Monday, 7 November 2016

Pink Floyd: Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Three 1990-2015





Roger Waters/Various Artists "The Wall - Live In Berlin"

(Universal, July 1990)

Disc One: In The Flesh?/The Thin Ice Of Modern Life/Another Brick In The Wall (part i)/The Happiest Days Of Our Lives/Another Brick In The Wall (Part ii)/Mother/Goodbye Blue Sky/Empty Spaces/Young Lust/One Of My Turns/Don’t Leave Me Now/Another Brick In The Wall (Part iii)/Goodbye Cruel World

Disc Two: Hey, You/Is There Anybody Out There?/Nobody Home/Vera/Bring The Boys Back Home/ Comfortably Numb//The Show Must Go On/In The Flesh/Run Like Hell/Waiting For The Worms/Stop!/The Trial/The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)


"Who holds the aces, the East or the West?"

Roger and his big mouth! Asked whether he'd ever revive The Wall at a later date after a paltry four shows he made a statement that must have seemed pretty safe back in the early 1980s: 'There's no way I'll perform The Wall again while the real-life Wall still exists in Berlin'. As well know, the events of 1988-1989 saw the Russian bloc crumble and the Berlin Wall torn down, so of course there were calls for Pink Floyd to come back and stage it all over again. Even in the height of hope and political brotherhood the full Floyd were too closely at each other's throats for that to ever happen, but as the chief writer no one could block Roger staging his own version and he was eager to replace his former bandmates with as many guests as possible. Which makes sense as a money-making spectacle, but even further distances Roger from what is perhaps his most personal work and already sounded occasionally odd in the hands of Gilmour and co. Oddly perhaps for such a joyous moment, tempers reportedly frayed backstage (Roger saving his biggest ire for Sinead O'Connor', who dared to ask whether she could alter the arrangement of 'Mother' ever so slightly - he was merciless in the press considering she gave her time for free) and Waters was at the peak of his megalomaniac years (which you can actually see if you own the DVD and star into the guest artist's cowed eyes, eager for Roger's praise - yes he really is turning into 'Pink' here), so this is not quite the happy singalong you expect (well, not until 'The Tide Is Turning', the finale of Roger's last album 'Radio KAOS' which is an intriguing alternative to 'Outside The Wall'). In fact it's rather symbolic that by the time this show was ready all the wall had been torn down so a small portion of it had to actually be re-built for this show, Roger re-encasing his old feelings by a wall.

To be fair, you can see why he'd get cross in some circumstances because the guest stars - the main reason for buying this work - done' exactly add a great deal to proceedings. The Scorpions miss the irony of 'In The Flesh?', Bryan Adams misses the fun of 'Young Lust', Van Morrison misses the layers of 'Comfortably Numb', Cyndi Lauper clearly doesn't understand the wider subversive nature of 'Another Brick In The Wall' and Paul Carrack makes a hash of 'Hey You', while Joni Mitchell understands 'Goodbye Blue Sky' all right but struggles singing a song so alien to her own style. Only Sinead, who clearly identifies with 'Mother' (though she gamely sings it the way Roger wants after all) and Jerry Hall as the under-used demented groupie who leers 'wanna take a bath?' feel like the right sort of casting; everyone else has been chosen either at random or because Roger wants another Roger on stage - alas he's still doing most of his parts, it's David's he mainly wants to re-assign. To be fair, the actual band are excellent and are much enhanced by two costly additions who really add to the drama and epic scale of this event: The East Berlin Radio Choir who after decades in a colds war combine forces with The Soviet Orchestra for the War memories 'Vera' and 'Bring The Boys Back Home', which have never sounded better. As for Roger himself, he starts off well in the first half, with alternating between manic and gloomy as the song's demand, but gets rather far into the skin of his character during the 'Nazi' phase of side two, which given that Berlin was a major rallying point for Hitler's rallies just a half century before must have been pretty uncomfortable for the older members of the crowd (not already put off by 'In The Flesh'). Though designed in good faith and raising great amounts of money for good causes in both ticket and record sales (mainly The Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief), there's something slightly cold and distasteful about this version , which only dares to match the Floyd's own performances in a couple of places. Of course back in 1989 the live Floyd version wasn't out yet which made this record a lot more valuable at the time - unless you're a big fan of one of the guesting artists though, this is dispensable now that you can buy 'Is There Anybody Out There?'

Syd Barrett "Octopus - The Best Of"

(Cleopatra, May 1992)

 Octopus/Swan Lee (Silas Lang)/Baby Lemonade/Late Night/Wined and Dined/Golden Hair/Gigolo Aunt/Wolfpack/It Is Obvious/Lanky (Part One)/No Good Trying/Clowns and Jugglers/Waving My Arms In The Air/Opel

"Please leave us here, close our eyes to the octopus ride!"

A straightforward best-of featuring fourteen favourite tracks, it's hard to fault the track listing (though I will anyway - why are there so many outtakes from 'Opel' here over poor 'Maisie' yet again?) but the whole thing has a really tacky feel to it. The cover is a typical Syd shot from 1966, looking very different to the state he was in whilst making these albums, while the tie-dye effect overlaid on top just screams 'bargain bins'. The compilation's successor 'Wouldn't You Miss Me?' is longer and more thorough and features better packaging too. I'd get your tentacles round that set rather 'Octopus' if you have the choice, but at least this set did its job by converting a few new fans along the way at an affordable price, which is about all you can ask of a best-of really.

"Shine On"

(EMI, November 1992)

CD One: A Saucerful Of Secrets

CD Two: Meddle

CD Three: The Dark Side Of The Moon

CD Four: Wish You Were Here

CD Five: Animals

CDs Six and Seven: The Wall

CD Eight: A Momentary Lapse Of Reason

CD Nine: The Early Singles
(Arnold Layne/A Candy And A Currant Bun/See Emily Play/The Scarecrow/Apples and Oranges/Paintbox/It Would Be So Nice/Julia Dream/Point Me At The Sky/Careful With That Axe Eugene)

"Did we tell you the name of the game, boy? We call it riding the gravy train!"

The must-have set for Christmas 1992 - the first real Pink Floyd bonanza on CD, celebrating their 25th birthday - turned out to be not so must-have after all. Many Floyd fans had been saving their pennies and clinging to their vinyl sets so it was a red letter day when EMI made the first digital re-masters of their albums and they didn't exactly cover themselves in glory. Nobody said that these albums were going to be made separate eventually, with this way over-pricey box set touted as something of a one-time deal at the time. Fans would probably have accepted it anyway had it been well re-mastered, but it wasn't: unless you had a really shoddy second hand copy of a certain album all the Floyd records sounded better in vinyl anyway (it wasn't until a second go later in the 1990s that the Floyd albums began to sound as good as they should). They might have liked it more if it was complete too, but it wasn't: the ongoing feud between Waters and Gilmour meant that Dave (lumbered by the record company with putting the set together) rejected plans to release 'The Final Cut' while albums neither of them had ever liked that much like 'Ummagumma' and 'Atom Heart Mother' were also culled, along with the trio of film soundtrack albums 'More' 'Zabriskie Point' and 'Obscured By Clouds' (though none are up to 'Dark Side' et al, they're all so much better and deserving of a place than 'Momentary Lapse' is). Even more unforgivably, Gilmour cut the band's debut (on which he didn't appear) 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn', even though it's clearly a major piece of the Floyd puzzle. Oh and no bonus tracks on any of the albums that made the 'final cut', or even any extra packaging you didn't already get on the LPs.

In return the only thing collectors got was some rather odd packaging by Hipgnosis on a bad day (men springing out of some water - most odd),  rather boring and cheaply made book, seven postcards (all depicting the album sleeves again, with the exception of a rather good 'Pink Floyd tattoo' with seven ladies covered by seven Floyd pictures which has become one of the defining Floyd posters) and a short running CD entitled 'The Early Singles'. A sort of diluted 'Relics', this featured the first five singles complete but doesn't, alas, add outtake 'Biding My Time', 1983 single 'When The Tigers Broke Free' or any of the film soundtrack songs - there was  a great 80 minute CD to be had here but this is only half a one. The fact that this valuable document was never made available separately must at least have cheered the fans who'd spent a fortune on this set, but quite honestly these are songs too important to throw away like this (it wasn't until 2007 that the Syd Barrett era three A and B sides were made available on CD again - we're still waiting for the next two A sides, though 'Julia Dream' and 'Eugene' are at least available on 'Relics'. David got fed up of stick from fans who said he messed up, Roger was furious both at the loss of 'Final Cut' and the fact his old works were overshadowing his new album 'Amused To Death' and every Floyd collector out there fell into trouble with their bank manager. This was really not a very happy birthday, eclipsed nowadays thanks to 'Oh By The Way' celebrating the band's, erm, 38th birthday in 2005.

Roger's 'Amused To Death' would normally be here but we've already reviewed it at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-96-roger-watters-amused-to-death.html

Syd Barrett "Crazy Diamond" (Box Set)

(Harvest, April 1993)

CD One: The Madcap Laughs (Plus Bonus Tracks: Octopus Takes One and Two/It's No Good Trying Take Five/Love You Take One/Love You Take Three/She Took A Long Cold Look At Me Take Four/Golden Hair Take Five)

CD Two: Barrett (Plus Bonus Tracks: Baby Lemonade Take One/Waving My Arms In The Air Take One/I Never Lied To You Take One/Love Song Take One/Dominoes Take One and Two/It Is Obvious Take Two)

CD Three: Opel (Plus Bonus Tracks: Gigolo Aunt Take Nine/It Is Obvious Take Three/It Is Obvious Take Five/Clowns and Jugglers (Octopus) Take One/Late Night Take Two/Effervescing Elephant Take Two)

"Stretch out your hand, glad feel, in an echo for your way"

Though it's sheer length wears out our welcome, and the track listing features more than a bit of random precision, there's enough of worth in this 'complete' box set to merit both the 'Crazy Diamond' title and forking out for these records all over again. Three CDs feature the two solo albums Syd 'finished' in 1970 plus the more recent 'Opel' set of outtakes, all three records extended to full CD length running time thanks to copious outtakes. Though fans were somewhat dismayed when this set was negated by the release of all three albums individually soon after, the expert packaging for this album hasn't been seen since and is enough reason for spending your money alone - even with several Barrett books propping up our Floyd bibliography it's about the best insight to Syd there has yet been. The packaging even looks like the recent superlative 'Nuggets' box set of pone-hit wonder psychedelic singles - which is deeply telling on both the audience EMI think this set will appeal to and the idea that even in 1970 Barrett remained trapped in his psychedelic splendour, unwilling to move on when the music scene did in 1968.
Of course, Syd was no one-hit wonder, however small his output. There are several great moments in his solo catalogue and this set (and the later CD re-issues) offer an excellent way to hear how they were created. By and large most of the outtakes feature Syd going through the songs a little more unsteadily on his feet than on the record, though never collapsing into the chaos these sessions are always portrayed as being. Many other tracks feature the songs as they were originally written before Roger, Dave, Rick and Jerry Shirley overdubbed their parts. The most interesting of the three discs is surely 'Barrett', which has been turned back to its natural state as a bare-bones acoustic confessional in the style of 'Madcap Laughs', although in a switch of the actual albums themselves it's the 'Barrett' outtakes that are more consistent but the 'Madcap Laugh' ones that are the best and worst. 'Octopus', which with 'Opel' as well turns up a total of four times across the set - fares best, becoming faster and more manic with each re-make, Syd's free-wheeling words tripping over each other in his haste to inform us how intense this experience is for him. All sound great, the one on the end of 'Madcap' especially. A sequence of takes of 'It's No Good Trying' is fascinating to showing how quickly Syd's mind changes the arrangements without a word to his producers and already has the feeling of doom and gloom before the overdubs have arrived. Over on 'Barrett' an acoustic 'Baby Lemonade' sounds like an entirely different song - not better, not worse, but different. An even funkier 'Waving My Arms In The Air-I Never Lied To You' is also slower and sadder. 'Love Song' heard in simple acoustic form, is sweet. Two takes of 'Dominoes' are spooky even without Syd's backwards guitar. 'Opel' meanwhile, adds an unwieldy 'Gigolo Aunt' that's listing from the first notes never mind the end and a gorgeous backing track for 'Late Night' with Syd's memorable guitar playing heard loud, the way it always should have been, desperate and isolated, hauntingly beautiful.

