Key Tracks: “Skins” “Anisina” “Allons-y”
Let’s get this out of the way – in high school, I owned or had a burned copy of every Pink Floyd album. I knew every album, it’s themes and intricacies. I was with the band in the highs (“Dark Side of the Moon,” “Animals”) and the lows (“Obscured by Clouds,” “The Final Cut”). I was on-board for big hits and deeper, 20+ minute cuts. So when I heard there was a new release, I was understandably a bit tentative. It’s worth noting, before anything, that the album is almost entirely instrumental and comprised of outtakes from sessions recorded for their proper swan song, 1994’s “The Division Bell.”
This album has eighteen tracks, but really only 4. It channels some of their crazier 70’s albums that only had 4 or 5 tracks, but maintains a steady, standard and more traditional post-Waters calmness. The four tracks are broken up every few minutes, as the members saw fit, and are further broken up by record side. I don’t personally think that David Gilmour and Nick Mason would want you to think of this as a great Pink Floyd record, it’s more self-serving to fans. And it acts as a sequel to “Wish You Were Here,” in that it’s a proper sendoff to a past member. Richard Wright, longtime keyboardist, was the only member besides drummer Nick Mason who was with the band for their entire run. He passed away in 2008, but this album’s strongest points are his.
Pink Floyd had a long, legendary run. It started with “Astronomy Domine,” in 1967, and ended with “High Hopes” in 1994. The biggest problem with “The Endless River” is that it upsets this legacy. The band never went more than a few years without releasing an album, even in the midst of a bitter Waters v. Gilmour feud. And while “The Division Bell” wasn’t a great send-off, “High Hopes” was a decent closing song. So, twenty years later, when the surviving, recording members decide to release an album of unused, ambient tracks, it seems a little tarnishing.
But, isn’t that a Pink Floyd thing to do? Think about their discography – they followed up two of the biggest rock albums of all time – “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here” with the almost utterly incomprehensible “Animals” – and pulled it off. “The Division Bell” was disappointing because it was too close to normal post-classic rock classic rock. What better way to follow that up than with an almost entirely instrumental album? One that’s four songs, split up into eighteen?
I’ve been pretty back and forth so far, so let’s review this album, idea to idea. The first three tracks make up the first side, and although they’re little more than a dreamy intro, they’re Wright-heavy. His presence is felt, and it feels like a proper tribute, recorded by the man himself. At points, the opening tracks sound similar to “Welcome to the Machine,” in their frozen, abrasive keyboards. The next section, four tracks, is a little less ambient and gazy, and a little more rock oriented. It’s cool overall, although it strongly favors the odd-numbered tracks. “Skins” features some energetic contributions from both Mason and Gilmour, and “Anisina” is backed by an unexpected horn section.
Side three is the strongest, if not the most bogged down in tracks. It takes up seven tracks in just under fourteen minutes. It would work a lot better as just one thirteen minute song, but in this day and age, this isn’t the Pink Floyd we get. There’s two tracks called “Allons-y,” two parts, and they’re similar to the “Another Brick in the Wall” segments, in that they’re small segments of a bigger rock song. And they both have that tremolo guitar, too, going after that 1979 sound. It closes with the track “Talkin’ Hawkin’,” which features Stephen Hawking on a vocal sample. It’s weird simply because it isn’t fully pulled off, and you know it should work better. The album’s last section, four tracks, are another more ambient section. But the section closes with “Louder Than Words,” the album’s only song with lead vocals. Gilmour sings lead, and it has a semi-unintentional effect of building up to it.
Floyd fans, read this: this album is no better or worse of a send-off than “The Division Bell.” Casual fans, read this: this album is an experimental work, focused solely on music, that was released 20 years later not as a reminder but as a requiem for the former keyboardist. Either way, although it isn’t a great album, it’s nice to simply hear from the guys behind it. Without Wright or Barrett, or Waters, Floyd is simply Gilmour, Mason and supporting characters. So to hear these throwbacks to a time when they were winding down, but not closing out, is a little special. “The Endless River” has almost no lyrics, but for a band that once put out “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict,” that’s not much of an issue. So Pink Floyd’s swan song isn’t the masterpiece they deserve, but it is at least a solid collection to go out on. RIP Floyd, thanks for defining high school for me.
-By Andrew McNally