These are my reviews of Pink Floyd’s albums.
1967: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (9/10)
Coming at this as a ’70s Floyd fan sometime in my early 20s, I didn’t know what to do with it. I had been told it was a psychedelic classic by music critics so, outwardly, I pretended to like it, albeit not as much as later records, but I didn’t really get it. Listening to Barrett solo records only convinced me more that this was an extremely overrated album.
But time changes things. I have listed to an awful lot of music in the ensuing years and the sheer magnitude of what happened here has finally dawned on me.
First, there are the songs: Though I doubt I will ever be a fan of Barrett’s, Barret writes from a different place than most songwriters, using children’s stories – or stories that sure sound like children’s stories – and spiritual texts as his guide. You might not like the songs, but they are original.
Second, the arrangements are rather bonkers. The crazy thing is this is the sound of the band under considerable restraint. They were under a lot pressure to record more professional, less wild versions of these songs. The label and producer only relented for “Interstellar Overdrive.” Even confined mostly to traditional song lengths and structures, the arrangements are extremely unconventional for the era.
Finally, the production is as out there as you could get in 1967 without being The Beatles or Zappa. There are some really weird audio tricks and all sorts of musique concrete-inspired weirdness. When the Grateful Dead did this kind of thing, they forgot to write enough catchy melodies. Not a problem here.
So, though this will never be a favourite Floyd record of mine, it’s hard to deny its importance to psychedelic rock. It’s the unhinged, less professional side of that early sound, providing an alternate pathway than the one The Beatles headed down.
1968: A Saucerful of Secrets (7/10)
If you look up “transitional album” in the dictionary, there ought to be this album cover. Few major bands of their era ever recorded something so stuck between different eras.
One the one hand are the legacies of the original version of the band:
- there’s one of Barrett’s last songs for the band and probably his last solo;
- there are tracks written by both Wright and Waters which sound like they were written for The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and were rejected, or were written for its sequel;
- there are a number of “freak out” moments present on these tracks.
On the other hand, the future is also here:
- “Let There Be More Light” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” which basically invented space rock;
- and the title track is one of the most “progressive” tracks a rock band had recorded by June 1968, given that prog rock barely existed – if it didn’t yet exist, this track invented it.
So it’s two different things pulling in different directions. And that’s probably a bad thing for anyone other than Floyd diehards. But I have heard this record too many damn times and it sounds pretty good to me, despite the fact that it was made, in some sense, by two different bands.
Pink Floyd albums from 1969:
Soundtrack from the film More (6/10)
I didn’t write a review, even though I’ve listened to this many, many times.
This is the first of the Floyd’s soundtracks, featuring the disparate sounds they were playing with at the time. (They recorded it as the same time as Ummagumma as it turns out, though this sounds much more conventional.) Roger Waters is trying to be a singer-songwriter and the leader of a hard rock band, and he dominates the first side. The rest of the compositions are fairly directionless, though often quite fun, instrumentals. 6/10 is probably charitable.
Another album I’ve listened to so many times but never written a review for.
The live half of this album might be their best official live album. I’m sure there are bootlegs that might be better but I’m not sure there’s another official release that captures how they great they were live before they got truly ambitious.
The studio side is divided by composer and features a bunch of different experiments of differing levels of success, including an ambitious multi-part composition from Gilmour, a Waters folk song, and a Waters piece that is just samples and ranks as the most experimental thing they ever recorded (and some other stuff that is less interesting).
1970 Pink Floyd Albums:
Various Artists: Zabriskie Point (6?/10)
The second Floyd soundtrack ended up using not all of their material and using material from some others. I have only ever listened to the deluxe version that includes Floyd and Jerry Garcia outtakes. (It does not include all of them and at least one of them is available on another expanded edition of a different album.) The rating feels charitable given how incoherent the whole thing is.
Atom Heart Mother (7/10)
Like every other album they released between The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Meddle, Atom Heart Mother is a real mixed bag. On the first side is one of the true landmarks of early progressive rock. On the other side is a miscellaneous collection of stuff.
The significance and greatness of the title track cannot be overstated. Though maybe some other prog band might have beat them to it – Procul Harum, for sure, and maybe Van Der Graaf Generator – this is the most ambitious piece of music a progressive rock band had yet recorded. The fact that it succeeds as well as it does makes this all the more incredible. The horns, cello and choral vocals all feel perfectly integrated. And this was the first time the Floyd really managed to combine their radical experimental music into a larger whole, where that music doesn’t feel just like a radical experiment. If you listen to any pre-Meddle Pink Floyd, listen to the title track of this record.
