Start to Finish: Pink Floyd

Spotify just released Pink Floyd’s entire catelog for streaming! That’s means it’s time for another installment of “Start to Finish,” where I evaluate an artist’s entire discography to better understand their artistic progression.

My background with Pink Floyd is admittedly limited. I have vinyl copies of Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, which I have listened to several times but haven’t really ventured beyond that. I imagine most people are in the same boat as me.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) – Pink Floyd’s debut is the epitome of psychedelic. It’s definitely out there. Plenty of weird sounds and experimenting going on. The lyrics seem a little goofy and nonsensical. You can definitely hear the potential in their sound, as well as the influence they had early on in psychedelic music, which continues to ring today with bands like MGMT, the Flaming Lips, and Tame Impala. Essentials: Interstellar Overdrive. 6.2/10

A Saucerful of Secrets (1968) – After Syd Barrett began losing his mind and became too difficult to deal with, the group enlisted David Gilmour and soldiered on without Syd. With  Roger Waters in the creative pilot seat, the approached shifted slightly. They downplayed the more nonsensical lyrics and random noises to a somewhat more focused approached. The songs seem to be more about atmosphere. Occasionally, there are goofy moments like in Corporal Clegg when they bring out the kazoos. In the nearly 12 minute instrumental title track, they push the boundaries further into new sounds and moods. The songs take on a more mystical quality. The production makes use of the marimba, xylophone, whistles, horns, and many others sounds. The result is a step forward into territory equally as bizarre as their debut but re-imagined with more focus. Essentials: See-Saw. 7.1/10

More – Orginal Film Soundtrack (1969) – This album found the band venturing into more conventional but also more extreme territory – the soft acoustic numbers are softer, the rock songs rock harder. The Nile Song sounds like they took a page from Jimi Hendrix’s playbook or maybe the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” The opening track, Cirrus Minor, is a soft acoustic number with organ and other soft elements, with is also representative of the rest of the album. Some of the songs also venture into jazz and Spanish guitar, as well as a blues lead guitar. Most of the chaotic elements from the first two records are absent, with makes for a more palatable listen, more along the lines of Dark Side of the Moon, but not nearly as cohesive. Essentials: The Nile Song, The Main Theme, Cirrus Minor. 7.3/10

Ummagumma (1969) – This primarily instrumental double album consists of a live recording on disc one and a studio recording on disc two. Disc one is mostly filled with long rock guitar solos. Disc two, the studio counterpart, finds the band experimenting with noises and drones. This is definitely an album  where you have to meet them on their terms. It’s requires a patience listen to appreciate. Going off of just my initial listen, I don’t feel like the payoff is really there for these songs. If may feel different after repeat listens but I found myself bored and felt like finishing the album was a chore. Still, I can appreciate the ambition to build a unique sound and create distinctive moods. 5.1/10

Atom Heart Mother (1970) – The instrumental title track is an ambitious and grand achieve. The multiple movements and inclusion of concert brass instruments practically put the genre into classical music territory. The difference between this and the basic approach of Ummagumma is that the songs are soft, melodic and pleasant to listen to instead of abrasive, which make the extended length tolerable. “If” was probably Pink Floyd’s prettiest song to date. The lead slide guitar parts complement the nylon string guitar well. The rest of the album also benefits from a more melodic and occasionally symphonic approach. Essentials: If, Atom Heart Mother 8.2/10

Meddle (1971) – The opening track for Meddle, “One of These Days”, is exciting because it’s new territory to Pink Floyd. Although instrumental, it incorporates new and catchy sounds: tremelo on guitar and bass, reverse cymbal on the drums, two sets of drums playing simultaneously, and what is now considered a metal-style chug rhythm. The middle of the album finds the group in more conventional territory, including the excellent “Fearless,” which sounds like something Neil Young could have written during that era. The closer, “Echoes,” is epic in scope but without getting weighed down by itself like some of their earlier material. By now, there seems to be larger division between their longer, jammy, experimental sound and their more conventional approach. I think the variety serves them well and makes for a more enjoyable album listening experience. Essentials: One of These Days, Fearless, Echoes 9.4/10

Obscured By Clouds (1972) – The music for this album is based on their soundtrack for the French film “La Vallee.” Stylistically, this album goes in many direction: The CSNY meets Boston sound of “The Gold It’s in the…”, the acoustic guitar/harmonies of “Wots… Uh The Deal”, and the 1960s, “Spirit in the Sky” inspired “Free Four.” Moments of record hint at the feel they are going for on Dark Side of the Moon, such as the guitar solo of “Mudmen” and the funk groove of “Childhood’s End.” Overall, this album has a larger ratio of conventional material then most of their previous albums. In some ways, that’s good. It’s makes it a little more digestable but the album starts to lose many of their strong qualities  and doesn’t have the cohesion of  Meddle. Essentials: Childhood’s End, Wots…. Oh the Deal. 7.8/10

