08 November, 2014

The Bonus Discs - The Endless River

I admitted in a previous review of Pulse that I took Roger’s side in the great Pink Floyd schism of the 80s. Blame it on being a self-righteous 16yo at the time that I thought there had to be a “right” and a “wrong” side.

However, I stand by the assessment that the first post-Waters album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, almost confirmed Waters’ assertion that the group was a spent-force creatively. Despite appearing at the top of the small-print credits of that album, Richard Wright had not yet officially rejoined the band after being kicked out by Waters following the recording of The Wall. (Wright had the last laugh though. Having been demoted to sideman and put on wages for the 1980 tour of The Wall, he was the only member of Pink Floyd to make any money out of the loss-making shows) His contributions, along with Nick Mason’s, to that album were minimal, partly due to being out of practice and partly due to Momentary Lapse being as much a Pink Floyd album as The Final Cut was. Also, the record tried so hard to sound like Pink Floyd that it ended up being a little embarrassing.

It sold by the ship-load though and gave all three the confidence to be themselves a bit more on The Division Bell seven years later.

Many of the songs on The Division Bell were composed the way Pink Floyd used to write in the late 60s and early 70s, by building ideas up from extended jams. It turns out The Division Bell was originally intended to come with a bonus disc of some of these jams. Time got away from them though and the idea was shelved, as was the idea of Pink Floyd as a group at the end of the ’94/’95 tour. They never officially broke up, they just stopped being Pink Floyd. The untimely death of Richard Wright in 2008 after a brief battle with cancer seemed to confirm that they would continue to not be Pink Floyd. That’s why when I first read rumours earlier this year about a new Pink Floyd album, I put them in the same folder that I send alerts about a new John Lennon tour to.

When it was revealed that David Gilmour and Nick Mason were cleaning up and building upon some of these unused jams, the notion of a new album made a lot more sense. It also sounded quite attractive just from that information. Gilmour and Wright continued jamming together until Rick’s passing. A few of those jams are included as bonus features on Gilmour’s concert DVDs and I thought at the time that a whole album of such material would not be unwelcome.

While there have been plenty of modern overdubs added, it’s evident that the music has not been changed too much. The fact that even on the CD and DVD, the tracklist is divided into four sides, tells us that this is going to be old school. The Endless River is a return to pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd – almost all instrumental and with deep but probably meaningless track titles for good measure.

It begins in classic Floyd style with a long, slow fade-in that makes you wonder if this thing is on and to be honest, the second track It’s What We Do does come just a little too close to a Shine On You Crazy Diamond pastiche. In fact, there’s a fair bit of self-reference in the music and it’s hard to tell if and when it’s deliberate or if it’s just the Floyd being Floyd. There are echoes (sorry!) of Us and Them, Run Like Hell, Sorrow, and even Another Brick… Part 3. Although the pieces started as improvisations, they never descend into pointless noodling. Sonically, the album is about mid-way between The Division Bell and Gilmour’s excellent solo album, On an Island.

The one vocal track, Louder Than Words, which closes the album, has Pink Floyd going a bit sentimental for once, but it’s still beautiful. Some might find it surprising that David Gilmour does bittersweet really well.

The main feature of the accompanying DVD is the 5.1 surround mix of the album. More than just a carrot for audiophiles, this is another aspect of Pink Floyd returning to their roots. They were always champions of surround sound. Even though they stopped mixing their albums in Quad when it became clear that not enough people were interested, their live shows were always in quadraphonic since the 70s and Roger Waters’ concerts still are.

In addition to the surround mix, there is 39 minutes of additional music split across video and audio sections. The piece titled Evrika is in fact Wearing the Inside Out in its early stages. The track called Nervana (sic) wouldn’t have really fitted into the main album but the only way to describe it is: It rocks! Even on their least over-thought album in 40 years, it’s refreshing and surprising to see and hear Pink Floyd being a simple rock and roll band for five minutes.

Much of the video is taking from in-studio cameras during recording. While it’s not the visual feast we have come to expect from Pink Floyd, it’s great to see them at work.

It would be cynical and unworthy to dismiss The Endless River as trawling the archives for some product to release. For all their internal bickering, Pink Floyd have always known how to remember the fallen. The album is first and foremost a tribute to Richard Wright, whose integral contribution to Pink Floyd’s sound was often overshadowed by the clash of egos between Waters and Gilmour. Not only is it a fitting tribute to Rick, it’s probably the most genuinely “Pink Floyd” album since 1975. After so much soap opera, it is an honest and dignified end to their recording career.

Audio: 24bit LPCM Stereo, Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1 (album)
          LPCM Stereo (additional tracks)
Worth paying extra for? You’re mad if you don’t.

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