Of course the downside to all this is that multiple takes of 'Love You' and 'It Is Obvious' will actually put you off the songs, while there are no unreleased songs here - so therefore nothing as necessary to your Syd collection as 'Opel' had been. Many fans also consider one Syd Barrett LP-length album more than enough, so milking three CD lengths out of two relatively short albums is clearly bordering on overkill, even for the obsessive fan. There is, however, a lot of care taken over this project to present Syd at his best, or at least putting his more wayward moments in context. Kinder than the compilations and more thorough than the radio sessions sets, you sense that Syd's legacy is being cared for at last. Had Barrett been aware/interested enough to care about how his music was being re-packaged for the CD age you sense he'd have been more impressed with this than most of the other sets released in his name. The best way of keeping Syd's 'light' intact for another generation, this is another relative Floyd rarity long overdue for a re-issue. A shame, though, that there wasn't a 'bonus' disc containing the radio sessions wo this set could have been truly 'complete'.

"Pulse"

(EMI, May 1995)

CD One: Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts One to Four, Part Seven)/Astronomy Domine/What Do You Want From Me?/Learning To Fly/Keep Talking/Coming Back To Life/Hey You/A Great Day For Freedom/Sorrow/High Hopes/Another Brick In The Wall Part Two (LP and Cassette Versions: One Of These Days)

CD Two: Speak To Me/Breathe/On The Run/Time/The Great Gig In The Sky/Money/Us and Them/Any Colour You Like/Brain Damage/Eclipse/Wish You Were Here/Comfortably Numb/Run Like Hell  (LP and Cassette Versions: Soundscape)

"Now frontiers shift like desert sands"

'Pulse' - only the second totally live Floyd album but the second in six years which seems almost Rolling Stones-style excessive - is thank goodness an improvement on 'Delicate Sound Of Thunder' to the same extent that 'Division Bell' was an improvement on 'Momentary Lapse'. It's not by any means a classic like a concert like the old Floyd days would have been - the old songs are a bit over-rehearsed, the new songs a bit stodgy, while 'Dark Side Of The Moon' is exactly the sort of pristine, sonically perfect album that should never ever be attempted live, never mind complete and these were planned as better visual experiences than audio ones - but it feels like both band and audience are having fun this time and the longer playing time gives the Floyd the chance to look behind the hits a little more. 'Dark Side' takes up a full fifty minutes of the second disc and is clearly the centrepoint here, but it's actually the weakest part of the set with a returning Clare Torry overblown on 'Great Gig' and of the other songs only 'Time' sounds close to its old sturdy self. Admittedly it's great to hear Rick back upfront on the harmonies again - something we never thought we'd hear - and welcome to hear Gilmour tackling the songs usually performed by Roger, but his re-inventions of 'Brain Damage' and 'Eclipse' aren't as big a surprise as Roger re-claiming songs that Gilmour used to sing on his own tours.

However it's the other echoes from the past that are the best here. Gilmour has got rid of the Waters songs he always felt uncomfortable singing so there's no 'Another Brick' for instance and nothing from 'Final Cut', but he includes a couple of excellent surprises to replace them: 'Hey You', a Waters song from 'The Wall' that even its composer only ever sang when doing 'The Wall' complete, is perfect for Gilmour's warm hearted vocal and sounds great live, suddenly launching from sad ballad into prog rock masterclass somewhere around the middle. 'Astronomy Domine' is even more of a surprise, the first song on the first Floyd album back in the set lists for the first time in around a quarter century and played with just the right amount of danger. Syd's spirit is once again on stage, though what Barrett would have made of five of the more safe and obvious songs from 'Division Bell' (of which only 'High Hopes' is worthy and even that was performed better by Gilmour solo later) is probably best sketched over. Of the standard 'Shine On' is cut to ribbons and a synth-heavy 'Comfortably Numb' with Rick completely mis-cast on the 'Roger' role falls oddly flat, but 'Run Like Hell' is a punchy finale with Gilmour's guitar runs still astonishing and 'Wish You Were Here' sounds as gorgeous as it ever did. A shame the band dropped 'Echoes' from the set list early on in rehearsals, claiming it was 'boring' and that only those who bought the  LP or cassette versions with longer running times got to hear the weird scene-setting 'Soundscape' (played at the start while the audience came in) and a slightly clumsy 'One Of These Days', but there's more care and attention and most of all love on the stage than for 'Thunder' which suggests that lightning not only can strike twice but can strike better sometimes.

The biggest talking point about the last official Pink Floyd release of 'new' material for nineteen years, though, is the packaging. 'Pulse' comes in a gigantic oversized box designed by Hipgnosis which includes a bulb that 'pulsed' to the same rhythm as the 'Speak To Me' heartbeats, with no 'off' switch. Many of the short-life bulbs stopped working long before the CDs ever got to the shops - most of the others didn't last for very much longer, although there is a story doing the rounds (probably apocryphal) that somebody's copy is still flashing away over twenty years later. Given how distracting this is - and how hard it is to fit the box on your shelf with your other Floyd discs though - this might not necessarily be a good thing. I could make a crack here about the bulb still outlasting the lifetime of the record, but actually it's a truer comment to make about 'Thunder', which was a chance to make a lot of money as quickly as possible (by singing songs like 'Money' as it happens). At least the pulsing rhythmic lights are closer in feel to the visuals and spectacle of a Floyd concert than some flapping birds wings and a coat of lightbulbs, though. 'Pulse' is a record with more of an eye on legacy, although few people taking part would have realised that it would take another two decades for a 'new' Floyd recording and that the band would never again attempt such a lengthy, exhaustive (and exhausting!) tour again. I still feel a slight volcano coming on when I think that this record and 'Thunder' both exist back to back when a soundtrack album to 'Live At Pompeii' doesn't, however.
Rick Wright "Broken China"

(EMI, November 1996)

Breaking Waters/Night Of A Thousand Furry Toys/Hidden Fear/Runaway/Unfair Grounds/Satellite/Woman Of A Custom/Interlude/Black Cloud/Far From The Harbour Wall/Drowning/Reaching For The Rail/Blue Room In Venice/Sweet July/Along The Shoreline/Breakthrough

"There before your opening eyes, the self you've never known"

His confidence returning after receiving most of the 'best song awards' from the reviews of 'Division Bell', the first Rick Wright album in twelve years seemed like a great idea. Sensibly Rick brought his 'Wearing The Inside Out' co-writer Anthony Moore along with him and wrote the album - both before and after 'Division Bell' - with similar themes in mind: overcoming depression and trying to be strong even when you don't feel it. The clever title (something beautiful, yet fragile) and a Hipgnosis cover (a diving woman turning into fragments as she dives into life's heavy waves) give this the 'feel' of a proper Floyd opus too. Surely an introspection album by the Floyd's most introspective member would be a cornucopia of quiet delights? However there's a key difference between that glorious song of 1994 and most of this album from two years later. 'Inside Out' may have been written by collaboration but it felt honest, impressive in its vulnerability and remarkably open about a difficult subject for a band who'd always been so tight-lipped about themselves. This album, though, feels a bit more detached than that, with Rick making it clear in the few interviews he gave that this album was written to help his wife of the time Mildred cope with her mental illness - that this isn't actually an autobiographical album at all. At times that feels like lying ('Breakthrough', surely, can only be written by someone whose felt the mark of being cut off by a society for not being able to keep up with it, cut from the same cloth as 'Inside Out'), at others like Rick has got the wrong end of the stick (most of the many instrumentals on this album feel more like the soundtrack to a Dungeons and Dragons game than a sensitive reflection of how society treats the mentally ill, a rather too literal idea of slaying your demons best left in the 1980s).

The album could still have worked. Mental illness has been a theme stalking the Floyd ever since Syd lost those lights in his eyes and Roger has been able to get away with returning to the theme without actually being certifiable himself (despite what Gilmour and co might think!) But somehow this album feels strangely unmoving and cold and clinical, as if Rick is trying to model his ideas on 'Wish You Were Here' but using inferior period technology and without the warm heart you know lies underneath it all (well, maybe not 'Have A Cigar' or 'Welcome To The Machine', but the title track and 'Crazy Diamond' at least). The album was billed in part as a Pink Floyd 'new age' album, which sounds interesting until you actually have to hear it - it's repetitive rather than relentless, the way the Floyd has usually done their soundscapes, admirable rather than beautiful, intellectual rather than emotional. Though the album has sixteen songs, which feels like great generosity (especially compared to other Floyd solo records), only half of these are actual songs with none of the eleven instrumentals making much of an impact. Not the songs are that much better, although Rick's keyboard washes do sound as if they have more purpose when given Moore's words to enhance them.

There are, at least, two songs here worth owning though, both of them featuring Roger Waters' old adversary Sinead O'Connor, no stranger to either mental issues or speaking about them herself. Where Waters found O'Connor to be stuck up, set in her ways and far too opinionated , Wright finds a sensitive performer eager to collaborate and the pair bring out the best in each other, O'Connor bringing an extra passive-aggressiveness alongside Rick's own saddened voice (I bet they had some interesting chats about Roger in between the takes!) 'Reaching The Rail' is, alas, a good song rather lost amongst an overabundance of technology, but finale 'Breakthrough' (the only one of these songs performed live, as Rick's guest spot in Gilmour's band in the late 1990s - the only time you can hear him sing his own song) is strong enough to overcome everything, a second 'Inside Out' that's clearly written from the heart.

However, that's about all on this record that does feel like a 'breakthrough' sadly, though curiously it doesn't sound much like the Floyd either (despite the odd Tim Renwick Gilmourish guitar solo; Gilmour did appear early on in the album sessions but alas Rick reworked the song - which one unknown, but possibly 'Breakthrough' as that's the one they later played together -with Gilmour's part no longer fitting so it had to be taken out) - it's just another 1990s new age record and not one of the better ones. Despite being dedicated to 'all those brave enough to face their past', there's very little here that couldn't have been done as well by any period younger band, without the sense of understanding and compassion that were always Rick's trademarks and melodies even more forgettable than on 'Wet Dream' and 'Identity', while his voice wobbles so often you're almost pleased he sticks to instrumentals for the majority of it. However even these miss the urgency of what Roger brought to the band or the sheer clear melodies of Gilmour or even the spot-on drumming of Mason. Nowadays , after hearing the similar new age 'Endless River' album, 'Broken China' makes more sense - but not enough sense to warrant a release. Sorry my old china, despite the generally positive period reviews and the long await for a Rick Wright rebirth, this isn't a story with the happy ending we hoped, 'Broken China' is less 'A Saucerful Of Secrets' than a bath of cold tea.

'Breaking Water' starts the album with a thunderstorm, this first quarter of the album being about the slow grip of mental illness providing negative thoughts. It's 2:28 of sound effects and about half a dozen synthesiser notes, with some unintelligible chatter from a TV a la Waters.

'Night Of A Thousand Furry Toys' is the first song, an urgent pop number with Rick comparing mental illness to a 'shiver' that grows across the body. This is a world where you've lost control, where 'you simply haven't got a choice' in a world filled with 'random noise', but alas the imagery isn't up to the sheer power of 'Inside Out' and the relationship of the furry toys to the narrator is puzzling ('It's charming noise if you really want that kind of thing, mama!') That's collaborator Anthony Moore phoning up, by the way - perhaps, following on from the 'Division Bell' sessions, he's listening in to Steve O Rourke phoning Charlie Gilmour?!

'Hidden Fear' is the first of two songs on the album written by Rick with Gerry Gordon and is more operatic than the others. That's not necessarily a good thing as Rick gets rather pretentious over what's effectively a solo synth job: 'Our childlike hopes in disarray, this pain no child should feel, we disappear...'

