I can’t imagine it any other way. Waters’ deadpan delivery undermines the fear of going insane and the coldness of a world that has forsaken those lose themselves involuntarily. Listening to the chorus on the 2011 remaster, the backing vocalists sound more alive than the previous version I had been listening to. They mesh so well with Waters and the rest of the band that it seems like there are more than just those singers in the booth. The sound clips of the man laughing and rambling about insanity bring forth reminders of Syd Barrett, possibly an intentional move on Waters’ part, given his fascination with his former bandmate. “Eclipse” caps off the ending of the album with a thundering intensity. The longer the list Waters’ reads off gets, the louder and more euphoric the music gets. For two minutes, the meaning of the term “living in the moment” becomes apparent. A wave of melancholy washes over me every time that song ends and I’m left with nothing but the heartbeat that bookends the album.

    Haunting, enlightening, moving, engrossing, relevant…these are some of the ways The Dark Side of the Moon can be described. I have been listening to this album for almost a year, and even then I’ve lost count of how many individual times I’ve listened to the album in full, never mind single tracks. Based on the rich, full sound of the music and the content of the lyrics, this is an album that is bigger than life itself. It’s not only about life, but it’s just as relevant to today’s society as it was back in 1973. Humans haven’t become less greedy, everyone is still confronting their feelings towards death, and the world still looks down upon those that are “different” because they seem a little weird in the head. Dark Side is Pink Floyd at its strongest, creating an album that can cater to the appetites of progressive rock fans and can give those that only know Pink Floyd offhand something to chew on as a full-fledged intro to the band. This is a bit of a stretch, but everyone should listen to this album at least once before they die. It illustrates so much of our lives as human beings that the cultural impact this album has had on the world is immense. Pink Floyd is no longer some cult British band at this point. They are giants in the world of rock music.

    5/5

    Key tracks: “Time”, “The Great Gig in the Sky”, “Money”, Us and Them”, “Brain Damage/Eclipse”
  • Obscured by Clouds: A Review

    19 jan 2012, 04:58

    Obscured by Clouds (1972)



    The last album of Pink Floyd’s experimental era was Obscured by Clouds, which served as the soundtrack to Barbet Schroeder’s La Vallée, a film about a woman’s journey of self-discovery in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. This would be the second time the band collaborated with Schroeder on a project and the second soundtrack album that they would produce. This time, however, the band had come to the director as a strong, independent unit instead of a group of four struggling musicians desperate for some musical direction. Given how Meddle was a crucial turning point in the band’s career, this newly-reborn unit was ready to take on the project with a greater sense of musical identity.

    The first thing I noticed when I looked at the sleeve of the album was that there was a significant lack of instrumental pieces compared to More. I’m guessing that it’s because the band had a less floundering approach to experimentation while making this album. They were aware of what they were doing and possibly felt that they should make a stand-alone album that could act as a soundtrack rather than let the film come first and score it that way. The addition of more vocal tracks certainly gives an advantage to the overall quality of the album

    Despite this more confident approach to song writing, the first two tracks of the album are bland and incredibly underwhelming even by Pink Floyd standards. The opening track is a title track the serves to create a falsified ambiance around the album while the second track, “When You’re In”, is a jazzier jam based around the arrangement of the previous track. Instead of having the first one fade out, it would have been better to just make the tracks flow into each other. This would have created better momentum amongst the two songs and made them a little more interesting. The second track was as repetitive as it was bland. Had there been something I enjoyed about that track, I wouldn’t have minded, but not in this case. After listening to these tracks, I was ready to pass off the album as mediocre…that is, until “Burning Bridges” began to play.

    “Bridges” brings back that soothing tone that they established in “Echoes” on their last album, with this track acting as more of a duet between two separate artists than a work by a whole band. This is due in part to the canon style singing that David Gilmour and Richard Wright take on during the song. The song also has a lush chord structure, which was then recycled into the instrumental “Mudmen”, a solid piece of music that functions a straightforward song rather than the results of trail-and-error experimentation.

    From there, the album becomes more and more eclectic. The band seemed to have taken a liking to the harder tracks on More and decided to create spiritual successors in the forms of “The Gold It’s In The…” and “Childhood’s End”. Pink Floyd isn’t a band that’s normally associated with the simple concept of “rocking out”, so hearing a track like this was a pleasant surprise. One could pay attention to the lyrics here, but that wouldn’t really be the point of the song. The ending is an instrumental break that owes a bit to Led Zeppelin, but is still fun to listen to nonetheless. “Childhood’s End” is softer and is a lot more lyrical and confrontational, but still makes for a strong addition to the album.

