Having not updated this blog for a very long while it was going to take a momentous occasion to spark enough enthusiasm to do so. One thing that is likely to pique the dulled interests of this forty something is anything at all Pink Floyd related. It is fair to say that they are pretty much my most favourite band of all time (thank you Leigh for introducing me to ‘Wish You Were Here’ and weaning me off Electro) – pretty much every album they have done has something in it that I hold dear, even the pretty dreadful Piper and Saucerful albums have sparks of what was to come in them. When asked for my favourite PF album it is always difficult to answer straight away but usually will be Wish You Were Here, but that’s really the nucleus of their music – it is very much a mood thing, and all of their albums have a different yet connected feel to them. The stupendous musical voyage that is ‘Echoes’ from Meddle – the crashing final rhythm on ‘Sheep’ from Animals – the beautiful synth work on ‘Shine On’ from WYWH right up the later works where Gilmour’s solo work on ‘Poles Apart’ and ‘Lost for Words’ truly cause lumps in the throat.
It’s with complete sheep-like devotion that I pre-ordered “The Endless River” the deluxe edition of course, knowing full well that this is very likely (confirmed as ‘definite’) going to be the last time I feel the excitement of new works from my favourite old crusty musicians. I have to admit though, hearing the premise behind the album aroused a little of my famed cynicism – I mean, a wholly instrumental album of various music sketches from around the Division Bell era didn’t on paper sound all that attractive… and smacked of needing to milk that little bit more cash from us gullible punters before zimmer-frames become a requirement more than a piece of concept art!
A very nice presentation set complete with the obligatory pointless postcard type inserts and usual nonsensical photography, only, even this is a little tame to what we would expect. Anyhow, it’s the music right? The normal album comes with 18 tracks to delight the lug holes, but when you consider that a lot of these are under 2 minutes in length one already starts to feel a little cheated. Plump for the deluxe version and you get a further 3 audio tracks and 6 videos (not viewed at time of writing).
Things start of promisingly enough with the tranquil ‘Things Left Unsaid’ featuring that very odd guitar sound that Gilmour seems to now love and overuse. However, hearing Wright’s keyboard parts posthumously definitely sets the hairs on the back of one’s neck on end. Trademark barrel organs roll in ‘It’s What We Do’ that feels like a traditional early Floyd song and it’s this kind of sound I was hoping would drift throughout the album. This then falls into ‘Ebb and Flow’ which is far too sparse in content to be memorable and then onto ‘Sum’ which sounds far too much like it was written with lyrics in mind and comes across as a karaoke track as a consequence – probably not the intention! ‘Skins’ feels like it is harping on back to the really early days but never really quite succeeds in being anything other than filler and although ‘Unsung’ that follows this improves on it, it too just feels too much like filler for the sake of it.
‘Anisina’ is where the album finally gets some traction, a melancholy rich sounding track with lovely if a little brief solo work from Gilmour. The sax work on this one however leaves a little to be desired; I get the need to keep with the heritage, but at least make it sound like the Saxophonist hasn’t just dropped in from above and bluffed his way through the song. ‘The Lost Art of Conversation’ follows the same vein as ‘Skins’ and ‘Unsung’ in not actually going anywhere and feeling like it serves any purpose. ‘On Noodle Street’ is a nice jazzy style track that I would’ve liked to have been developed more, but once again is over all too quickly without truly stamping itself on the album. ‘Night Light’ once again is 1:42 of delightful sweeping keyboards and guitar spots that ultimately don’t delight in the slightest.
We then move onto ‘Allons-y’ parts 1 and 2 with ‘Autumn ’68’ sandwiched in-between. The former has a Run Like Hellesque feel to it and is much more what we are looking for from these guys. ‘Autumn ’68’ then, and despite being only 1:35 in length is my favourite track on the album – the church organ is so beautiful mixed with subtle bottle-necked guitar and synth overtones – why couldn’t this be a longer track, or the album contain more of this kind of quality? I have repeated and repeated this track, it gets me where all good music should right in the gut, heart and mind. Talkin’ Hawkin’ I’m guessing is either a continuation of ‘Keep Talking’ from the Division Bell or an alternative that was never used. It stands up as a nice track on the album, but oddly I feel the track title itself spoils things here!
So to the last four tracks on the normal edition album beginning with ‘Calling’ then merging into ‘Eyes to Pearls’ and then onto ‘Surfacing’. These three tracks feel like they should be one since they have a similar epic feel to them so much in evidence in earlier works like Shine On You Crazy Diamond. Together they work nicely and bring the album to a much needed decent close, but then… ‘Louder Than Words’ happens. Things start nicely enough, but what follows is a song that so badly sounds like the lyrics have been struggled with both in terms of content and fitting into the song. The music itself is classic Floyd, even down to the backing vocals, but I can honestly say the much publicised only vocalised song on the album is a crushing disappointment – it almost feels like the lovely guitar solo shouldn’t be allowed to sit alongside the drab and tired sounding song that it sits in.
The deluxe edition has ‘TBS9’, ‘TBS14’ and ‘Nervana’ which I was hoping would provide the musical drug for my addiction. In some respects and parts they do, but they feel exactly as they are – tacked on tracks that don’t really fit and are too raw in sound to be pleasurable. I also have to say that ‘Nervana’ sounds like a cross between a MIDI demo track and Mike Oldfield on a bad day – not good in the slightest.
If this is to be the last outing for the good ship Pink Floyd then it’s a crying shame, it serves one of its purposes to some degree in being a fitting tribute to Rick Wright and all that he done for the band – well documented that his part in it all is heavily underplayed as admitted by both Mason and Gilmour. Murmurs from certain corners that a tour may well happen abound, and I will gladly pay a shed-load of camels to go and see them once, twice and maybe more times, after all, live is where Pink Floyd are truly at their very best and who knows some of those distinctly average tracks might turn out to be complete and utter ear candy in a live play scenario. As it is though ‘The Endless River’ just doesn’t feel anywhere near like a cohesive album, however much I love, adore and respect this band. It’s not the swan song we wanted Charlie.