'Runaway', a noisy synth 'n' drum duet credited to Moore alone, was bizarrely chosen as the album single and can be heard in several remixes on the B-sides. None of them are up to the album version though and even that one's pretty awful as Rick's narrator presumably finds himself reaching ever further into the darkness.

'Unfair Ground' sounds like a horror film set in a funfair, full of sound effects and screaming children that are clearly meant to be the screams of fun, but when you're trapped in a dark world everything seems to be scary. A better concept than it is an instrumental, only Renwick's guitar really stands out here.

'Satellite' adds a touch of uptempo funk to a track that sounds not unlike the 'Thunder' re-arrangement of 'Run Like Hell'. Again Renwick is the star, playing some nice Gilmouresque guitar, but you can't help but feel the 'real' Gilmour would have found a way to shape this song more.

'Woman Of Custom' is Moore's only solo song on the album, greeted by an eerie Synth effect as a character tries to feel her way out of the darkness. Rick's vocal is so gentle it almost isn't there, while the wordy song never really gets going as it tries to describe life 'behind the wall' ('Windowless and tame, like a precious stone langoured').

The 75 second 'Interlude' brings us to the middle of the album with some slight piano and synth chords, but it's more of a hovering question mark waiting to resolve than an actual finished song.

'Black Cloud' is more fun with synthesisers, more gripping than the similar 'Terminal Frost' by dint of the better technology, but still pretty underwhelming for those of us with other records in our collection we want to get to. The title suggests it's going to be heavy and aggressive, but actually this is cold and sterile, more about the barriers than the person trapped behind them.

'Far From The Harbour Wall' starts with the same shimmering keyboard note as 'Astronomy Domine' nearly thirty years earlier, but the song itself is very different. Instead of being full of life and pizazz, this is the sound of someone who has 'given up', 'locked in a wall of ice...on a path that's been prescribed'. Fearing their heart is 'low', with nothing left to give, a preciously couple drift apart just when they need each other the most. One of the better lyrics on the album is let down by a faceless tune, though, and some truly awful electronic-treated vocals that make Rick sound like David Bowie's evil twin brother (or is Bowie the evil brother?!)

'Drowning' is a 90 second instrumental that pauses between two heavier songs for reflection, with an almost churchy feel of spiritual awakening. An actual tune rather than a few lazy washes of colour would have been welcome, though.

At last 'Reaching For The Rail' makes good on some of the album's promise with a loose duet between Rick and Sinead that doesn't quite work but at last sounds like they're trying. Sinead starts the song like 'Comfortably Numb', ill with a fever and unsure what are actual hallucinations (is this whole life a hallucination cooked up by his feverish imagination?) She's been here before, not taking comfort by the thought that it's not terminal and 'not original' and dreading the moment when she recovers and has to cope with things again, 'the same unbroken chain that still remains'. A very Floyd verse about realising that this is what's been hiding behind an outer shell of coping for so long is the highlight of a track full of the record's most striking imagery: 'Creeping fear congealed in stone that paves the crazy road'. The end of the song is ominous too, the narrator being given pills to stop them 'feeling', which isn't really the answer at all. I just wish this song sounded as original and brave as it read, smothered as it is in new age ambience sounds and some very OTT drumming.

Unusually one song follows another, with 'Blue Room In Venice' a second operatic collaboration between Rick and Gerry Gordon. Rick is grateful for someone reaching out their hand to help, just seen through 'a pool of darkness', but the song goes nowhere and goodness only knows what all this has got to do with a blue room in Venice.
'Sweet July' is a brief moment of blessed relief and the most Floydian track here, even if it's more to do with David Miller's nicely Gilmourish solos than Rick's rather ploddy playing.

'Along The Shoreline' is an oddly aggressive song by Rick's standards, sung from 'his' point of view as he helps his wife back out to the sunlight again, 'unfolding everyday'. Rick makes mention of a 'wall of pain' but rather than being demolished as per Roger, the un-named character as simply learned to stand above it a little, to find the strength to climb over it.

The album then ends with the one real actual bona fide song here. 'Breakthrough' is heartbreakingly sad yet wistfully uplifting as Rick reflects on how easy it is in an unfeeling world that takes us all for granted to be 'caught' back in the same old traps. On a song that could almost be a Wall outtake ('By hating more you're feeling more - and that's how you get caught'), Rick provides the perfect song for Sinead to quietly croon on, comforted by a bed of delightful synths playing a proper memorable tune and another great guitar break. This one just 'feels' right, as if its somewhere that Wright and Moore have seen and experienced, rather than interpreted, full of hope for better days tinged with fear that it's so easy to be trapped again. Had the rest of the album been up to this track it would have been a masterpiece, though Rick's live version in Gilmour's band is better still.

Overall, then, 'Broken China' is a bit scattered all over the place, lacking the usual Floydian cohesiveness and full of more filler than 'Ummagumma'. However there's undeniably something in this album that prevents it from being the single most disposable Floyd album out there (which it is until the second half). An answer to people who wondered what an ambient 90s Floyd might have sounded like (largely awful), it's a sad way to say goodbye to the member who was the real heartbeat of Pink Floyd, the one who brought the melancholy to the Floyd sound coming unstuck on what should be his most melancholy album. Something of a surprise, in its modernity and instrumentals, though not usually as happy surprise, although the first hour that tries your patience might yet be a worthy bargain for the four minutes that follows.

 Roger Waters "In The Flesh"

(**, **2000)

Disc One: In The Flesh/The Happiest Days Of Our Lives/Another Brick In The Wall Part Two/Mother/Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert!/Southampton Dock/Pigs On The Wing Part One/Dogs/Welcome To The Machine/Wish You Were Here/Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-8)
Disc Two: Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun/Breathe/Time/Money/5.06 AM (Every Stranger's Eyes)/Perfect Sense (Parts I and II)/The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range/It's A Miracle/Amused To Death/Brain Damage/Eclipse/Comfortably Numb/Each Small Candle

"They sent us along as a surrogate band - now we're going to find out where you folks really stand!"

A time filler for Roger while he works on the follow-up to 'Amused To Death', which still isn't finished to this day thanks to film soundtracks, operas and internet-only downloadable comments on the Iraq War. You have to pity Roger Waters. Whatever the shenanigans of the Floyd reunion, it ends up with the cold hard fact that Roger wrote most of the band’s best known songs not usually for himself but for David Gilmour to sing. Roger tries hard to recapture ‘his’ songs here but his vocal talents can’t match his old partners and in places this album is a worse travesty than ‘Delicate Sound’ or ‘Pulse’. And yet it's an album I play more often than either: Roger's more daring than his old partners and his 'new' songs are largely better than what the Floyd get to play with. While the 90s Floyd reaped the benefits but also the problems of remaining a big-selling spectacle, selling tickets to a more casual kind of collector who demanded the hits, Roger successfully gambles on the fact that only real Floyd fans are coming to his shows and that he can get away with testing their patience more. That results in some mixed successes - if you though the 'Animals' version of 'Dogs' was overlong then that's nothing on this live record's version which takes pointless soloing to a whole new level (the band even leaving Doyle Bramhall II to sing and play on his own for half the song while everyone else plays cards - subconscious revenge on the band's 'Gilmour' perhaps?) However at its best it also results in glorious tweaked arrangements of songs we never thought we'd get to hear live on stage again - a run of songs from the under-rated 'Final Cut' which work well as a medley, a glorious 'Welcome To The Machine' that's faithful to the 1975 version whilst making the most of improved period sound, a stunning 'Set The Controls To The Heart Of The Sun' given an added kick and power and a glorious 'Mother' that's sung with real heartbreak. This also remains one of the few places where you can hear the band's biggest hit 'Another Brick In The Wall' played live - David never liked it and stopped singing it past the 1987 tour.

Roger's surrounded by a pretty good 'Surrogate Band' here, who are good at understanding what the original Floyd were up to without sticking religiously to what they once played, with old hands Andy Fairweather-Low, Jon Carin and Snowy White effectively members of the 1980s band anyway. P P Arnold also makes a memorable guest turn, re-creating her vocal on 'Perfect Sense'. Alas the run of songs from 'Amused To Death', though long overdue for some extra recognition, sound a little more pointless, re-created on such an epic scale that you might as well be listening to the record, while one song (the simplest)  from 'Hitch-Hiking' and nothing from either 'Radio KAOS' or 'Where The Wind Blows' seems like a rare compromise. In fact the second disc is much weaker than the first, with some surprisingly timid re-creations of the six songs from 'Dark Side Of The Moon' Roger had most of a hand in and the moment where you most miss having Gilmour's vocals rather than Bramhall's. However the set still ends strongly thanks to the album's one exclusive song, a cracking new one named 'Each Small Candle' which at nine minutes in similar in scope and size to the 'Amused To Death' tracks. An uplifting song about how the darkness can be peeled back one kind word and message of hope at a time, it's another strong Waters song about humanity's ability for compassion as well as war and builds to a memorable climax. Full marks too to whoever chose the running order, as the songs on this 2CD set fit together much better than on any of Gilmour’s or the Floyd's and the overall effect is not so much that Roger is trying to take control back of his legacy so much that he's taking care of his 'babies' and offering an alternate way to hear his old songs. 

Syd Barrett "Wouldn't You Miss Me? - The Best Of Syd Barrett"

(Harvest/EMI, March 2001)

Octopus/Late Night/Terra[pin/Swan Lee/Wolfpack/Golden Hair/Here I Go/Long Gone/No Good Trying/Opel/Baby Lemonade/Gigolo Aunt/Dominoes/Wouldn't You Miss Me?/Wined and Dined/Effervescing Elephant/Waving My Arms In The Air/I Never Lied To You/Love Song/Two Of A Kind/Bob Dylan Blues/Golden Hair

"Braver and braver, a handkerchief waver, the louder your lips to a loud hailer"

Released with a piece of wayward mis-timing of which even Barrett would have been proud, EMI's latest attempt to milk their Floyd back catalogue for all it was worth got rather lost in the pre-publicity for the band's own 'Echoes' compilation. After all, the Floyd had never been given a 'proper' compilation before, just a few shoddy odds and ends made up by the record company; Syd, by contrast, had seen his work recycled endlessly ever since he last laid down his guitar. That's a shame because 'Wouldn't You Miss Me?' is just about the best of the Barrett sets out there, with the songs more or less delivered here in the order they were recorded (and therefore with a better overall flow than either solo album, laced through with tracks from 'Opel'). Most of the really great tracks from the two albums are there again with some treasured tracks like 'Octopus' 'Late Night' 'Opel' 'Gigolo Aunt' and 'Dominoes' every bit as special as anything the main band recorded (although I'm still shocked that 'Maisie' missed the cut - again! - and 'Terrapin' has gone awol too). Caught halfway between the newcomer and the collector (the official sub-title is 'The best of Syd Barrett containing the unreleased song 'Bob Dylan's Blues', as if covering both potential markets) this set is also a valuable way of rounding up some of the best rarer material. 'Two Of A Kind', the only exclusive song recorded by Syd for the radio, is a worthy addition, while the superior instrumental take of 'Golden Hair' is a welcome bonus for collectors who haven't upgraded to the 'CDs with bonus tracks' yet. The one previously released song 'Bob Dylan's Blues' is a great find too. Syd sounds far more with it and full of energy than most of the rest of the album, despite this recording coming in the lost months in between the two albums - perhaps explained by the fact that it's an early, pre-Floyd lost track. Full of wit and vigour, the way Syd used to be, it's evidence that even though his problems Syd hadn't lost his cheeky humour as he manages to both praise and lampoon the Bobmeister in equal measure. Syd still won't be for every fan and making even one compilation of a man's work that only ever consisted of two finished albums is still pushing it, but this is by far the best bridge for fans of the Floyd stuff to go bonkers for Barrett with most of his best solo work here.