    Two of the folk rock tracks that we get on the album are ‘Wots…Uh The Deal” and “Free Four”. “Deal” is probably the most accessible song on the album, with a poppy sort of rhythm that would make it seem like the radio-friendly track on the album. That honor, ironically enough, goes to “Free Four”, which is more musical dissonance from Roger Waters. The song is notable in that it is the first direct reference Waters makes to his father Eric Fletcher Waters, who was killed in action during the early years of World War II when Waters was still an infant. His father would be mentioned greatly during the band’s later work, but here, his death also ties into the theme of death in general. There’s something Beatles-eqsue about the instrumentation, style of singing, and lyrical content. There’s also the fact that this song gets air time over where I live (I’m not sure about elsewhere), yet casual listeners will most likely just pay attention to the music and not the lyrics. If that’s the case, then Waters would have to find new avenues to travel upon to really send his messages. He eventually does, but I’ll discuss that in later reviews.

    “Stay” is once again Rick Wright’s turn at the microphone. This is one of the more straightforward tracks on the album, telling the first-person account of a man who wants the woman he loves to stay with him and share a bottle of wine together. The song definitely has a “composer’s touch” to it, almost as if I’m listening to the composer of a musical number sing his own work. The chorus uses some interesting language to flow with the complex harmonies, adding more depth to the scenery that the song is creating. Not one of the strongest tracks on the album, but it is one worth mentioning as an example of the musical strength of the band as a whole.

    The final track, “Absolutely Curtains”, is one that comes out of left field after all the vocal tracks that were placed on the album. The track is a mostly-ambient instrumental that uses the chanting of an indigenous tribe to reassure the album’s connection to La Vallée. While the chanting sounds interesting, it was completely unexpected and might not appeal to all tastes. For an album that contains less experimentation done at the drop of a hat, this was an interesting choice for the band to make. It ends the album on a somewhat somber note, but it doesn’t spoil the entire listening experience.

    I had few expectations for Obscured by Clouds, since it is one of the least talked-about albums in the entire Pink Floyd discography. A shame, though, since this is one of their strongest early works. Meddle did wonders on the band’s group chemistry and established that flowing sound that many associate with the band today, but this album doesn’t exactly perfect that. Even so, the album still features solid vocal tracks that make this more of a stand-alone album than a soundtrack to a movie. Obscured by Clouds is a transitional album that marks the change between the discovery of their sound and the perfection of that sound. This album, however, merely serves as a distraction from the album that would change the band members’ lives forever.

    4.5/5

    Key tracks: “Burning Bridges”, “Wots…Uh The Deal”, “Free Four”, “The Gold It’s In The…”, “Stay”
  • Meddle: A Review

    19 jan 2012, 04:57

    Meddle (1971)



    *ping*…*ping*…

    Pink Floyd released their sixth album Meddle in 1971, a year after Atom Heart Mother topped the U.K. charts and gave the band their first real victory. After years and years of trying, the band finally accomplished something they hadn’t been able to do since the departure of Syd Barrett: work as a collective unit to create a distinctive musical style that many now call “the Pink Floyd sound”. With Meddle, their efforts to rid themselves of Writer’s Block were finally beginning to pay off, and it all began with a single note.

    The album opens with the powerhouse instrumental track “One of These Days”, which is primarily fueled by double bass lines and pure adrenaline. This song could almost be called the ultimate album opener. It’s designed to pump up the listeners for what might be the most epic musical experience of their lives, but as we learn later on, that’s certainly not the case. The bouncing bass line creates a sense of urgency, almost as if an army is preparing a war. The synth reference to the Doctor Who theme song lightens the mood of such a heavy piece. With a cryptic spoken message, the rest of the song takes off without an end in sight. This is the album opener many songs aspire to be: epic, fierce, and ready to put on a show.

    Meanwhile, if there is one way to describe this album’s mood, it’s “deceptively lazy”. There’s more of a relaxed atmosphere in the majority of the pieces here than in Atom Heart Mother. The first case of this is “A Pillow of Winds”. While it is a nice track to help slow down the intense charge of “Days”, it ends up being the first in a series of songs that want to give the album that kind of persona. “Days” doesn’t necessarily do that, but at the same time, that doesn’t make it a false opener. In fact, the placement of the two tracks is clever, partly due to the fact that they overlap with each other. The first track acts as a gateway to the world of Meddle and “Winds” is where it is.

