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Pink Floyd - The Endless River CD (album) cover

THE ENDLESS RIVER

Pink Floyd

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.35 | 683 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Trollheart
3 stars Sailing down the Endless River: Riding the gravy train, a momentary lapse of reason or Crazy diamonds still shining on?

Posthumous albums are always a little hard to take. Usually released by a label after the death of the artiste, they have a certain creepy quality, as you realise you're listening to the words and/or music of a man, woman or band who are no longer alive. Although still with us, the corpse of Pink Floyd has been floating down the (endless) river for some time now, just waiting for someone to fish it out and give it the decent burial it deserves. There are those (and they are many and vociferous) who will tell you that Floyd died when founder and creative light Roger Waters left them in an acrimonious split in 1985, and indeed even before that, The Wall was 99% his vision and his project and the final album to feature him, The Final Cut, featured so little input from the other two members (and none at all from Richard Wright) that it may as well have been his solo album in all but name. Shortly after that he left the band to pursue that solo career, and Pink Floyd were considered all but dead.

But I'm one of the few (hah!) that enjoyed the two non-Waters Floyd albums that followed his departure, and while 1987's A Momentary Lapse of Reason and 1991's The Division Bell can't in fairness hold a candle to albums like Wish You Were Here, Animals or Dark Side of the Moon, I thought they were pretty cool. I've always been one of those who refuse to cry "Band X is no use without singer Y!" I went through the trauma of Fish parting ways with Marillion, got used to Genesis without Gabriel and enjoyed an Ozzy-less Sabbath. To me, a band is more than just a singer or a frontman, and those who whine that the band will never be the same without the main vocalist and/or creator/founder are I think doing that band a great disservice. And so it was that I was prepared to accept Floyd after Waters, and though it was odd to hear the songs without his distinctive, tortured voice, I thought Gilmour did a decent job. But when the final notes faded away on "High hopes" as The Division Bell came to an end, I, like probably everybody else, believed we were hearing the very last music ever to be released by this band which was now a shadow of its former self. With the death of Richard Wright in 2008, I mourned and thought well that is definitely it: they can't come back now. It's over.

But it isn't over.

Or is it? When news broke of a "new" Pink Floyd album there was of course a flurry of expectations and my own emotions went from disbelief to joy to finally settle on suspicion as the details began to filter through. Not so much a new album then as a collection of studio outtakes and cutting-room floor debris from the sessions for the last "proper" Floyd album. But the obvious question came up: if this material was not deemed good enough to find its way onto The Division Bell, why was it now thought suitable for release? What had changed? All right, the story goes that much of the music that appears on The Endless River was composed by Wright, and Gilmour and Mason wanted to create a sort of tribute to him, and that's all right as far as it goes. But to announce it as a new album? Was that not pushing it ever so slightly?

My comments above echo (though I had and have not read it) a comment Gilmour made in the book Comfortably numb: the inside story of Pink Floyd when speaking of the making of The Final Cut. He asked, "if these songs (the ones being considered for The Final Cut which had been part of the sessions for The Wall but had not made it) were not good enough for The Wall, why are they good enough now?" Indeed, David. Indeed. A question we must all have been asking.

So are they? Good I mean. It's a perfectly valid question: if, when making what should have been their final album, Gilmour, Wright and Mason discarded these pieces of music (can't really call them songs) then why should they be considered acceptable not only to be released now, twenty years later, but to form the basis of a so-called "new" Pink Floyd album? Have the guys suddenly realised they were after all better than they believed they were in 1994, or is it really just that they want to honour their fallen bandmate by presenting to the world music he wrote but which never saw the light of day, until now?

Or, indeed, as many have hinted and I have to also ask, is this new album, the last ever from Pink Floyd -and we have that officially: no Eagles Hell Freezes Over ambiguity here! - nothing more than an exercise in cynicism and money-grabbing, a last chance to make some cash off the hard-pressed fans in this troubled economy? And if so, shouldn't the remaining members of Pink Floyd hang their heads in shame, having already broken records by releasing arguably the biggest attempt to rip fans off with their Immersion boxsets, each of which contained approximately SIX discs PER ALBUM and cost in the region of 100 EURO EACH! Sure, nobody put a gun to anyone's head and forced them to buy the sets, but if, as a diehard Floyd fan, you had to have these, then even for the main albums you're looking at shelling out over a THOUSAND Euro! That's bigtime rip-off in anyone's book, I don't care what you say.