"Echoes: The Best Of Pink Floyd"

(EMI, November 2001)

CD One: Astronomy Domine/See Emily Play/The Happiest Days Of Our Lives/Another Brick In The Wall Part Two/Echoes/Hey You/Marooned/The Great Gig In The Sky/Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun/Money/Keep Talking/Sheep/Sorrow

CD Two: **check for split** Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts 1-5/Time/The Fletcher Memorial Home/Comfortably Numb/When The Tigers Broke Free/One Of These Days/Us and Them/Learning To Fly/Arnold Layne/Wish You Were Here/Jugband Blues/High Hopes/Bike

"Deep beneath the waves are labyrinths and coral caves, the echo of a distant tide comes billowing across the sand"

'Echoes' is 2-disc best-of set that takes all of Pink Floyd’s songs out of context and tries to put them together in a different order to create something new. On that level it works better than expected ('Echoes' is a very Floyd journey, but a very different one to hearing each album), but the most comprehensive and band-designed best-of is a curious curate's egg. There is, at least, a real sense of scope and size befitting the Floyd and the tracks have been re-mixed to flow into each other with some ease - something that would be just terrible for most bands but here makes some kind of sense, as if inside every Floyd track on every Floyd album is a bigger story to be teased out across decades of changing styles changing line-ups. I tip my Pink Floyd hat to whoever came up with this track listing which is just so clever on so many different levels: the blistering manic guitar riff of 'Sheep' running straight into the bleak black opening to 'Sorrow', the spacey 'Marooned' is the perfect contemplative track to have before 'Great Gig' (itself a launching pad for the 'next world' of 'Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun' straight after), the playfulness of 'See Emily Play' - the band's most carefree song? - running into the sarcastic childhood anger of 'The Happiest Days Of Our Lives', the 'hum' of 'Keep Talking' turning into the bleating of 'Sheep' and the finale, where the final chirpy summer's day Cambridge sound effects of 'High Hopes' right at the end of the story take us right back to 'Bike', somewhere near the beginning. A compilation full of clever combinations , scattered clues and an impressive album cover by Hipgnosis that's like a Pink Floyd version of 'Where's Wally?', there's a reason why this compilation helped boost our dwindling numbers of Floydians out there seven years after 'Division Bell'.
However, you can feel the heavyness and weight hanging over this compilation, which has to be all things to all men and more or less equal to all line-ups, even though Barrett's Floyd lasted a year, Gilmour's for seven and the 'classic' band around fifteen. Gilmour, more involved in the set than the others (though poor James Gurthrie was 'officially' in control and one getting irate emails at silly o'clock in the morning), admitted later he was driven to distraction by Roger's demands to include more of his own tunes on there and that the pair were involved in a tit-for-tat race whereby for every song from 'The Wall' and 'The Final Cut' that Waters insisted on, Gilmour would add another from 'Momentary Lapse' and 'Division Bell'. Syd Barrett of course put up far less of a fuss, but the band's desire to be kind to him and help him out with royalties meant the band's first year is rather over-represented too with five of the twenty-six tracks, which seems too many even for a fan who still rates the debut 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' as the band's best album ('Echoes' lovingly begins and ends with the first and last tracks of that first album, which even after another  thirteen LPs were never beaten as the Floyd's best album openers and closers). All this credit-rating means that by the time you get to the 'real' best of the Floyd there's very little space left. 'Echoes', for instance, is cut down to size with all the 'fun' bits taken out and now a pale shadow of itself at a mere (!) sixteen minutes. 'Crazy Diamond', with the last two parts missing, is yet another new edit and the weakest one yet at that, too long to be different and too short to be thorough. Great albums - or at any rate albums with great stuff on them - like 'More' Ummagumma' 'Obscured By Clouds' 'Zabriskie Point' and even the delight that is 'Atom Heart Mother' get ignored entirely, with not a single track representing the years between 1969 and 1971, when many would still argue the Floyd were at their peak. Rick feels slighted, with no 'Wearing The Inside Out' or 'Remember A Day', just two real songs for his 'Dark Side' co-contributions (other than the full band credits for songs like 'Crazy Diamond'). There's no attempt to give fans any of the rarer 1967-1969 A and B sides like 'Apples and Oranges' 'Point Mt At The Sky' 'Julia Dream' or specially 'Careful With That Axe Eugene', which will tell you a lot more about the band than slogging through 'Learning To Fly' or 'Keep Talking' will. 'Take It Back', one of the Floyd's few hit singles, is also conspicuous by its absence, although the Gilmour-angering insistence by Waters on having the single-only 'When The Tigers Broke Free' is actually one of the album's better ideas, giving a new lease of life to a rare and important Floyd moment (while the segue into the paranoid 'One Of These Days' is sublime). Overall, then, far from perfect and yet it was always going to be impossible to make this many different styles and ideas into the perfect compilation, with this set a pretty good go at a pretty hard job. The record company have had other goes at getting the perfect Floyd compilation both before and since but this only fully band-sanctioned version is still the best, around half a disc away from completing its mission to help newcomers navigate the choppy Waters (and Gilmour and Barrett eras) of the Floyd.

Roger Waters "Flickering Flame: The Solo Years Volume One"

(EMI, April 2002)

Knockin' On Heaven's Door/Too Much Rope/The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)/Perfect Sense (Parts I and II)/Three Wishes/5.06AM (Every Stranger's Eyes)/Who Needs Information?/Each Small Candle/Flickering Flame/Towers Of Faith/Radio Waves/Lost Boys Calling

"Come hold me now, I am not gone, I would not leave you here alone"

Ominously titled 'Volume One', which is always a bit presumptuous for a 'best-of' (there hasn't been a second volume as yet), 'Flickering Flame' is too long a collection considering Roger has only really made three solo albums and a film soundtrack and only really liked one of them anyway. The songs from his 'latest' masterpiece 'Amused To Death' are always welcome to hear again and though I'd have picked 'The Bravery Of being Out Of Range' to go alongside highlights 'Perfect Sense' and 'Three Wishes' I can't really complain too much there. 'Every Stranger's Eyes' and 'The Tide Is Turning' are also the sensible picks from 'Pros and Cons Of Hitch-Hiking' and 'Radio KAOS'. However where this set falls down is in the others: 'the film soundtrack songs from 'Where The Wind Blows' were written to a quite different directive compared to the other Floyd albums and hearing orchestral instrumentals in the middle of what's otherwise a rock album is an odd experience. I'm not too keen on Dylan cover 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' either (one of Bob's worst songs, poorly sung and originally released on 'The Dybbuk Of The Holy Apple Field') or new song 'Flickering Flame' (a country song of all things, even more politically than usual) either. The set is still essential though as the easiest place to find another charming Waters soundtrack song 'Lost Boys Calling', a song that sounded out of place at the end of 'dead piano player' sob story 'The Legend of 1900' but a strong piece in its own right and right at home in a discography that's included other songs about death and comradeship (note though that this is the weaker demo version rather than the full on symphonic soundscape used in the film). It all makes for a slightly underwhelming reminder of Roger's achievements without really offering the feeling that you're getting to 'know' Roger that well either. Whether that's enough reason to buy this album - assuming you already own 'Amused To death' complete - is up to you; 'Flickering Flame' is actually more suitably named than Roger perhaps realised, a showcase for his talents that flickers rather than burns brightly. 

Roger Waters "Ca Ira"
(Sony Classical, September 2005)
CD One: The Gathering Storm/Overture/Scene One: A Garden In Vienna 1765/Madame Antoine Madame Antoine/Scene Two: Kings Sticks and Birds/Honest Bird Simple Bird/I Want To Be King/Let Us Break All The Shields/Scene Three: The Grievances Of The People/Scene Four: France In Disarray/To Laugh Is To Know How To Live/Slaves Landlords Bigots At Your Door/Scene Five: The Fall Of The Bastille/To Freeze In The Dead Of Night/So To The Streets In The Pouring Rain/Act Two Scene One: Dances and Marches/Now Hear Ye!/Flushed With Wine/Scene Two: The Letter/My Dear Cousin Bourbon Of Spain/The Ship Of State Is All At Sea/Scene Three: Silver Sugar and Indigo/To The Windward Isles/Scene Four: The Papal Edict/In Paris There Is A Rumble Under The Ground
CD Two: Act Three Scene One - The Fugitive King/But The Marqui Of Boulli Has A Trump Card Up His Sleeve/To Take Your Hat Off/The Echoes Never Fade From That Fusillade/Scene Two: The Commune De Paris/Viva Le Commune De Paris/The National Assembly Is Confused/Scene Three: The Execution Of Louis Capet/Adieu Louis For You It's All Over/Scene Four: Marie Antoinette - The Last Night On Earth/Adieu My Good and Tender Sister/Scene Five: Liberty/And In The Bushes Where They Survive
"The dark horizon cracks a crooked grin"
Who else in the AAA cast list except Roger Waters would ever have released a full-blown opera based around the events of the French Revolution? Released to a deafening silence after a quarter century in the works, this project was greeted as too 'lowbrow' for classical tastes - even though the truth is probably that it's too 'high-brow' for most people, classical collectors included, the problem with many a Waters concept. Though an opera seems an obvious release for a writer who wrote the next best thing for twenty years with some of rock music's most theatrical works, this is a very different world to the one both Waters but especially his fans are used to and very much a lesser one. The problem is that we get all of Waters' greatest excesses writ large: while the idea of the French Revolution, with its betrayals and rulers-replaced-by-peasants-who-act-like-rulers-to-be-replaced-by-more peasants, is very Waters in scope, sadly so is fitting decades of turbulence into a three-act opera with a plot full of big broad-strokes but not much detail or character. Any feeling of empathy with the characters is held up by the plot, which is more like 'Kaos' in terms of character development than 'The Wall' or 'Amused To Death', 'explained' by characters to each other rather than felt. Many of the recitatives reveal a tendency to list things endlessly, something Roger's always been slightly guilty of without the chance to reach a musical climax with it the way he occasionally rescues himself on 'Eclipse' et al. When you combine this with the greatest excesses of the genre - everyone always at peak 'shouty' mode and a format that inevitably results in great moments of inspiration surrounded by tedious moments of plot. For all that, though, this could have worked, with enough moments (especially in the second half) where 'Ca Ira' (translation: 'There Is Hope') feels like it's worked out how to do this to keep the momentum going. One other hallmark Roger has always made his own - sound effects - is also used brilliantly throughout the piece, with musket shots and guillotines used sparingly but powerfully, putting you more at the heart of the drama than any amount of singing/whinging.
Where this project really falls down is not on the manuscript but on record. Roger has till now been able to pick his performers with care, but here as the new boy in town he's been over-ruled and lumbered with singers in the form of Bryn Terfel and Ying Huang who seem to have felt this project was a good excuse to slum it, over-egging everything more than it needs to (Roger, at his best, has always been about subtlety within the bombast) and misunderstanding that this has been written for real people first and foremost, not for opera singers to show off. It's always a bit of a problem when Roger gives his songs over to other people to sing - they either end up missing his subtle sarcasm and sing things 'straight' or they go all-out in damning the world to hell - Roger's gift has always been to straddle the two extremes, leaving just enough hope within the despair and madness. For an opera named after the idea of 'hope', there isn't much of that joy and light in this work, which seems like an endless round of executions (though understandably the threat that any rulers can be toppled is the perfect vehicle for Roger's paranoia, the overthrow of a centuries old system who've brought the French people to breaking point should at least feel like more of a release than this). Though clearly Roger can't perform all the parts in this work himself, the result doesn't really give the original opera a fair hearing - it's the 'Wall Live In Berlin with Guest Stars' version of the show, not the original or indeed the live Floyd recordings of the show itself we have here.
You also have to question Roger's wisdom in working with librettists Etienne and Nadine Roda-Gil, who started work on the project so long ago that both had sadly since died in between starting work somewhere in the early-1980s and this recording in 2005. Neither men seem to have added much to this work except try to take bits out - which Roger then stuck in again anyway for the album. They must have felt some sympathies with Gilmour and Wright by the end, neither quite able to stand up to a visionary who can see far more than they can not only about how to make this piece different but why an opera about the French Revolution should exist at all. If you think the finished product is bad, it's nothing on the early stages when the two were still in relative command of the show and lacked even the bit of character Roger was able to add into the plot. What's odd, though, is how unmusical and unmemorable it all still is. Roger's never been afraid of using big booming orchestras to get his point across and had, say, he tweaked the score of 'The Final Cut' into an opera about a teacher who was surrounded by the ghosts of his dead war comrades or the ship-builders doomed to a life of nothing by Thatcherist politics Peter Grimes-style Waters might yet have written the first loved opera of the 21st century. Instead 'Ca Ira' has very little that you can remember once the discs stop playing and even the orchestra is used so badly, thudding and crunching when it should be soaring and hovering mid-air. The lyrics, too, make for a depressing listening experience, hard to follow without the libretto and even then less powerful than reading Waters' lyrics together usually seem.  For example: 'We hand out pamphlets, we join a club, we shout out slogans that we make up', or 'Three hundred men tortured like rats, three hundred lives snuffed out - like that' or the tortured metaphor 'The sparrow, bedraggled, looks up through the rain and dreams of a little more grain'. Don't know about you but three hours of these tortured lines makes me feel uncomfortably numb. Only the opening of act three 'The Fugitive King', does everything come together and the peasants revolt not  our of greed or revenge but out of a feeling that enough is enough (the opera equivalent of 'The Tide Is Turning', though even then not quite as good).
Roger sniffed later that this project had foundered because his outaudience were stuck on 'their little desert islands of culture', but I'm not sure that that's the problem. If this had been a good opera well sung with Roger's usual character and charm, then fans would have got through that, the way we (largely) have 'Amused To Death', a great album ruined by period technology. 'Ca Ira', though, gives us little hope that even if we go to the lengths to master an alien framework we'll find something inside worth digging for. The worst of it is that fans feel robbed that Roger wasted twenty years of his life (off and on) on a project that ultimately feels this minor and low-key, despite its high-falluting concept and genre when he could have been creating something really great in a genre we all can love. The snobbish opera community were always going to look down their noses at a mere rockstar coming to play on their playground - the biggest shame of this whole enterprise was that Roger decided to look down his nose at 'us' too, even though our playground is more fun and has more scope and empathetic players  for his humanist emotional character-driven works than his new friends could ever have given him. Who was it wrote 'give any one artist too much rope and they'll fuck it up'?!


