Published on March 23rd, 2015 | by Graylien2
Review: The Endless River by Pink Floyd
But is it actually any good? Or is it just an underwhelming, overproduced vehicle for nostalgia?
Released in November 2014, The Endless River is Pink Floyd’s official follow-up to 1994’s snoozer, The Division Bell. The album was conceived by guitarist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason as a tribute to the late Rick Wright, original Pink Floyd keyboardist, who died in 2008.
Gilmour went on record stating: “We listened to over 20 hours of the three of us playing together… over the last year we’ve added new parts, re-recorded others and generally harnessed studio technology to create a 21st Century Pink Floyd album. With Rick gone, and with him the chance of ever doing it again, it feels right that these revisited and reworked tracks should be made available as part of our repertoire.”
Before the band can begin to fully leave the runway, it becomes quite apparent that something is missing.
The album begins with a familiar, yet burgeoning ambient sequence of Things Left Unsaid/It’s What We Do, calling to mind the infamous intro to Shine On You Crazy Diamond. Gilmour begins to warm-up his Strat with a few bluesy, hyper-sustained notes on the guitar, reminding the listener of the famous Pink Floyd sound. Mason’s drums come plodding into the background, creating a mechanical march that begins to sort out the atmosphere created by the rest of the band. However, before the band can begin to fully leave the runway, it becomes quite apparent that something is missing.
The staccato organ beginning on Sum signals to the listener that it’s “time to fasten your seat-belts”, and when Gilmour unleashes his monster power chords amidst the gurgling, filtered synths, the drums begin to step into a steady groove, continually ramping up intensity.
Four minutes later, on Skins, Mason’s tightly wound groove spins out of control, falling into a spiraled drum solo bringing to mind shades of his esoteric Ummagumma track The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party. The trio of musicians fall into instrumental obscurity, undoing the atmosphere they had built for the previous 10 minutes, leaving the listener to hang.
This pattern of prepare/disappoint/noodle happens a few more times, promising but never delivering, with Unsung leading into the rollicking Anisina, where guitar and saxophone trade off escalating notes, both as if they are reaching for the unattainable. The sounds of thunder marks the end of cohesion and we find the band wandering aimlessly through the clinking pianos and digital reflections of The Lost Art of Conversation and On Noodle Street. The odd chord resolves of Night Light have Gilmour displaying his knowledge of heavily delayed guitar notes, setting the stage for the last half of the album.
The Allons-Y(1)/Autumn ’68/Allons-Y(2) sequence shows the band reminiscing on the more aggressive tunes from The Wall, with Allons-Y being a hybrid funk mixing of Run Like Hell and Young Lust-style riffage. A truly somber moment comes in between these riffs with Autumn ’68, an unreleased gem from the Pink Floyd vaults featuring Richard Wright improvising on the Royal Albert Hall Grand Organ in the late 1960s. Wright’s organ seems to be delivering an otherwordly message, obscured by reverb and taken away too soon as the Allons-Y riff returns triumphantly to wash away any previous emotion.
The next tracks carry a similar feel, without any memorable melody, evoking a dreary sense of deja-vu.
What follows next is truly one of the most left-field moments on the album. Talkin’ Hawkin‘ features vocals by 72-year-old physicist Stephen Hawking sampled from a 1994 television commercial. The shimmering acoustic strums accent the musical canvas, where a synthesized voice reminds us that “our greatest hopes will become reality in the future with technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded… all we need to do is make sure we keep talking”. While this message is absolutely timeless, it feels funny and disjointed appearing three-quarters of the way through an otherwise instrumental album.
The next few tracks, Calling/Eyes to Pearls/Surfacing all carry a similar feel as the rest of the album, without any memorable melody, evoking a dreary sense of deja-vu. Surfacing slowly crescendos into a high-flying slide lead for Gilmour and Co. to riff on while setting the stage for the final track. Yet all this build-up still seems to be leaving something out, a key element seems to be missing from the Pink Floyd molecule.
And then it hits, Louder Than Words, the only track on the album to feature vocals from one of the band members. The self-fulfilling prophetic theme carried through the first 45 minutes of the album is explained in full detail.
Gilmour sings “…the sum of our parts/the beat of our hearts is louder than words…this thing that we do…” and it suddenly becomes obvious what has been missing all along. This is not Pink Floyd, this is music written by people who were in Pink Floyd. It still has many similar characteristics, however, something truly magical was created when Gilmour, Mason, Wright and Waters were all in the same room. The fights, the egos and artistic tensions; all of it created an environment for classic Floyd. While three out of the four members are featured on the album, the collaborative engine never comes to a full roar.
A similar empty hole was found on The Division Bell and also seen on each of the various member’s solo albums. While none of these solo albums are necessarily bad, they are disappointing and often gimmicky when compared to the greatness achieved by the band during the 1970s and early 1980s. Mason’s soothing rhythmic step, Wright’s ambient keys working as glue, Gilmour’s heroic Fender strat and Water’s rhythmic bass atop his philosophical lyrics together create one of the most iconic sounds in musical history.
The album plays as a subdued homage to their body of work spanning the last 40 years
The de-facto soundtrack of countless acid trips and late-night philosophical quandaries shared by multitudes of listeners across the globe was created as a sum of all it’s parts. Gilmour repeats these words over and over throughout the song and ends with the strongest guitar solo of the entire album. Letting the last note of each phrase ring indefinitely, the final Pink Floyd album soars to its conclusion.
The album has received mixed reviews from critics and fans alike, and it really is quite easy to see why. With nearly 50 minutes worth of vocal-less, ambient passages, the album plays as a subdued homage to their body of work spanning the last 40 years. With a coded message championing collaboration, technological advancement and artistic achievement, the listener is left to wonder if we will ever hear from Gilmour or Mason again.
With a title like The Endless River, the album invokes a sense that the musicians are finally docking their once majestic riverboat and inviting a new generation of seekers to set sail on the river of artistic exploration, decorating time and space with human experience.