So if, as one of these diehard fans, you outlaid the money on these sets in 2011, what would you expect from a new Pink Floyd album? I'd venture to say it would not be rehashed, re-recorded half songs that were not deemed good enough for the recording of The Division Bell. But that's what you get, and as this is your final ever chance to hear new (!) Pink Floyd music, do you buy the album and take a chance, or refuse to be the instrument by which Dave Gilmour buys a new house or Nick Mason adds to his classic car collection? This is Pink Floyd's final ever album, their swan song, but is it one worth hearing? Or to put it another way, in the words of a guy I used to know, is this The Endless River or The Endless Pension? After all this waffle, and after two decades, it's time to find out.

The first thing I'm struck by, despite the album's filching of the last few words of "High hopes", is the echoes (hah, again!) of 1987's A Momentary Lapse of Reason. That album began with the sound of a man rowing, and here on the cover of this album we see ... a man rowing. Well, punting, but it's very close. So the themes of rivers has been something flowing (sorry, sorry) through the post-Waters Floyd, has it? Well, no not really. Other than those two songs, which reference waters (ah, I know: sorry, I couldn't resist!) there's no real connection, but when you look incidentally at the track listing for both albums there are song titles there, many of which could refer to this album and its release: "What do you want from me?" might be an idea of Gilmour's frustration at some of the reviews of the album, though if he's surprised at its reception then he should not be. "Poles apart"? Sure. "High hopes", certainly, though probably in vain. Not to mention "Coming back to life" and, er, "Lost for words". As for A Momentary Lapse of Reason? Well "A new machine" is a possible link, as is "Yet another movie", but in reality I think the closing track from that album sums up a lot of feelings about the direction this has gone. Yeah, "Sorrow" more or less covers it.

But in all this analysis and all these clever, self-congratulatory comments, has the music itself become lost, relegated to the sidelines, a bit player destined to be overlooked as critics argue back and forth about the merits of releasing an album of basically extra tracks from a twenty-year-old recording session? Well not here anyway. Grab a set of oars, make sure your lifejacket is inflated, and take your seasick pills if you need them, cos we're climbing on board and we're going in.

Well, ambient they said it would be and ambient is definitely the feeling as "Things left unsaid" opens with a spacey keyboard and spoken words, sort of putting me in mind of the start of Dark Side, then one big bouncy echoey drumbeat before the keys go into a melody that this time reminds me of "Signs of life" from Momentary Lapse. Gilmour's guitar comes in then, moaning and crying like a violin as the spacey atmospheric soundscape continues to pulse behind him, but it's now clear that, as ever, Gilmour is in charge and standing in the spotlight. In much the same way as, in the beginning, "Shine on you crazy diamond" rode on Wright's keyboard, but once Gilmour broke in he took the tune over, so too here he stands astride the piece like an undeniable colossus. Some really nice organ from the ghostly fingers of Wright before we're pulled into "It's what we do". Gilmour has said that this album is not for "the itunes, download-a-song generation" and needs to be listened to in one sitting, and you can see the intention there as the music all drifts together, one piece flowing seamlessly into the next, so that it's almost like one long symphony. However, it's hard to forgive the second track being basically the closing section of "Shine on" polished (sorry) up and extended. I do love the song - who doesn't? - but this is something of a cop-out. If these are unused tunes from the Division Bell sessions, why is such old material here? There are echoes of "Welcome to the machine" too, particularly in Gilmour's chords. It drifts right back to the "Shine on" theme though, and as the piece comes to an end you're really waiting for Gilmour to sing "Remember when you were young"...

It's great music, there's no doubt about that. It's just that it is, generally, music we've heard before, and many years ago in most cases. "Ebb and flow" sounds very close to the last few moments of "Shine on, part VI" stretched out to an unnecessary and in some cases unsustainable two minutes almost, and while there are lovely organ and synth touches from Wright, as well as of course superb piano, it's a bit of a non-event. More looking back to "Signs of life" then for "Sums", throwing in some effects used in "Welcome to the machine" with some shimmery keyboard before finally we get a proper attack from Gilmour as his guitar screams in fury at having been held back so long, but again it's "Welcome" all over again. It's a great guitar piece, sure, and it reminds us what a god Gilmour is, but have the idol's feet turned to clay? There's nothing very new or innovative here. In fact, I'm surprised to say that we're now four tracks in and I don't hear anything resembling any track from The Divsion Bell, nothing that could have been considered for that album, as this is supposed to be.