David Gilmour "On An Island"

(EMI, March 2006)

Castellor/On An Island/The Blue/Take A Breath/Red Sky At Night/This Heaven/Then I Close My Eyes/Smile/Pocketful Of Stone/Where We Start

"Silence drifting through, nowhere to choose, just blue"

'On An island' was the third total but surprisingly the first post-Floyd solo album by 'the voice and guitar of Pink Floyd' as Gilmour was billed rather pointlessly on the original sleeve. Released on the guitarist's 60th birthday, the set restored David to the mainstream for a time and can be seen as something of a Floyd eulogy now, months after the Live 8 gig and featuring the last contributions of Rick Wright. A heavy seller, which easily eclipsed Roger's record sales, more cynical critics wondered if Gilmour had been waiting till the precise point when 'Live 8' had made the band popular again. However, as usual with Gilmour, the record had been planned for years, coming together agonisingly slowly and the bulk of it had already been finished long before that 'Live 8' phone-call was put through (in fact eye-witnesses claim that Gilmour's first response was what bad timing it was - that if the reunion went badly it might hurt his record). Gilmour also notably donated most of the proceeds of both this album and the extra spike in his royalties to good causes, many of them shared with the backers of 'Live 8', so it's clear that 'On An Island' was, for him at least, more about the reputation than the money.

So it's sad to report that, after all the fuss has died down, this album feels like ever so slightly something of a disappointment. It's certainly not bad - Gilmour's handling of his guitar may be getting with age - and there are a few songs here, notably the title track and 'Smile' that compare well with past glories. But after a twelve year gap between any sort of album and some twenty-two since the last solo record you can't help but feel a bit underwhelmed by a record that mainly consists of instrumentals and rarely kicks into a gear that's anything other than cruise control. Though the production is typically grandiose and Floydian, full of choirs and banks of synthesisers (many of them exquisitely played by Rick, the only returning bandmate) and is clearly meant to 'feel' like a substantial work, this is actually a low key set of humble songs that works best when Gilmour keeps things simple. Much is made of this album’s supposed ‘watery’ theme, something here only loosely equated with death although it will become a major theme of Gilmour's next two projects a full decade later too, but that sounds to me awfully as if it was drawn on top at a later date when someone noticed a few 'clues': only maybe two songs and the titles of a couple of instrumentals even mention this theme.

The result is an occasionally impressive but all too frequently dull LP that's best enjoyed by fans of Gilmour's guitarwork rather than his actual songs, with 'On An Island' slotting in somewhere between the over-produced horror of 'A Momentary Lapse' and the clumsy inspiration of much of 'Division Bell'. Had the record had Pink Floyd's name on it of course it would surely have done even better and you can't escape the feeling that Gilmour needs the others here, however slight their contribution had become in their final decade together: though Rick is a strong number two here this record would have been so much stronger still with him as an equal partner chipping in ideas and songs. The session musicians - most of them from 'Momentary Lapse' and 'Division Bell' anyway - are never less than thoughtful but lack, say, the distinctiveness of a Nick Mason drumlick or the extra melancholy of a Rick Wright sonar ping (on the tracks he doesn't appear on at least). Instead it's the guests from all sorts of eras of Gilmour's career who get this album moving: most brilliantly Crosby and Nash on the title track who finally make good on Gilmour's love of Laurel Canton era early 70s music and whose voices go remarkably well with his (they even joined the Albert Hall gig promoting this album, with a powerful version of 'absent' partner Stephen Stills' song 'Find The Cost Of Freedom'). Roxy Music' Phil Manzanera does even more here than on 'Momentary lapse', but better this time around. Bob Klose, a very old friend who used to busk with Gilmour round Cambridge before the Floyd came calling, appears on 'Blue' and 'On An Island'. Willie Wilson, ex Joker's Wild and a Gilmour solo regular, brightens up 'Smile's jazzy feel no end. The Soft Machine's Robert Wyatt adds some delicious cornet to the instrumental 'Then I Close My Eyes'. Gilmour has to really bring out the best in himself to compete. The result, then, is far from the classic everyone proclaimed this record to be and despite the long cooking time needed another couple of songs more and a couple of instrumentals less to be truly worthy of a place in the guitarist's impressive canon. But this birthday present from artists to fans has its moments and was certainly made with a lot of love and care.

'Casterllorizon' starts the album in much the same way 'Signs Of Life' started 'Momentary Lapse'. An instrumental with watery sound effects, you can hear early hints of the melody for 'Smile' and some hard-pinging Gilmour guitar before an orchestra sweeps in and wanders around a bit, to no great effect. It sounds like the sort of filler they pad out modern film soundtracks with rather than a true overture for the album and at four minutes is at least three and a half too long.

Title track 'On An Island' is clearly the highlight, an urgent creepy song of nostalgia that's written more like a paranoid Waters song but sung with lush laidback calm thanks to the gorgeus harmony vocals by Crosby and Nash. The weirdest date ever, it seems to consist of two lovers falling in love against the backdrop of poverty and decay, full of empty playgrounds and a ghost town with nothing to live for but each other. The idea, I think, is that two islands lost in a sea of nothing have come together, inspiring a blisteringly passionate Gilmour guitar solo that's one of his best. Presumably a love song for Polly, it's full of some excellent Floydian imagery ('The candles were burning, but the church was deserted') and may well refer back to the mid-80s when passion seemed to have gone out of Gilmour's life for good before their meeting. The song ends with a night full of stars that enable Gilmour to dream again, that inspiration still clearly coursing through his veins all these years on.

'The Blue' is a sleepy love song that features some lovely chords and some gorgeous harmonies, with Rick prominent for the last time on a song that feels like it has a little more than usual of the Floyd sound. But this is less a song than a couple of notes that Gilmour enjoys a little bit too much, going round and round in circles without really getting anywhere while his decision to sing in falsetto is brave, bordering on foolish. Had this appeared on 'Division Bell' this song wouldn't have lasted five minutes, but critics and fans starved of that trademark sound lapped it up quite happily at the time, people convincing themselves this was Gilmour's best work in years - perhaps because along with its nine cousins it was the only work of Gilmour's in years.

'Take A Breath' is the album's token rock song and it sounds as if it's here to fill that quotient than because it has anything to say. Any track that sounds like U2 was never going to be my favourite (this is a worse crib than even 'Take It Back') and Gilmour's 'shouty' voice is by far his least appealing. A tale of turning your life around when things get suffocating, it promises that the narrator has learnt lessons the hard way without ever letting on what those lessons are, wallowing in self-pity instead of trying to be helpful.

'Red Sky At Night' is another lazy instrumental most notable for Gilmour's surprisingly good saxophone work (he'd been learning the instrument in his spare time, which must have been bad news for Dick Parry who usually got these sort of gigs with the Floyd). Lovely and expressive, whilst still sounding like a drifting dead-end rather than a piece with anything to really express, it sounds awfully like a track from the ambient 'Endless River' album to come, Gilmour perhaps paving the way for how many of these sorts of half-finished songs his fans would take. Oddly a sound effect of children playing is added on top, although this song couldn't be less like 'Another Brick In The Wall'.

'This Heaven' sounds more like hell to me - a shuffled 1930s jazz song with an annoying riff and an exaggerated over-sung Gilmour vocal on a song where less really would have been more. Another love song to Polly, Gilmour counts his blessings and the lines about family life are quite poetic ('Life is much more than money buys, when I see the faith in my children's eyes'), without ever managing to reconcile that sweet sentiment with that ugly tune. This is one of the album songs that sounded much better live, though, I have to say and benefitted from a starker, sparser performance without all the extras cluttering up the track as it is here.

'Then I Close My Eyes' is the weirdest of the instrumentals, sounding as if we're on a journey past a fishing village before walking past someone tuning up their mellotron. I'm not quite sure what this track was meant to do, other than make a space between the surrounding songs and pad out the album  by another few minutes. Gilmour's band look downright embarrassed when having to re-create all this noodling live.

Luckily 'Smile' is another great song, warm and intimate and easily the best of Gilmour's love songs. 'Would this do?' he asks humbly as he writes a song for his gently sleeping partner, preparing to leave for a trip (a tour?) which he sees as the work he needs to do to earn the 'smile' on his return. Then again a second verse makes it clear that all is not paradise in the Gilmour household - he's trying to make things right after a big fight, the smile of forgiveness on his wife's face suddenly a lot more important than anything he was angry about (although of course since Polly helped out with the lyrics this could be more about him forgiving her). Despite the circumstances, though, there's nothing but love in this song which features one of Gilmour's prettiest melodies, exquisitely accompanied by his own slide guitar. Only a slightly icky children's choir detracts from this song and even then not badly.

'Pocketful Of Stones' is the most prog rockish moment here, taking a full 90 seconds before the vocals come in. Gilmour sounds good but the rest of the band sound trapped in some 1970s Lloyd Webber rock opera, with this the closest Gilmour has come to making his own operatic 'Ca Ira'. This sounds to me like a song for son Charlie when he was young, so presumably was written at least in a first draft not long after 'Division Bell'. I'm sure the release of this song in his late teens was the single most embarrassing thing his dad could have done as this is an awfully childish song: if you carry a pocket of stones with you, you'll always be able to believe in other worlds apparently. There are far better and more 'real' sounding children's songs out there, most of them written by Syd Barrett who understood that it's adults who love saccharine songs about children, not the children themselves who are harder to please and more 'real' than that.

'Where We Start' is a fair album closer though, another song that keeps things simple and works as a postmodern comment about this being the end of an album and a milestone in Gilmour's life the same way that 'Near The End' rounded out 'About Face'. The hope that life will never change because this low key way of living a family life is what Gilmour's always dreamed of, it's a sweet track about a couple so strong together nothing can break them, finding each other their reward for living a life 'weary' until meeting. The pair have reached the end of their picnic and are folding up their blankets, preparing to 'go' - but as usual with Floyd the hint is bigger than just going home. With a twelve year gap between albums will there ever be another one Gilmour must have wondered. There will, but many things will have changed before the release of 'Rattle That Lock', not least the death of Rick who goes out on a high here, with some gorgeous synths that reach up to the heavens the same way as the end of 'Dark Side Of The Moon'.