Dark Side of the Moon (1973) – It’s hard to find a more seamless album than this one. They incorporated all the musical directions they had done to this point and combined them into one cohesive set of music (sans acoustic guitar). They also included new sounds like the saxophone, synthesizers, clock sounds, and the distinctive female soul vocalizations on “The Great Gig in the Sky.” The sounds weave together nicely, with most of the transitions fading from one song to the next and elements of songs reprising into each other. I think part of the strength of the album is how concise it is. They don’t let the songs drag on too long, making it an album that is hard to get sick of. Essentials: Breathe, Money 10/10.

Wish You Were Here (1975) – With the conceptual masterpiece of Dark Side of the Moon under their belt, they side stepped some of the spacier elements to create an album equally as classic. This time around, the synthesizers play a stronger role in the arrangements. They also continue to explore the different angles to the funk/groove sound they previously dabbled in. There isn’t a weak track on this album and, much like Dark Side of the Moon, the run time of the album finishes before the songs have a chance to wear out their welcome. One of their best. Essentials: Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Wish You Were Here. 9.5/10

Animals (1977) – Although the majority of the songs are over the 10 minute mark, the band incorporates a more conventional 70s rock sound with acoustic guitars and harmonizing lead guitar parts. The influence of artists like Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, and Cat Stevens are starting to surface. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: just different. Aside from the mid-song breakdowns, the synthesizers take a back seat (compared to being mostly front and center on the Wish You Were Here album). The concept for the album doesn’t seem quite as deep as some of their other records. There are occasional animal sounds effect and the talkbox in “Pigs” at times recalls the squeeling of a pig. There are some great moments of the album but overall, the impact is somewhat lost. Essentials: Dogs 7.3/10

The Wall (1979) – This sounds like the band is struggling to stay relevant. What is essentially the title track, “Another Brick In The Wall,” sounds like Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” crossed with disco. Some of the heavy parts sounds like the typical arena rock bands of the team. “Mother” starts out like Cat Stevens and goes into 80s power ballad territory. “The Show Goes On” sound a little like Supertramp. “In the Flesh” sounds like David Bowie. One of the strengths of the album is how they are able to incorporate the songs themes into each other like they did on Dark Side of the Moon: “Hey You”, “Run Like Hell” and “Waiting for the Worms” all contain the main elements from “Another Brick In The Wall.” The highlight of the album is “Comfortably Numb;” one of the moments where everything is clicking. This time around, the group included songs mainly backed by orchestras and an all out broadway style score for “The Trial.” With the length and amount of variety, there is an easy comparison to be made to the Beatles’ White Album. But it many cases on the record, it seems like the songs came second to the theme,concept, and story of the Wall. Essentials: Hey You, Comfortably Numb, Run Like Hell 6.8/10

The Final Cut (1983) – This album seems to be a more songwriter driven approach with less emphasis on the arrangements, which is unfortunate because that’s really where the band’s strength lies. Most of the songs fall in the ballad/power ballad bucket. Lyrically, the topics center mostly around war, politics and religion. Although none of the songs are particularly bad, as a whole they seems to fall flat with no real hooks to keep them memorable. Despite it’s flaws, The Wall at least had the theatricality and ambition to prop it up. This feels like a band losing steam and falling back on cliches and boring arrangements. Essentials: When the Tigers Broke Free 5.1/10 

A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) – With Roger Waters gone, it’s David Gilmour’s show. Unfortunately, this album is drenched in the overproduced, over reverb super cheesy production so prevalent in the 80s. Having only been a small kid at the time, I have a hard time really connecting with that sound (despite the fact that’s it’s been creepy it’s way into music again in a big way for the last decade). Occasionally the songs are able to shine through the dated production and some interesting ideas emerge. When you compare this album to the Water healmed “Final Cut,” there are more risks taken and new sounds explored so I have to give it credit there. Essentials: One Slip, Terminal Frost 5.4/10

The Division Bell (1994) – For Pink Floyd’s final album, they took a little more of a straight forward approach than the previous album. Although most of the cheesy synth sounds are absent, the record still has the 80s timestamped on it (despite the fact that it was released in the 90s). The gospel singers and the computer voice are some cheesy moments they could have done without. However, there are some solid upbeat tune: “Take It Back” and “Coming Back to Life,” both featuring a classic U2 vibe. There are also some nice acoustic picking arrangements on “Lost for Words” and “Poles Apart.” Although these moments are welcomed, most the album falls flat. Essentials: Lost For Words, Poles Apart. 5.7/1

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