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Pink Floyd Calls it a Day: The Endless River, Album Review

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The Beloved Band’s Coda to Their Illustrious Career

Pink Floyd: The Endless River, CD Review

Pink Floyd: The Endless River, 2014After twenty years since their last album, The Division Bell (1994), and countless re-issues of their complete studio recordings and several greatest hits packages, Pink Floyd have returned by sifting through their archives to create a ‘new’ album entitled, The Endless River.

I wasn’t expecting The Endless River to be the greatest album of all time, but I did expect it to be better than what it is. While it comes off as a tribute to beloved keyboardist Richard Wright (who passed away in 2008), in the end it seems like a marketing scheme to give legions of Floyd fans a chubby this holiday season. Despite it being an interesting listen, The Endless River isn’t the masterpiece we would have hoped for.

The bulk of The Endless River is derived from unreleased recordings from The Division Bell sessions, that have been tweaked and toyed with over the past few years by guitarist David Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason and other assorted friends (including Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera) into just under an hour’s worth of material. Promoted as a tribute to Wright, one can find specific elements here that harken back to the band’s psychedelic past, before concepts crept in and changed the group’s thematic direction. Despite how erratic the album is as a whole, it’s probably the first Floyd album to fully venture into experimental territory since the bleak, yet brilliant, Animals (1977).

The Endless River features scattered fragments that flow in and out of one another, sometimes seamlessly, and sometimes not. There are no real songs here, but four 11-15 minute long instrumental suites which allow for the many fragments to coalesce into one another. However, many of these fragments are often too short and disjointed to really sustain full listener interest; in some instances the transitions are fairly jarring. There are no album side length tracks here such as “Atom Heart Mother,” “Echoes,” “Shine on you Crazy Diamond,” or “Dogs” to really sink your teeth into. Early Floyd classics such as these were assembled out of numerous fragments and meticulously fine-tuned to take the listener on an experimental journey through a variety of nooks and crannies.

The short lived five piece Pink Floyd, early 1968. From left: Nick Mason, Syd Barrett, David Gilmour (seated), Roger Waters and Richard Wright.The Endless River sounds more like an experimental sketchbook providing an encyclopedic overview of the Floyd’s musical transformation over the years. For example, the album’s opener “Things Left Unsaid” is genuinely somber and sounds reminiscent of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” while the percussion based, and all too short “Skins,” recalls their avant-garde sound of the late 1960s, specifically “A Saucerful of Secrets” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”…but at just under two minutes, it’s far too abrupt and makes the listener want more.

The curious blending of “Allons-y” and “Autumn ’68” could’ve been extraordinary, if it also didn’t feel all too forced. This haunting organ solo (originally recorded in 1969) is sandwiched between two brief jams that resemble “Run Like Hell” from The Wall. At around five minutes in length, it comes to a screeching halt before the listener can fully engage in its scope, and once the mood is initially established, we’re forced suddenly into another vignette that is either hit or miss. “Skins” would’ve been brilliant if it were stretched out to several minutes and the same for “Autumn 68.” These two pieces are great, but, they clearly needed to be fleshed out a bit more. A lost opportunity. 

Sadly, “Anisina,” is a drunken sounding dirge with grating saxophone and bland guitar lines intermingling with one another; even Gilmour’s rip roaring bends can’t really save this one piece from mediocrity. However, “The Lost Art of Conversation” is a nice solo piano spot for Wright, which helps enhance the album’s ambient mood despite its brevity. This is followed by “On Noodle Street,” a mellow and pleasant funk exercise that awkwardly morphs into the atmospheric and spacy “Night Light.”

Pieces such as It’s What We Do,”Calling, Eyes to Pearls, and “Surfacing” are more in the vein of bluesy, latter day Floyd, and a bit longer than some of the other tracks, while maintaining a dreamy atmosphere throughout.

What struck me as odd throughout the album was Gilmour’s guitar work, some of which sounds listless and lacking the punch and vibrancy of his trademark sound (“It’s What We Do” and “Surfacing” are two exceptions with fine solos). The overall tone of his guitar makes for an incredibly depressing listen at times, except during the closer “Louder than Words,” the most commercial sounding piece on the album, and the only one with vocals. While Polly Samson’s lyrics make this finale sound overly clichéd, the song does takes an epic approach, embellished by strings, backing vocals and Gilmour knocking one final solo out of the park just for the hell of it.

To be fair, some of the fragments that make up The Endless River are better than the whole. It does offer an interesting throwback into Pink Floyd’s psychedelic and experimental years. Yes kids, before bassist Roger Waters (who had no involvement with The Endless River) waxed poetic about depression and man’s constant inhumanity to man, the emphasis was on musical improvisation. Early psychedelic Floyd (circa 1965-67) under Syd Barrett’s guidance was so harsh and abrasive, that it could be perceived as a form of anarchy. The Floyd was incredibly daring at the time for taking a basic R&B tune and expanding on it with ear splitting, 20+ minute free form walls of noise; this was bold and brash and it made them stars of the London underground. The rest is history.

The Endless River does serve as an interesting tribute to Richard Wright’s legacy. Quiet and reserved, Wright often stayed out of the spotlight, yet his keyboards greatly established the tone for much of Pink Floyd’s music from the very beginning, and he was often the band’s most overlooked member. Granted, while The Endless River works as a sonic experiment (try listening to it on headphones), it feels as if Pink Floyd has basically rushed out a listenable product in order to capitalize on their brand, without much of their former oomph.

So this is apparently how Pink Floyd ends…for the moment. I can’t bring myself to fully despise The Endless River, but it’s fairly disappointing and not even in the same league as such classics as The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, More, Ummagumma, Obscured by Clouds and Wish You Were Here. But while it can’t compare to the aforementioned earlier albums, I do feel that it’s a slight improvement over their 1980s albums The Final Cut and A Momentary Lapse of Reason. If Pink Floyd in the aftermath of the nasty Gilmour/Waters feud had continued in a strictly ambient, more experimental vein, than the direction they inevitably took, The Endless River might fall into the status of a classic. Who can really tell?…even subpar Pink Floyd is better than no Pink Floyd at all.

Dave Bower is Co-Publisher of The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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1 Comment for “Pink Floyd Calls it a Day: The Endless River, Album Review”

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful review, less a meal than I had hoped. I heard rumors this album would harken back to their early jams, but it sounds like mini-jams at best, which is a contradiction. They’re old and rich, why not let loose? As a Floyd fan, I will definitively submit myself to the entire album w/ phones because of your thoughtful review, then I’ll go back to Barrett…

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