Quickly then we pass into "Skins", where Mason gets to unleash his expertise on the sticks, almost a drum solo with Gilmour adding little flourishes here and there. Only just over two and a half minutes but my least favourite on the album so far. As Vim said in Bad News, can't stand drum solos. Then with more "Shine on" descending keys we're into "Unsung", a mere minute of almost trancey keyboard with guitar screeching over it, reminiscent of The Wall I feel, until "Anisina" closes out the first disc, sounding to me unaccountably like Alan Parsons Project's "Time". Weird. Very piano driven, nice tune, and at least it doesn't sound like any previous Floyd recording. The first one I've actually enjoyed on the album. Sounds like it has sax on it too: yeah, definitely sax, courtesy of Israeli jazz hornman Gilad Atzmon. Very stirring and dramatic.

Of the seven tracks that follow (side three), six are less than two minutes and three, weirdly, are exactly 1:43. Not only that, but they're the first three. "The lost art of conversation" has a deep, luscious synth and Gilmour's high- pitched guitar, but then settles down to allow Wright's sumptuous piano to drive it. It is however only getting going when it's over, and "On Noodle Street" carries the tune into a sort of Knopfleresque slow boogie, with Gilmour coming much more to the fore and Guy Pratt filling in really well for Waters on bass, as he has done for some time now. Electric piano from Wright comes in before "Night light" returns the spotlight to the man on the frets, and again we're back shining on, you crazy diamond, with a slight, almost Genesisesque twist in the melody. "Allons-y (1) gives us "Run like Hell" revisited, with Gilmour cranking up the guitar and the tempo, Mason's drumming much more animated and the organ from Wright pretty much pushed into the background. It's derivative, incredibly and annoyingly so, but at least it kicks the album up the arse and gives you something to tap your fingers to, if not shake your head. In other words, it lifts the album out of the quiet, soporific torpor it has been sliding into and delivers something of a punch from an entity that seemed almost asleep. An almost Bach-like organ takes "Autumn '68", slowing things back down with a feeling of Pink Floyd meets Vangelis before we move into "Allons-y (2)", which builds a lush soundscape on the synth, then kicks up into another memorable Floyd piece, kind of more "Run like Hell" really. Then we have the pretty godawful (and terribly titled) "Talkin' Hawking", which is essentially the spoken parts from "Keep talking" extended, backed with a slow organ melody, the first appearance of those iconic Pink Floyd female backing vocals so associated with Waters and used quite sparingly after he departed. Nice guitar work certainly, but I could do without the Professor droning on. I didn't like it on "Keep talking" and I certainly don't like the extended version. It's also very badly mixed, as Glimour's guitar and indeed Mason's drumming often overpower the spoken parts, making it hard to make out what is being said, which is pretty ironic for a song so titled.

And so we move into the final part of the album, or "side four", with a strange little ambient beginning to "Calling", then some moaning guitar and thick bass before the keys rise into the mix and an almost Arabic passage takes the tune. More nice understated piano, then guitar rises like some beast out of the depths. As the piece nears its end it drops back to soft piano, choral vocals and slow, echoey drumming and takes us into "Eyes to pearls", a definite vehicle for the strumming guitar work of Gilmour, but very ? and I mean very - close in melody to Marillion's "Berlin". Spooky. Rushing, crashing percussion washes over the tune and carries us away, and we find ourselves "Surfacing", with acoustic guitar and more "Shine on" closing parts, with echoes of "Your possible pasts" there if you listen for them closely enough, or are as anal as I am.

There is some lovely interplay between Gilmour and Wright here though, and I'd probably class this as my second favourite, one of the longer tracks at just shy of three minutes. Personally, I think both in title, mood and music this would have been the perfect track to end the album on, but this is seen as a new Pink Floyd album after all, the last one ever, and the record companies will have their pound of flesh ("We're just knocked out/ We heard about the sellout") meaning that the instrumental nature of the album has to be destroyed by a vocal song. Now while I really like "Louder than words", it comes as something of a jarring experience after nearly forty minutes of pure music. Gilmour still has it as a vocalist though, and it's a good song, it's just a pity it's so transparently written as an attempt to hit the singles charts. One final sellout before you go, lads?

So what's the verdict? Well I'll get to that in just a moment. But first I'd like to reiterate what I said above in the actual review, and that is that I don't hear anything here that could have ended up on The Division Bell, other than maybe the closer. For me, this sounds more like unused material from everything from Dark Side of the Moon to The Wall. I find it hard to believe that in 1994, working on what was to be their final proper album, Gilmour, Wright and Mason were thinking about and writing in the style of music they had produced two decades earlier. Far from making me want to revisit The Divison Bell, it's more Wish You Were Here that's playing in my mind, and that the album I want to listen to now. Famed as the band who put the experiment in musical experimentation, it seems unlikely they would still be stuck in that old 1973 groove. But the music here mostly reflects that, to me anyway. If someone had given me this on disc, told me it was unused material from a session for an album and asked me to guess which album, I'd be going for Wish You Were Here with maybe Dark Side as a possibility. I would never in a million years have guessed it was from the recording sessions for The Division Bell.

