Now, this review is a surprise! First hand reaction to this album is baffling, seeing as it today may be counted as one of rock history`s greatest albums ever.
Pink Floyd: `Wish You Were Here` (Harvest) (35:30)
Is two and one half years too long for any rock band to spend between albums? Was Rome built in a day? Architecture is, after all, as important to the Floyd as music. Not that they`ve lain idly around since `Dark Side Of The Moon`. There has been steady touring to consolidate their new-found position, the abandoned recording of an album that did away with all musical instruments, and the composition of songs – some have ended up on this platter. But two and a half years? This album is light years better than `DSOTM`. That album was patchy, a first attempt to formulate all the bits and pieces of ideas from previous works into one coherent whole, presenting an album rather than a series of songs. It was also a bit light in inspiration. This record achieves all those aims, synthesising nearly all their post-`Umma Gumma` thinking into one melange, from `One Of These Days` to `Atom Heart Mother` to `Alan`s Psychedelic Breakfast`. The record opens with an almost Mahler like overture, all sounds courtesy of Rick Wright, sequelling into a long, guitar dominated intro to `Shine On Crazy Diamond`. At times Gilmour repeats himself from `Echoes` and he is never unpredictable, though I don`t mean to belittle his limitations – with the exception of Wright, virtuosity isn`t important within the confines of the Floyd. Like good architects they`re concerned with form, with structure. That`s all this album is. `Diamond` is a measured homage to Syd Barrett, the spectre they can`t shake off, a (lack of) presence that seems to be felt more and more as they continue to add increasingly refined arabesques to the niche they have carved since his departure. The lyrics aren`t the most inspired, but fit the bill. A boozy sax solo undercut by a nicely juxtaposed repeating guitar figure takes us out to the corridor, through a series of doors, into the engine room and `Welcome To The Machine`, which is downright weird.
Apart from a 12-string, Wright is the only man present, providing great sound effects throughout, perfectly punctuating the lyrics. This is his showpiece, though his work throughout makes him the hero of the platter – no idle fingers on his hands. The lyrics could almost be about Syd again. `Have A Cigar` is a conversation from manager to group. The one track that sets no higher pretension than to boogie down, in three short verses its scalpel sharp lyrics expose the exact philosophy of Seventies rock. Certainly the chorus deserves to become this decade`s anthem. The tune is cut short by a blast of synth, reappears on a radio, someone twists the dial and then we`re lifting into `Wish You Were Here`, all multitracked acoustics and French horns and piano. The scouring pad vocal is back, singing Dylan via Ian Hunter. Cosmic wind moves into a long passage that could be either the outro to the previous song or the intro to a reprise of `Shine On Crazy Diamond`. Building from a bouncing synthi bass line we soon find ourselves, engulfed in echo, in a typical Floyd construction. Mason and Waters hold down a remarkably funky rhythm line while Wright and Gilmour go quietly crazy. Although Gilmour`s lead work is fairly standard his rhythm is terrific, constantly weaving and interacting with Mason-Waters Overdrive. From `Shine On` they move into another instrumental piece which features a moderately funky clarinet solo – you can even bump to parts of it – and then the epilogue leaves us much as we entered. There isn`t the grandiose pomposity of `Moon`, nor is there the same bombastic power. Things have been tightened up, surfaces smoothed, interfaces blurred. That there are only four skeletal songs is irrelevant; we`re not dealing with songs on a record anymore but environments, creations of mood through specific textures of sound. Ultimately, this album forces the question: where do they go from here? Although slow, are they moving into a new realm of music? Or are they just running out of ideas?
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