Overall, then, 'On An Island' is a curious beast. Some of it works so well it takes your breath away - other parts sound lifeless, never mind breathless. As so often happens with Gilmour's solo albums, there's a kernel of a great LP in here somewhere beating it's way to get out, but it's lost inside a record of over-produced bombast and filler, with music now only a distraction from family life rather than a calling. Of course though if Gilmour had carried on at the same pace as the 1970s and 1980s we'd have had none of this album's lovely reflections on family life either, this record particularly working best when the inspiration from one source flows into the other. Inspiration is down to more of a trickle than an ocean, though, with 'On An Island' possessing only the hint of what we know Gilmour can do. Oh and err a belated happy birthday from everyone at Alan's Album Archives.

David Gilmour/David Bowie/Rick Wright "Comfortably Numb"  (CD Single)

(Sony, '2006')

Arnold Layne (Bowie Version)/Arnold Layne (Rick Version)/Dark Globe

"I'm only a person whose arm bands beat on his hands"

A little-seen CD celebrating the highlights of Gilmour's one off reunion gig (released on CD as 'Remember That Night'), celebrating the guest appearance of Bowie on a surprise revival of the Floyd's first single (on which Gilmour, of course, didn't appear, with this the first time he ever played the song in public) and celebrating Syd's life, the only real re-action from any of the Floyds after his passing earlier in the year. A mischievous tale about a cross-dressing misfit at odds with the real world, it's practically a Bowie song anyway and in fact the first incarnation of the 'Ziggy Stardust' band were named 'Arnold Corns' in his honour. Bowie quickly turns the track into a Bowie song and does an ok job, but it's actually Rick - who was booked to sing this song because it was assumed they'd never get Bowie - who steals the credits here. Rick delivers a far softer and sympathetic take on his old pal Syd's story which he did so much to arrange anyway, turning it into a pure celebration without the sarcasm. This was also the Gilmour band's chosen moment to plug in the wake of the DVD release, which led to the rather off sight of the name 'David Gilmour' going up underneath Rick's face - a measure, once again, of just how robbed the keyboard player was after his assured role of taking over the band in 1968 was usurped not only by the bassist but now by the replacement guitarist too. The last song Rick sang on stage, it's a fitting full circle way to say goodbye. As for the B-side, it's an even better tribute to Syd, with Gilmour bravely tackling one of Barrett's trickier solo songs - one which Gilmour, of course, helped produce back in 1970 - performed solo and with an impressively sympathetic blend of darkness and fun. The opening line 'Oh where are you now?' is enough to get a tear out of a stone - maybe even Roger Waters. The DVD is probably the best way to hear these three songs and the CD single comes in a horrific cover (modern lettering over a pure black background, very unremarkable and very un-Floyd), but it's a tribute from the heart at least.

"Oh By The Way"

(EMI, December 2007)

CD One: The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

CD Two: A Saucerful Of Secrets

CD Three: More

CDs Four and Five: Ummagumma

CD Six: Atom Heart Mother

CD Seven: Meddle

CD Eight: The Dark Side Of The Moon

CD Nine: Wish You Were Here

CD Ten: Animals

CDs Eleven and Twelve: The Wall

CD Thirteen: The Final Cut

CD Fourteen: A Momentary Lapse Of Reason

CD Fifteen: The Division Bell

"Beyond the horizon of a place we lived when we were young, in a world of magnets and miracles"

The heady days of 'Shine On' seem a world away, not a mere seventeen years ago. With the Floyd re-issue series in full frenzy the band finally do the proper thing and re-release all their studio albums in an attractive box set, good and bad, so that fans can now delight to the awfulness of part of 'Ummagumma' and hear 'The Final Cut' back to back with 'A Momentary Lapse Of Reason' for the first time. In decent sound too, the Floyd being one of the few AAA bands sonically interesting enough to be worth the upgrade (though don't get too excited: none of the albums feel that different, just fuller-bodied). Hipgnosis have gone to town on the packaging, re-creating all the albums on CD as 'mini-vinyl LPs' complete with inner sleeves and gatefolds where applicable (a bit like the Mono/Stereo Beatles sets a year or so earlier) and including a bonus front cover/exclusive poster which mirrors the 'room within a room' of 'Ummagumma' (though not quite as brilliantly) and features forty different Floyd references and is a bit like a 'Where's Wally?' book with a soundtrack (I have a game of my own though, 'Where's Syd'?, as he isn't on the front or back cover packaging - and no I'm not buying the idea that he's the 'silhouette' - he should be 'shining on' for starters not hidden in the shadows and that really doesn't look like him). Whereas 'Shine On' was - wrongly - billed as a complete set for collectors, this one has the feel of nonchalance about it, from the self-deprecating title ('Oh by the way, here's everything we've ever done in re-mastered sound!) to the comparatively limited publicity (well, by Floyd standards - most of the fuss centred around the single disc best of and the individual album re-issues). Sadly one thing that hasn't changed from the 'Shine On' days is the exorbitant price: you're more likely to see a flying pig over Battersea Power Station for real than find one of these sets in good condition at an affordable price these days and even at the time it seemed excessive (EMI had really bad money problems at the time, hence this set and the Beatles pair in big succession; that still wasn't enough to prevent them selling off Abbey Road Studios sadly). Though a handy way of picking up (almost) everything in one go, it's not particularly cheaper than buying up the albums individually and lacks the 'bonus' CD that might have made forking out for it worthwhile (annoyingly, 'Relics' isn't here and there are no sign of the other A and B sides that didn't make that set which means that there are still ten key songs missing from this set - thirteen if you add the re-recording of 'Money' and the 'Tigers Broke Free' single and 'Hero's Return Part II' B-side. To be fair, the Floyd learnt their lesson and never referred to this one as 'complete', but it;s a shame after all that effort and expense that they couldn't add just a single disc wrapping everything else up. 

David Gilmour "Live In Gdansk"

(EMI, Recorded August 2006, Released September 2008)

CD One: Speak To Me/Breathe/Time/Breathe (Reprise)/Casterollizon/On An Island/The Blue/Red Sky At Night/This Heaven/Then I Close My Eyes/Smile/Take A Breath/A Pocketful Of Stones/When We Start

CD Two: Shine On You Crazy Diamond/Astronomy Domine/Fat Old Sun/High Hopes/Echoes/Wish You Were Here/A Great Day For Freedom/Comfortably Numb

"Waves roll, lift us in blue, drift us, seep right through, and colour us blue"

Sadly Gilmour never did release a live album of perhaps his most interesting solo concert - the 'Acoustic' one from 1999 released on DVD. He never actually released one for 'Remember That Night' either, the well received set plugging 'On An Island' in 2005. While less interesting than either, Gilmour's first solo live record (strangely the only major rock recording yet made in Poland, despite that country's traditionally good musical taste down the years - and I'm not just saying that because so many of my readers are Polish, honest!) is worth buying more than either 'Delicate Sound Of Thunder' or 'Pulse'. The record has just enough of a Floyd sound (including a starring role for Rick Wright, on what sadly turned out to be the last album he was involved on, and many of the players from the later years), without the pressure and expectation to lock Gilmour into just playing the 'hits'. As a result there's some glorious material here un-played in decades, highlighted by a stunning 'Fat Old Sun' whose closing guitar solo is played with such passion and a heart-warming revival of 'Astronomy Domine', a Barrett song Gilmour had long ago made his own. 'Echoes', too, is a brave stab at a complex song first attempted by the band years before but rejected for being 'boring' - though the band are too distant and indeed too big to share the spooky instant telepathy of the 1972 model Floyd, it's still a great version with a stunning climax and the running time nearly tops the original (sensibly losing a little of the 'crows' in the middle). The modern era Floyd songs have by now been pared down to just 'High Hopes' and 'A Great Day For Freedom' too, which is how it should be.

However, this being the solo Gilmour there's also an awful lot of awful solo material we have to sit through - most it in one big lump on the first CD with shades of Roger's phrase 'how can you have your pudding if you don't eat your meat?' ringing through our eyes. Though the instrumentals in particular might even sound better than the 'On An Island' work, we really don't need to hear the whole of what's rather an inconsistent and patchy record in order when we could be hearing, say, 'What's...Uh The Deal?', an 'Obscured By Clouds' song never performed before the 2005 tour and taken off the album to accommodate the running time of two CDs. Classics like 'Crazy Diamond' 'Comfortably Numb' and 'Wish You Were Here' also sound uncomfortably close to auto-pilot, though at least Gilmour's got rid of two band songs he was growing tired of singing and had been doing badly for some time: 'Money' and 'Another Brick In The Wall'. If you have to buy a Floyd-related live album (and assuming the 'Live At Pompeii' DVD doesn't count) then this is clearly the one, full of surprises and faithful performances. But do question if you really need to buy any of them: you have to be a real Gilmour obsessive to play the first disc regularly and few of the arrangements make that much difference. It's also a little over-polished in places - but them after all it was taped in Poland! (Ow! Stop throwing things! The pun wasn't that bad was it?...)

Syd Barrett "An Introduction To"

(Harvest/Capitol, October 2010)

Arnold Layne/See Emily Play/Apples and Oranges/Matilda Mother/Chapter 24/Bike/ Terrapin/Love You/Dark Globe/Here I Go/Octopus/She Took A Long Cold Look At Me/If It's In You/Baby Lemonade/Dominoes/Gigolo Aunt/Effervescing Elephant/Bob Dylan Blues
Download Bonus Track: Rhamadan

"A broken pier on the wavy sea"

Another decade, another Syd compilation - though this one is perhaps the best of the many goes to outline Barrett's character and personality for newcomers, if only because it combines his Floyd and solo recordings together for the first time. Sadly the real peak of Barrett's work with the band ('Astronomy Domine' 'Interstellar Overdrive' and 'Apples and Oranges') are missing, but the basics are there including a gorgeous early version of 'Matilda Mother' with very different lyrics that's a worthy find. Syd's solo stuff fares less well: there's no 'Late Night' 'Dominoes' 'Opel' or 'Gigolo Aunt' for instance and while 'Bob Dylan's Blues' is here from the last compilation, sadly 'Two Of A Kind' has gone missing again. The one new track here for collectors wasn't even on the album but available as an 'exclusive' via a link to Syd's website - though the resulting twenty minute drum solo 'Rhamadan' is more interesting historically than musically as the last recorded burst of what was on Syd's mind. Whether that's enough to make forking out for a fourth compilation for a man who only ever made two solo albums is of course up to you - but the draw of Syd remains so strong, even after his untimely death, that many fans bought this set anyway.

"A Foot In The Door: The Best Of Pink Floyd"

(EMI, November 2011)

Hey You/See Emily Play/The Happiest Days Of Our Lives/Another Brick In The Wall (Part Two)/Have A Cigar/Wish You Were Here/Time/The Great Gig In The Sky/Money/Comfortably Numb/High Hopes/Leartning To Fly/The Fletcher Memorial Home/Shine On You Crazy Diamonds (Parts One To Five)/Brain Damage/Eclipse

"Remembering days of daisy chains and laughs..."

A weird and frankly unnecessary compilation, given that the longer and Floyd-sanctioned 'Echoes' was still selling well. 'Foot In The Door' loses out on every level: a weaker name (what has it got to do with the Floyd?), a smaller running time, a less adventurous track listing, less fun segues and no sense that any of these tracks belong together. Worse, EMI have clearly still not learnt their lesson after the appalling mess that was 'Great Dance Songs' and have been having fun with the editing scissors again. 'Shine On' gets pared back to the basic opening with a few bits at the beginning and end lopped off, 'High Hopes' is shorn of about a minute's worth of sound effects and fade and bizarrely 'Eclipse' (not exactly the longest track in Floyd history) loses a few seconds too. Had EMI put another two disc set out they wouldn't have had to do any of this - and if they wanted a single disc set so badly then why the heck is 'Learning To Fly' still in the setlist. 