    “Winds” itself is a nicely sung folk ballad written by both David Gilmour and Roger Waters. The guitars in the track ripple off of each other with the occasional slide guitar giving the song an airy tinge. The lyrics are reminiscent of Syd Barrett’s writing style on Piper, with Gilmour singing of owls and swans. Given how Roger Waters wrote the lyrics to the song, I would not be surprised if this is just one of the facets of his obsession with Barrett seeping through. The lulling rhythm and melody of the song is a characteristic that would soon appear on future albums. Not the album’s strongest track, but still a lovely piece of music.

    “Fearless”, however, is a highly overlooked piece that deserves more recognition from people outside of the fanbase. The song uses the “You’ll Never Walk Alone” chant by Liverpool football fans as the basis for the song’s melody and lyrics. Having only heard the song before in passing, I’d never really paid attention to it until now. I was especially moved by the second verse onward, with the image of one “idiot” standing up against the world. Those lyrics struck a chord with me just as “If” on Atom Heart Mother did. Backed by a catchy riff, Gilmour takes on vocal duties once again, delivering the same kind of soft performance that he did in “Pillow”. In what might be one of the most moving composition choices ever made by the group, the instrumentation fades out as the fans’ chanting swells up as if the whole world is singing to the listener. It may be just a simple football chant, but one simple reference to a song can mean a whole lot to the lyrical content of another piece. “Fearless” is one of the unsung victories of Pink Floyd’s career, a moving tribute to the underdogs of society.

    From there, we get two novelty tracks that could have killed the album had it not been for pieces like “Days” and “Fearless”. The first, “San Tropez”, is a jaunty tune about…where else? It’s one of the lightest things ever written by the band. If you try to overanalyze it, you’ll only hurt yourself. The second one is the more experimental “Seamus”, which is named after the dog who provides vocals on the track. It’s one of the strangest choices ever made by the band and the album could have gone without it, but I like how it has the potential to catch first-time listeners off-guard before listening to the last track, so I suppose it’s good for something. Although these tracks fit the laid-back, acoustic feel of the album, they hold back the full potential that this album has.

    Finally, we have Pink Floyd’s eureka moment: “Echoes”. What started out as Richard Wright messing around with his piano through a Leslie speaker became the cascading doppler radar effect that acts as the song’s intro and the catalyst for the entire track. With a triumphant fanfare, Roger Waters’ first verse fools the listeners (and the critics who panned his so-called “spacey lyrics”) into thinking that the song would be an underwater trek through mighty “rolling waves” and mystic “coral caves”. But nope. Instead, we have a poignant analysis of how people find difficulty in connecting with each other despite the fact that we are all human beings. The lyrics, as nicely written as they are, seem to come second to the music, which flows from standard heavy progressive rock to blues and then to an ambient stand-still filled with feedback seagulls calling from far-off distances. The ambience in the track creates the perfect build for a soaring return to the main melody of the piece. With an instrumental break that makes it seem like the guitars are singers exchanging lines and a choral swell, the album ends. I could listen to this track a hundred times and still be left in silence not being able to fully comprehend the might of this song. The band finally achieved their combined chemistry with this track and composed what was essentially the prototype of their main musical style for albums to come.

    The overall quality of Meddle lies within a spectrum of musical strength, ranging from one of their best works (“Echoes”) to one of their worst (“Seamus”). I have seen fans argue over which tracks are the weakest and which tracks are the strongest, making this an album that is only as strong as the listeners’ interpretations. That could be said about any musical composition, but this album seems to stick to a watery theme beyond the nautical first verse of “Echoes”. Like liquid, this album seems to form itself within the perception of the listener. One person could say that “A Pillow of Winds” is a stronger track than “Fearless”, and vice versa. This album is a mixed piece amongst Pink Floyd’s early discography, and possibly their entire career. Despite these mixed opinions, many can say that Pink Floyd is truly a united group at this point. They are no longer four individual men who write their own songs and put them together. They have now formed themselves as a quasi-anonymous group that would go on to sell millions of records around the world…but not until they take a detour through La Vallée first.

    4/5

    Key tracks: “One of These Days”, “Fearless”, “Echoes”