The problem is that the other side is just a hodgepodge. First, there’s yet another one of Waters’ bids at being taken seriously as a singer-songwriter. This one is actually a band recording, which is something. But it feels like this ambition of his is completely at odds with the rest of the band’s music. (In my opinion, it would take until Dark Side of the Moon to fully resolve this.) It’s a decent song, but is it really the Floyd?
“Summer ’68” reels like a relic of ’68. Despite the rather avant garde horns (did Geesin arrange these too?), it feels like it’s an outtake from Saucerful of Secrets and seems to indicate that, when left to his own devices, Wright was still hoping that they were a psychedelic band.
Gilmour’s contribution feels like a much less ambitious version of the first sections of “The Narrow Way” and was apparently performed similarly (i.e. with Gilmour playing most of the instruments). Again, as much as it’s pleasant, I find myself wondering, is this really the Floyd?
Finally, “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” takes a few unrelated jams and mixes them together using recordings of someone preparing breakfast. If that sounds good to you, great. But it pales in comparison to the title track in terms of its ambition, scope or music interest. It’s diverting and pleasant, but that’s it.
Still, it’s hard to be too hard on the record because of the title track.
1971: Meddle (9/10)
Meddle follows the same pattern as Atom Heart Mother, where two epic “space rock” tracks bookend the band’s attempts at more traditional pop rock. Only this time the shorter piece is first and the sidelong piece is second, and this time the quality of the songs in the middle is significantly stronger than Atom Heart Mother.
The record starts with a neat trick of two bass guitars playing off each other with echo, something The Floyd liked so much they use it again on two other pieces. But the track is one of their very best at combining emerging technology with more traditional rock music to create something that sounded utterly unlike anything else at the time.
The rest of side A is various attempts at roots music, to varying degrees of success.
“A Pillow of Winds” is sort of a pastoral folk or country thing similar to what Waters had been doing for a while – in direct contrast to the band’s emerging sound. But this time it’s with input from Gilmour and I feel like it works, even if it is in utter contrast to the previous track.
“Fearless” is seemingly their attempt at Folk Rock, albeit with a Floyd spin with the sample at the end. It is one of their most effective traditional rock songs in my mind.
“San Tropez” is a weird sort of folk jazz number that oozes a laid-back vibe. It’s utterly different than what you’d think of when you think of The Floyd, but it works pretty well and I particularly like Wright’s piano solo.
The one outlier here is “Seamus,” which is another one of The Floyd’s attempts to do The Blues. (If you listen to their soundtrack efforts of this era, there are lots of these.) It’s extremely generic and doesn’t add anything. I’m not sure it’s the worst thing they’ve ever recorded, but it’s certainly forgettable.
Imagine the contrast between these light rootsy things and “Echoes,” their second side-long track and a candidate for the best one ever created by a rock band. (I’d probably give it to “Supper’s Ready,” but this is still right up there.) Unlike “Atom Heart Mother,” this one feels totally organic, like it wasn’t assembled it sections (though it was). With “Atom Heart Mother” you can almost hear the where they stuck the sections together but “Echoes” feels like a completely coherent piece of music that evolved into this massive spacey thing, with so little like it when it came out. It’s one of the highlights of their discography and, with the opening track, the main reason to listen to this record.
If you don’t count soundtracks, this is the last Floyd record where they couldn’t reconcile the differing impulses of the band’s personalities: spacey prog rock vs singer-songwriter, new technology versus roots, and so on. But unlike previous records, this one feels like the combination works, even though it’s a weird one. For me, this is probably their best record pre Dark Side.
1972: Obscured by Clouds (7/10)
Another record of theirs I never reviewed despite listening to it a million times.
Unlike the music on More which is half composed of scene cues, and Zabriskie Point, which is entirely composed of cues, the music for La Vallée is much more conventional, almost shockingly so for this band. It consists entirely of songs, even the instrumentals are closer to fully developed songs than cues, most of which could be categorized as “pop rock” or “post psychedelic” or “art rock.” It shows a completely alternative path for this band, where they just write rock and pop songs and never become one of the most successful rock bands in history. The fact that they are this, um, okay at this style of music is a real testament to their talent and also really shows how necessary ambition was for them to truly be great.
I do think 7/10 is very charitable and comes from me listening to this record too many times. Sure, lost of bands would kill for this to be their worst record of an entire decade but it’s also better to leave these types of songs to the bands that were best at them.
1973: Dark Side of the Moon (10/10)
This is the point when everything the Floyd had been doing for the last 5 years finally came together:
- Waters’ wannabe singer-songwriter ambitions (which never fit in with the Floyd’s sound before),
- Gilmour’s and Wright’s melodies,
- the band’s jamming,
- and the musique concrete;
It’s all here but for the first time it’s actually all together at the same time, instead of in different racks. Previous Floyd albums would have a Waters song and then a musique concrete or other experimental track, and some spacey jams. Here it’s all of a piece.