"The Endless River"

(EMI, November 2014)

Things Left Unsaid/It's What We Do/Ebb and Flow/Sum/Skins/Unsung/Anisina/The Lost Art Of Conversation/On Noodle Street/Night Light/Allonsy/ One/Autumn '68/Allonsy Two/Talkin' Hawkin//Calling/Eyes To Pearls/Surfacing/Louder Than Words

Deluxe Edition Bonus Tracks: TBS9/TBS14/Nervana

"Failed by desire, stoking the flames,  but we're here for the ride"

At the time of writing 'The Endless River' has been out a year (probably more like two by the time you get this review - longer if you're reading the book) and I still don't know what to make of it. At the moment my head is still spinning from the media blitz, the 'Dave and Roger speak!' exclusives and the 'first Floyd record in twenty years - and the last!' advertising banners. Floyd freebies from their vault (well it was a little expensive I thought actually, but you get my drift...) are few and far between so any new release with that band name on it - whether it be archive live set, dodgy compilation or cash-in book - feels like a big deal, with even the gaps between Floyd solo releases growing into decades not years. As the first bona fide band release of new unheard music since 'Division Bell' two decades earlier and the Floyd now adamant that the vaults are empty, this was always going to be big news even if the music inside was awful.

And sadly it is, well almost. You won't find out from the packaging, but this isn't an album of new material or even unreleased finished material, but a stack of instrumental off-cuts not thought good enough for release at the time (there was even an announcement to Floyd fanzines that this record would be known as 'The Big Spliff' and be released even before 'Division Bell' before the band had second thoughts). Even Gilmour said so as recently as a few years back, claiming the record was 'un-releasable'. Oddly enough this set resembles Syd Barrett's outtakes collection 'Opel' - lots of great ideas, but no cohesion or stamina to turn them into songs, so it's hard to know what to make of these offcuts: are they garbage or genius in waiting? The end result is also stylistically a little like hearing an hour's edit of 'Marooned', the one instrumental from these 'David Gilmour's Houseboat' sessions considered worthy of release at the time - though sadly nothing like as inspired. The result is cleverly edited from various sessions to sound like the band intended the music to run that way and the pair have even re-recorded a few bits and pieces for the record, but still by and large this is an instrumental record made as a 'warm-up' to a proper LP (the one that became 'The Division Bell' - the title phrase 'Endless River' comes from the song 'High Hopes') and however well dressed up it may be, it still sounds like a warm-up for a proper LP. The band tease us with a few details from that record - a slightly different Stephen Hawking quote to the one used on 'Keep Talking' and the chiming bells themselves - as if they started making a 'mini-Bell' before EMI got involved and wanted something a bit grander.

The fact that David Gilmour and Nick Mason are working together again is great news, of course (they seem to have had fun making or at least re-making this album too, without the pressure of 'Division Bell').  The idea of this album as a 'tribute' to dearly departed keyboardist Rick Wright is a lovely notion (he's the record's undoubted star, even though he's the only 'key' member not able to re-channel or edit his work into something greater) and the overall theme of death as a 'river' is a great one (I'm convinced that Gilmour's solo track 'A Boat Lies Waiting' from 'Rattle That Lock' a year later was meant to be on this album too but wasn't finished in time). The closing song (the only one here that isn't an instrumental) 'Louder Than Words' is a key entry in the Floyd canon and 'almost' the send off Floyd deserve (they're adamant there won't be anything else with their name attached to it now - I still say 'High Hopes' was a more fitting last track though). The rest, though, sounds like a Pink Floyd film soundtrack - but sadly one made in the modern era where it's all about what funny new age sounds you can get from your instrument rather than the daring days of 'More' and 'Obscured By Clouds' where film soundtracks meant you could re-invent yourself and try out a new style.
'River' doesn't and couldn't live up to all that fuss and the really big Floyd fans have had it for years in its original form anyway (where most of us are agreed it sounded better before Dave and Nick messed around with it, a few solos and 'Louder Than Words' aside). The longest Floyd album after 'Ummagumma' and 'The Wall', too much of this album simply sounds 'endless'. Had this album been released as the 'bonus' disc with a limited edition version of 'Division Bell' it might have made more sense and been better loved. In truth 'Endless River' is worth buying only for one song, a few bits of lovely Rick Wright improvisation and to know where the opening instrumental from 'Marooned' had its original home. We certainly won't be treating it as part of the proper 'canon' in another 20 years, but as a sort of glorified bootleg it is at least a chance to hear something we fans thought we never would. However it's very Floyd to go out with a bang publicity wise though with their most thoughtful and reflective album since 'Atom Heart Mother' side two and put a proper definitive end to a legacy that, after twenty years of silence, we'd all assumed was long over anyway.

'Things Left Unsaid' starts with a burst of Rick Wright speech full of halting pauses as he admits that the band get round their differences by not really talking (immediately contradicted by David's quote 'we shout and argue and fight and work it on out', plus something by Roger I can't quite hear - probably nothing flattering though). A Rick masterclass is atmosphere and tension, it's more interesting than the keyboardist's similar work on his 'Broken China' album of 1996, but similarly devoid of purpose.

My dear friend Martin Kitcher, one of the greatest musicians you've probably never heard of (but you should - I'll wait here while you go check his stuff out on Youtube), was trying to record 'vocals' version of this album before his untimely death in 2015. 'It's What We Do' was the only track he got finished and it sounded fab - a 'Louder Than Words' style lament about past obstacles with the uplifting thought that none of the ego battles matter because this is what musicians 'do'. It's easy for me to see why he chose this track out of all fifteen instrumentals:  a haunting 'Crazy Diamond' style organ part at the heart of it is too strong not to turn into a song, while Gilmour's tasty guitar licks are better than most of what he played on 'Division Bell'. The tempo and drums also sound rather like his future solo track 'On An Island', though the song itself sounds very different. It's all very Floyd though: heavy, oppressive, melancholic and melodic. How the Floyd let this one get away I'll never know - this could have been a great song, but instead it's just one of the better 'filler' instrumentals.

'Ebb and Flow' uses some 21st century effects to segue into some gentle keyboard pawing while Gilmour tries to take Rick's hints up on his guitar. Both sensibly give up after a couple of minutes, though, perhaps assuming no one would ever listen to this half-improvisation again. Funny how things change.

At nearly five minutes 'Sum' is one of the longest pieces here and the place where the opening pulsating keyboards of 'Take It Back' later came from. This is just a platform for more noisy heavy metal style Gilmour guitar, though.

'Skins' is even worse, a drum solo that reprises the worst bits of 'A Saucerful Of Secrets' while Gilmour busts his guitar, albeit with less passion than twenty years earlier.
The minute long 'Unsung' might be referring to Rick whose again the star here, but if so you wish Gilmour would have noticed earlier instead of trying to drown him out with less interesting guitarwork again.

'Anisina' is an upbeat rehearsal of 'Us and Them' given a new and rather inferior main melody, while in the background a synth plays the main chorus riff from 'Comfortably Numb'. The song seems to have been named after the chemotherapy treatment Rick undertook to cure his lung cancer, which is a bit of an odd tribute.

'The Lost Art Of Conversation' is named after a line from 'Division Bell' track 'Keep Talking',  although there seems nothing to link the two. Instead this is another slow Rick solo piece, played with his customary care but unhappily on some very dated sounding synths.

'On Noodle Street' adds a bit of blues and funk to proceedings and you can kind of hear the genesis of 'What Do You Want From Me?' in here. The piece still comes over as a Blues Brothers reject rather than a Pink Floyd opus, though, while the self-deprecating title is spot on ('Noodle' being an instrumental jam that doesn't really go anywhere.

Boredom has lead me to notice that the last two tracks and this one are all edited to exactly 1:42 each. Which isn't that interesting a fact but surely more interesting than listening to 'Night Light', which is a few gentle washes of synth over Gilmour caught halfway between playing and tuning his guitar with the echo chamber turned on.

'Allonsy' is 'Keep Talking' given a fashionable Dr Who-style title. The direct translation 'Come on!' is about right for the most urgent of the instrumentals highlighted by Tim Renwick's sturdy 'Run Like Hell' style slashed chords and Gilmour's powerful lead. It's one of the better things here.

So is 'Autumn '68', whose title is clearly meant to recall Rick's 'Summer '68' from 'Atom Heart Mother'. What was once a very 'young' sound full of lyrics about groupies is now much more serious, with Rick playing largely alone at an organ on what in context sounds like a requiem about death, joined by Gilmour at a few key points. The tune the pair cook up between them is another good one that deserved to become a full song more than the majority of tracks that made 'Division Bell'.

'Talkin' Hawkin' features a reprise of 'Keep Talking' via more of the professor's quotes and is another of the album's better songs, sounding remorsefully sad even without words thanks to a slow stately riff, a stinging Gilmour guitar break and some lovely backing vocal 'oohs'. The theme: 'Our greatest hopes as mankind have become possible through talking' - only the Floyd didn't do enough of that across their career.

The adventurous 'Calling' is the most atonal piece here, sounding like Ummagumma's 'Sisyphus' still rolling up and down that hill a quarter century on. Rick's later 'pixie piece' sounds it comes from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about Hobbits.

'Eyes To Pearls' is one of the few predominantly guitar tracks here and features Gilmour working hard on an urgent riff that again could have been worked on to become something good but instead just kind of hangs there not doing much.

'Surfacing' is clearly meant to reference the journey into the next world and recalls the acoustic guitar riff for 'Lost For Words'. The lyrics aren't here yet, though, and nor is the tune, filled in by a bit of keyboard and guitar vamping instead.

And then we arrive at 'Louder Than Words', a new lyric written by Gilmour's wife Polly nicely capturing both the theme of the albums (she wrote most of 'Division Bell' too remember) and the band's career. The Floyd never really got on, they fought and fought with 'world weary grace' and were as likely to 'curse' as 'nurse' each other's ideas or stay at home in a nod to 'Time's lyrics about staying by the fire and never venturing outside cosy inner world. But the band are all 'in this for the ride' and the need to make that music is louder than words and bigger to all of them than 'the sum of our parts'. A pretty 'Wall' style guitar riff and some sonic 'Echoes' pings from Rick make for a nicely Floydian backing, while Gilmour's older, sadder vocals rather suit this reflective song. Though I doubt whether Roger Waters or for that matter Syd Barrett will look back/down on this song as a fitting summation of the Floyd's career, for the Gilmour era of the band at least it's spot on, as haunting as 'High Hopes' and played with just the right amount of humble drama. If this is the end, then it's a good end - my only regret is that 'A Boat Lies Waiting' isn't here as an even better ending.

The deluxe edition adds a further three tracks, none of them that amazing which sound like something of an anti-climax after the album. 'TBS9' is an unusual combination of Guy Pratt throbbing bass and keening Rick strings, while Nick gets to have a work out on his cymbals (it's the one track not to feature Gilmour at all). 'TBS14' is a laidback, mellow Gilmiur guitar run that's matched chord for chord by Rick, gathering pace as momentum gathers, though never quite finding its way into anything. The heavy metal-ish 'Nervana' is a brief reminder of 'The Nile Song' and 'Young Lust' and is more interesting than most for sporting Gilmour's best guitar riff in years (read that from 2014 or 1994, it works both years), though as early as the second repeat you sense the band have run out of places to take it and are merely grimly holding on for dear life as Gilmour simply goes back to the beginning again and again.

Overall, then, our advice is to skip the album and download 'Louder Than Words' as a single track instead - it's all you really need to take from this album which promises more than it delivers. 'The Endless River' is a collection filler at best, to rank alongside 'A Collection Of Great Dance Songs' and will probably never be played again by most fans a year on from all the hoo-hah, with the exception of Floydian/new age lovers and those who consider the fan-dividing 'The Division Bell' the pinnacle of the band's career. Better than I feared, though not quite as good as most people said at the time, 'The Endless River' would have been mildly interesting if released at the time of conception as an artier, more ambient Floyd album in between the bigger sellers, but while there's promise here a lot more needed to be done to most of these snippets to make it a proper album. 'Division Bell' still feels like a grander, more musical, more Floydian way to say goodbye somehow.