The music is really great, but with Pink Floyd really great is not good enough, and given that this is to be their final album, I think they really shortchanged the fans here. If they really wanted to put out one more record before disappearing "far away, across the field", then they should, in my opinion, have written something totally new, something that would stand to them and that would have made a fitting tribute and end to their forty years in the music business. Pink Floyd almost single-handedly invented the idea of crossing from psychedelic to progressive rock, and for them to bring the curtain down in such a, well, uninspiring way is a real disappointment.

Of course, I had to some degree made up my mind about this album before listening to it: the idea of "a load of stuff that wasn't used now being put out" did not sit well with me, and it felt like the remaining members of Floyd were scraping the bottom of the barrel and slapping it on a disc, hoping to sell it rather than throw it out. To be fair, had they done this and then offered the album for download totally free, that might not have been so bad - we have these tracks, we didn't think they were that good but you might like them so here you go - but they expect people to pay for these, and in fact there are two versions of the album, a deluxe one with two extra tracks plus bonus videos, which no doubt costs more, is really a little over the top I feel. So to again return to Dark Side, they're giving none away.

But I must say I do like the music. It does wander and meander, somewhat like the river in the title, and ideas seem to be half-formed, in some cases just getting going when they're over, in others more or less staggering along, kind of lost and unable to find their way back. Some of it certainly deserves the title of the ninth track, "On Noodle Street", as it is pointless jamming and experimenting. It's almost, in some ways, like the tuneup before the show, except that this is the show! But some of the music is really good, just a pity it doesn't go anywhere. I see why Gilmour says it needs to be listened to in one sitting, though for me one was definitely enough.

He says this is the last Floyd album, that there'll be no more. Well that's no surprise. With the passing of Richard Wright and the Satan-skating-to-work possibility of Waters ever rejoining, another Pink Floyd album is about as likely as a new Beatles one. Which is why the news that there was a new one was initially greeted with much skepticism, then excitement, then disappointment when we learned what the "new" album consisted of. It is I feel a little harsh of Gilmour (and let's be honest: Floyd has been Gilmour for quite a while now) to end his career on this somewhat sour and commercial note. For a band who struggled to make it, then became bigger than most other bands and passed into music history, it's a sad end I feel and something of a middle finger to the fans. I thought Roger Waters was the one who had contempt for his followers?

In the end though, what I write here will not change your opinion. If you like The Endless River then you'll like it and if you hate it you'll hate it. Me? I think it's okay; certainly has its moments but they're a little too far spaced out among the wide variety of tracks here to make any real impact on me. As an album, and purely taking it on track numbers, it's good value at 18 tracks, though the whole thing only clocks in at a total of just over fifty-five minutes. For a double album that's pretty short, and for an album that rings down the curtain on forty-five years of music it's hardly inspiring.

It's even hard to see this as a Pink Floyd album, as much of the time it really does not sound like them. Floyd had instrumental tracks sure, but they were never what anyone would call ambient: their instrumentals had a hard, bitter edge. Think "Any colour you like", "Marooned" or even the instrumental majority of "Shine on." There's an anger there, a sense of frustration, of loss and of exasperation. I don't hear that here. It sounds more like Floyd have settled nicely into their retirement and are happy to sit back and watch the grass grow, happy that there are no lunatics on it anymore.

This could have been so much more. But for what it is, I have to give them credit. It is very good. Mostly. But they're kind of standing on the shoulders of giants, even if those giants are their own previous albums, and you wonder what would have happened had they not had that elevation? Perhaps they might have faded away, slowly losing relevance in a world that contains too many kids now who ask "Pink who?" Still, they would have had retained some of their integrity, I feel. Many people slated The Division Bell, but I enjoyed it, and I think it could have been the proper swan song for Floyd.

But I suppose the important thing for Gilmour and Mason is that The Endless River will supply them with an endless amount of retirement money, and serve to finance their solo careers, or whatever they choose to do in a post-Floyd world. I don't begrudge them their retirement, I just wish they could have bowed out more gracefully, instead of kow-towing to the corporate shills and leaving us with a rather unsettling line from Dark Side to perhaps encompass their feelings towards their fans as they wave goodbye from the tinted windows of their private jet: "I'm all right Jack, keep your hands off my stack!"

Bon voyage, boys. May the endless river help you to forget when you used to swim against the tide, and not go with the flow.

What would Syd think of it all, I wonder? Or, to paraphrase progressive rock icons Van der Graaf Generator, whatever would Roger have said?

Trollheart | 3/5 |

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