This is not my favourite Floyd album, in part because I think Waters has written way better lyrics but also because I just prefer the jammier version of the Floyd to this more restrained version. But it’s hard to deny how effective this record is – there’s a reason it was a massive hit – as well as how unbelievably well-produced it is. This stuff was really hard to do in 1972 and the fact that it still sounds good 50 years later is some kind of miracle.
It’s not my favourite album, it might not be their best album, but it’s far and away their most iconic album and one of the landmark records of the 1970s, with how it managed to integrate the avant garde into such a commercial package.
1975: Wish You Were Here (10/10)
I can’t be objective about this record, FYI.
The Floyd take their earlier approach of pairing a side-long track with shorter pieces, and play with it, halving the track so that it bookends the record. It’s their best side-long track, in my opinion. Building to two crescendos and fading out twice. (Probably wasn’t conceived as a whole, especially given that one part that’s from “One of These Days.”)
The other songs on the record stand among Waters’ best lyrics. The title track is perhaps their greatest song (as opposed to composition) they ever recorded, and the other two stand as relatively unique in their oevre.
As a Floyd snob, this is my favourite record. I don’t really know if it’s their best, but it’s my favourite.
1977: Animals (9/10)
The first of the Waters-dominated albums is a near masterpiece, finding a balance between the things we already loved about the band and Waters’ lyrical vision (flipping 1984 on its head).
This record contains some of The Floyd’s best music of the 70s and, paired with Waters’ devastating lyrical critique of capitalism (albeit hypocritical critique, given how rich he had grown off of selling albums), it is one of my favourite records of theirs.
But what keeps it from being one of the very best is the weird bookend of the two-part solo acoustic love song that has literally nothing to do with the overall lyrical concept and has nothing to do with the music of the three main tracks.
PS That point in “Dogs” when Waters takes over from Gilmour on lead vocals is one of my favourite moments in music.
1979: The Wall (10/10)
Ever since I first heard this album, and experienced how un-Floyd it was, I have been swaying back and forth between “it’s a masterpiece” and “it’s extremely flawed but it is still one of the more important records of the year, even the decade.” (Yes, I reject the idea that it is “utter dog shit” and anyone saying so has either never actually listened to it or is saying so because they think it makes them cool, just like the people who savage Sgt. Pepper because doing so makes them contrarian and iconoclastic.) Whether or not it is truly a masterpiece, it is one of the top few most iconic rock operas of all time (arguably among the top two with Tommy).
Today is one of the days when I am overwhelmed by its ambition, its invention and its sheer (relative) musicality. On a future day, I will likely get mad at the filler (especially in the second half) and say, well, it’s very good but it’s not great. I’m in a constant argument with myself.
What I can ay is that this is both very much a Pink Floyd album at times but more often it is very much something altogether different from anything they’ve ever done before (which I take as a big virtue). Its best moments are among their best moments, even if the whole band wasn’t always involved.
It’s very clearly a sign that the band would eventually split up, but it’s also proof that the competing personalities really did help each other – the ambition of Waters’ storytelling is helped both by his (and the band’s) obsession with record production and also by Gilmour and Ezrin’s demands of more memorable music.
It is one of the great rock operas ever made.
1983: The Final Cut (5/10)
Another album I’ve heard many times that I didn’t review.
The subtitle says its written by Roger Waters and performed by Pink Floyd but of course it’s not always even performed by Pink Floyd, as Gilmour has some solos and one lead vocal but there is a “percussionist” credited in addition to Mason so who knows how often he wasn’t used. (Turns out, only on one song.)
These are among Waters’ most cutting incisive lyrics. But the must beyond them basically never resembled classic Floyd and only occasionally resembles The Wall. Yes, good on Waters for writing this album but it’s a Waters album that happens to feature two other members of the Floyd’s classic lineup on most tracks.
1987: A Momentary Lapse of Reason (4/10)
I last listened to this over 20 years ago, before I started writing reviews. My memory is that it was wannabe Meddle but very clearly not up to that standard. Gilmour and Waters may have utterly hated each other at this point but Gilmour made Waters’ songs better and Waters wrote songs that were actually worthy of his band’s talents as arrangers, performers and producers.
The title lends itself to very easy jokes. Read my reviews of albums from 1987.
1988: The Delicate Sound of Thunder (4/10)
I never reviewed this but owned it for years for some reason. Listen to the live half of Ummagumma and then listen to this and you will know Dinosaur Rock is a real thing.
1994: The Division Bell (5/10)
I also listened to this one 20 years ago and didn’t review it. My memory is that it was slightly better but who knows?
2014: The Endless River (???)
The one and only Floyd studio album I’ve never listened to.