Review of Pink Floyd and “The Endless River”

The Endless River(Strange title?  You’ll understand…)

When I was in high school Pink Floyd was my “guilty pleasure” favorite band. Most of the time I would tell people I liked Yes. Yes – how much more positive can you get than that? With their shimmering surfaces and positive messages this was the optimist’s band. But Pink Floyd? They were dark and moody.

Their huge smash album, “Dark Side of the Moon”, was about a life from birth to death and beyond, to That Great Gig in the Sky. It was a life on the run, controlled by time, war, money and insanity. Another album was a dark look at insanity and the brutality of the music industry, though I have to say, “Wish You Were Here” is by far my favorite Floyd album. Then there was one album, “Animals”, that pretty much said all people were dogs, sheep or pigs. Dark, bitter, moody and sarcastic. “The Wall” pushed the theme of “Animals” a little farther and added a new level of despair. However, to me “The Wall” is only half a Pink Floyd album while the other half is Roger Waters as accompanied by Pink Floyd

By the time I finished high school we had entered the MTV era. Genesis had gone from the top of the prog-rock heap to the Top 40. Yes rather unsuccessfully tried it’s hand at the 3-minute pop song. Pink Floyd put out its “Final Cut”, a bunch of scraps left over from “The Wall” combined with acidly bitter rantings and ravings from Roger Waters. I hated “The Final Cut” with a passion, partly because Richard Wright wasn’t on the album and I was, and still am, a firm believer that the Pink Floyd sound was based on his keyboards. The world had changed and I moved on.

Through the 1990s and the first decade of this century I listened to Jazz and Classical almost exclusively. I studied composition with contemporary concert music (modern classical) as the emphasis. I knew Pink Floyd released a couple more albums, but I really didn’t listen. From the little I heard it sounded like a different band trying to sound like Pink Floyd.

A few years ago I rediscovered Pink Floyd. Discovered is the right word since I did it though a boxed set called “The Pink Floyd Discovery Set”. It didn’t have the early singles, but I was able to dig them up. I suddenly remembered why I had liked the band so much. Of course, I was hearing them from a totally different perspective. I now not only heard the great music but the warts and failures. Nowhere are the failures more apparent than on “Animals”. This should have been their greatest album.  There are painful holes that did not contain the needed keyboard solos. The one or two solos were very lack luster – I remember playing along with them as a kid and frowning. There were some great keyboard textures, but just as often they were uninspiring. I now know why the band made the painful decision to fire Rick Wright.

But Mr. Wright came back, first as a hired hand on “A Momentary Lapse of Reason”, an OK album with a few shining points, and then as a real member of the band on “The Division Bell”. “The Division Bell” recaptured the Pink Floyd sound and was the best post “The Wall” album, though it didn’t recapture some of the mystique of the handful of great albums from the 1970s.

Sadly Richard Wright, the man I always thought of as the one who made Pink Floyd moody, who gave that dark texture to the music, passed away. “The Division Bell” would have to be the final word from this iconic band.

Or so it would seem.

Early this year it was rumored a new Pink Floyd album was on the way. Later it wasn’t just a rumor, it was an official announcement. David Gilmore and Nick Mason had revisited tracks recorded during sessions for “The Division Bell” and created a new album, “The Endless River”, as a tribute to their old band mate, Rick Wright. I preordered the album and was able to download the mp3s the day it was released. Since then I listened to it on its own, as a coda to “The Division Bell” and after listening to all of the Pink Floyd albums in order.

As I said, I always firmly believed Richard Wright created the sound that defined the band. You might hear David Gilmore’s soulful guitar playing or listen to Roger Waters’ sarcastic words, but it was Rick Wright’s keyboards that set the tone.

“The Division Bell” marked the first time Richard Wright was fully integrated in the band since “Animals”, or perhaps since “Wish You Were Here” since even Mr. Wright admitted he wasn’t mentally there during the “Animals” sessions. “The Division Bell” is a very good album even if it didn’t have the mystique of “Wish You Were Here”.

“The Endless River” was created from tracks recorded during “The Division Bell” sessions and you can tell. A lot of the same sounds are used and some of the same melodies. There are sections that are extended jams based on these songs. That’s not a bad thing. Having just listened through all of their albums, Pink Floyd was at their best when they just jammed. Which do you remember, “Echoes” or “Seamus”? Does “Have a Cigar” make “Wish You Were Here” or is it “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”? From “The Wall” on there weren’t enough of the free form jams that defined the band. “The Endless River” gives us the jams that were missing on “The Division Bell”, the type of jams that only Pink Floyd seemed to be able to successfully pull off.

But it isn’t just a jam session of “The Division Bell” songs. There are hints, clips and pieces of music from throughout their career. When I heard the throw back to “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” on the piece named “It’s What We Do” I decided that one song alone was worth the price of admission.

It didn’t stop there, though. There are quite a few good moments to this album. Although the long jams don’t have the daring and energy of “Echoes”, they are a welcome relief in a world of 3-minute pop songs. This, to me, sounds more like the Pink Floyd I know and love than anything they put out since “Animals”. “The Endless River” brings back the moods and textures of classic Pink Floyd. It refers to without just aping the earlier era.   You can hear the history but it transcends merely trying to repackage their past.  It is so much more than just trying to recapture the glory days.  It is heartfelt new music.

Over all I think this is a great album. It makes a perfect companion to “The Division Bell” yet goes beyond just the flip side. It can be listened to as a standalone album in its own right. There are times, however, that we are reminded that this is a recap of the band, a long and winding swan song.

If you’re a Pink Floyd fan who knows them more from the pre-“The Wall” music you really deserve to give this a listen. Or Two. Or two Hundred.

Image copied from Amazon.  I assume it’s owned by Pink Floyd.

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