David Gilmour "Rattle That Lock"

(Columbia, September 2015)

5 AM/Rattle That Lock/Faces Of Stone/A Boat Lies Waiting/Dancing Right In Front Of Me/In Any Tongue/Beauty/The Girl In The Yellow Dress/Today/And Then...

"No more was said, but I learned all I needed to know"

At the time of writing, 'Rattle That Lock' is so new that everyone is still in the 'relieved it's finally here' mode. It's been nine years since David Gilmour last released a rock/pop album - it's been longer still since Roger did - and after the 'what on earth was that?' curio of 'Endless River' last year Floyd fans have been giving this album four or five stars simply in the hope that if its received well enough we'll all get another one soon. The problem is that instead of what we've come to expect from Gilmour this is another experiment in modernity not unlike 'The Endless River's mix of instrumentals and period production which is almost equally a 'what the?' album rather than the blissful Gilmour solo classic. Fair enough if you're a Neil Young who releases albums every few months anyway and can afford to stretch your idea of who you are, but when you finish the record you're left with a slightly sinking feeling that it's more than likely going to be another decade before the next Gilmour album comes out and that means twenty years before 'normal' Pink Floyd albums - if that (goodness knows what Roger will do in the meantime: he'll either release his best work as part of a trilogy or a sequel to 'Pros and Cons Of Hitch-Hiking', but weirder). Gilmour has been writing with wife Polly Samson again and she's clearly grown more comfortable writing songs through her husband's eyes than on the last two Floyd albums, but her words and his music are still uncomfortable matches a lot of the time, a tribute Floyd band rather than the real thing.

The album's biggest strengths are the biggest weaknesses: Gilmour is in the mood to change who he is and wants to show off all the other sounds he can do rather than just Floyd-lite rock and ballads. In the past that's worked: his Laurel Canyon-style early 70s harmony bliss-fests were the highlights of last album 'On An Island' and it makes sense to pick another few favourite styles and have fun with those. The problem is most of the styles that Gilmour has chosen are so ugly and alien to his style that they're a really bad fit: across this album we get 1920s jazz, 1980s pop even worse than 'Momentary Lapse Of Reason' and flat-footed 1930s waltzes. Few bands sound good doing any of these style and Gilmour fell flat even at the time trying to mine 1980s pop so why he should return to any of these styles is a mystery, explained only by the fact that Gilmour seems to have become really bored of his usual style. Shockingly the 'deluxe' editions of this album doing the rounds are even worse, with remixes by hip young things that seem to equate the Floyd style with 1980s disco for some reason (do they only know the band from 'Run Like Hell'?) and which smack of desperation. I quite understand why music shouldn't be Gilmour's most important pre-occupation in his life these days with so much else going on and so much already proven in his life and these records and one-off solo shows seem like a favour to fans to not disappear entirely than a desperate need to make music. But if so you can't have it both ways - making an album only as a hobby and releasing a trendy remix of an already too-commercial song makes no sense. The two remixes of the album title track tacked on the end - already one of the less inspired moments in the Gilmour canon - are awful, amongst the worst songs in this book (it doesn't help that it sounds like 'Terminal Frost' with awful tinny drums).

Only   actual songs appear here: 'Rattle That Lock' is a Michael Jackson-style pop song that reveals how badly David's voice is fading; 'Dancing Right In Front Of You' is a clumsy clod-hopping waltz that's almost painful; 'In Any Tongue' is more operatic than Roger Waters' actual opera 'Ca Ira' and is a shame given the background - that it's dad David's defensive response to the media backlash over his son Charlie's involvement in the London riots(they were only doing what the Bullingdon Club boys were encouraged to do after all and caused far less damage); the cod jazz 'The Girl In The Yellow Dress' is the answer to the unasked question, 'what would a pointless remake of Pink Floyd oddity 'San Tropez' sound like if it wasn't tongue in cheek?' (Awful is the response). That wouldn't matter so such if the rest of the album was full of the sort of things Gilmour has built his career doing and he is still doing them well, but he isn't - the only things here recognisably Gilmour are the three atmospheric instrumentals, which are all nice but without lyrics or anything really distinctive come across like a film score rather than tracks worthy of a major star after a nine year wait, remarkable only for having that special guitar sound.

Instead this album's reputation is salvaged by two strong additions to the canon: 'Faces Of Stone' is a nice folky ballad in the 'Division Bell' mode full of synth-strings, cutting guitar and 'Wall' style keyboards that's a nice stab at trying to out 'Roger' Roger. And the Crosby-Nash collaboration 'A Boat Lies Waiting' beats even last year's 'Louder Than Words' in the moving stakes, a slow burning ballad about death that's lifted by Crosby and Nash's velvety harmonies into a truly sublime bit of music. The song was written for much missed Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright and does this forgotten hero proud, with 'his' style piano keys and lots of 'watery' imagery that the keen sailor would have adored (it would have slotted nicely onto his first nautical but nice album 'Wet Dream'). That song alone is enough to make this album a worthwhile purchase for Floyd fans starved of new songs (as opposed to pricey re-issues of old ones).: we only get a classic every decade or so nowadays and in the last two years we've been given two (alongside Endless River's 'Louder Than Words').

The pair of songs are closer than they seem too: had Gilmour and Samson spent more time in this darker, desperate world of departed friends and the ever-encroaching blackness of death which has been chasing the Floyd characters since the very beginning, more or less, we might yet have had an album to approach the glory days. Instead Gilmour's done just enough to prove that he can still get there and be a 'major' artist, without the enthusiasm to back this up with the donkey work needed to fill the rest of the album. Gilmour's clearly been doing some thinking about the old days and though this is a less Floyd-like album than normal, it is perhaps his most nostalgic one, full of memories, guilt trips and regrets. There's even a half-theme about time passing too quickly which crops up on around half the album, of tributes to fallen friends and worries about legacy and loved ones left behind when the time comes for Gilmour too. It's a fittingly dark subject matter for a band who've never been afraid to confront death - I just wish there'd been more serious songs on the subject, instead of 'comedy' tracks batting the idea aside. The end result is an album that, despite the sycophantic reviews around at the moment, is only really a quarter good: down on the half-good of 'On An Island' that was also far from the world beater the world claimed. The sad truth is that 'Rattle That Lock' is only really a ghost rattle, but I take my hat off to Gilmour for at least trying to open a few new doors this time.

I'm usually writing my reviews at around '5AM' when I can't sleep, but not today: its 6pm which might be why this opening track isn't quite doing it for me. A Waters-style sweep of strings suggests great promise and Gilmour can still play his signature sound as well as ever, but this is just an elongated opening instrumental, not a song. Frustratingly the melody shows more promise than almost all the other songs on the album - had this been turned into an actual sound I may well have liked it a lot, but after such an ear-catching opening this just noodles along. I think the idea of the title was that this is a worry keeping the narrator awake, but sadly it's sending me to sleep.

Title track 'Rattle That Lock' asks the grim reaper to come back another time and that 'heaven can wait' because Gilmour has a lot still to do. A nice idea loosely tying in with 'A Boat Lies Waiting', but alas it's not really developed: the lyrics never get past that striking image while the melody sounds like Beatley pop done with modern production values in mind. A timid riff paws at the idea rather than rocks: of all the songs Gilmour's ever written you'd think this one about not having enough 'Time' (and not a million miles away from that song) would be made with urgency and energy, but this one does the usual Gilmour trick of breaking away for a pointless middle eight that just repeats all the riffs and ideas that have come before but with even less going on. Not so much rattling the lock as having a long lie down.

'Faces Of Stone' is a good song though and one that sounds as if David Gilmour has been watching the 'weeping angels' episodes of Doctor Who. Even at the greatest most important moments of his life - embracing his lover 'in the park' - he feels the eyes of time boring into him, reminding him of how fleeting and precious these moments are. However it's a loved one's he's comforting, a partner bowed down by the weight of their past who can't do anything except talk about it the night they meet. My guess is that this is Polly talking about her point of view when she first met her husband, back in the 1980s when Gilmour really was in a bad way haunted by his Floydian past. It's a lovely and very Floydian song about hidden messages and mis-communication that would have slotted in well on 'Division Bell' - the lover is 'wearing a mask' but the narrator is canny enough to 'believe every word you said' because they still happened to be true. This realisation of a genuine connection who isn't out to hurt him is enough to inspire Gilmour to a blistering guitar solo that's his best in years, frightened yet comforted all at the same time. This song may not have the greatest melody in the world, but its juggling with ideas and the terrific performance it coaxes out of Gilmour make this one a real joy.

This leads quite gloriously into 'A Boat Lies Waiting', a sequel to 'On An Island' with even more vibrant and suitable Crosby-Nash harmonies, like a pair of angel's wings taking the song up to Heaven. This is, you see, a song about death written in tribute to Rick Wright who'd have surely loved this quiet understated melancholic song, so close to his own style. Gilmour does a good job of copying his partner's simple yet profound open piano chords, tacks on his own sleepy guitar and even reminds us of Rick's great 'death' song 'The Great Gig In The Sky' with a spoken extract from Rick himself debating death ('It's like going into the sea...there's nothing').  Polly's lyrics get the delicate theme spot on: if life is an 'island' then death is the sea and the boat lies waiting for us all one day, to take us on a trip to the unknown, the 'other' world still bleeding through into ours at moments of silence if you listen hard enough. Gilmour sounds painfully sad as he realises that after being adrift at sea together 'now I'm drifting through without you in this sad barcarolle' (an Italian song associated with Gondoliers apparently - trust Gilmour to still be extending my vocabulary this late on in the game!) Regular readers will know how much I adore CSN, even the modern CSN no one else seems to like, but these harmonies are the best C-N have done in years, truly, hauntingly fragile but tough, bittersweet, halfway between heaven and the earth. Rick, a true sailor, finds the perfect match in three fellow boat lovers who've all had their share of loss and the result is so overwhelmingly powerful, with Gilmour clearly having learnt a lot from his friend's muses and music. The only negative part is that after an elongated two minute instrumental opening that could really have been cut the song ends far too prematurely, fading away just after only a second chorus. Perhaps that's the whole point though: this life, this journey, is far too short and there's nothing we can do about it.

Unfortunately the ugly 'Dancing Right In Front Of You' takes us crashing back to our world and is curiously flat-footed. An angular riff gives way to a melody that sounds like it belongs in a modern Lloyd-Webber musical that returns to the same old tired theme of falling out of love. Some of Polly's lines are great ('In watchful dependence a satellite spins, cautiously circling the space I am in') but an awful lot of them are clunky ('Dancing here in front of me all the lives I once could see'). Even a fierce brief Gilmour solo can't get this song out of trouble, soon reverting back to an awful cod-blues riff (I was very surprised Jools Holland didn't commandeer this part on Gilmour's last appearance on the show - it's very much down his line of playing), although this next batch of harmonies (by session men and more Beach Boys than CSN) are pretty nice too.

At nearly seven minutes 'In Any Tongue' feels like the album epic, but alas it's one of those overblown 'Les Miserables' types rather than the glory days of old when Floyd could do this sort of thing. The idea is once again sound: this is clearly at least in part about the media backlash against the Gilmour's adopted son Charlie (once the toddler who hangs up the phone at the tail end of 'Division Bell') but its poorly handled  and false sounding ('What have I done? God help my son!...No sugar is enough to bring sweetness to his cup'). Charlie might perhaps have been better served by his dad haranguing the Coalition government for giving Charlie and his pals reasons to protest in the first place (Charlie was briefly jailed for 'damaging' the Cenotaph, a World War One memorial, a ridiculous charge given that the protestors weren't damaging property but pointing out the damage caused to human beings - the soldiers fought for the freedom or ordinary people and their rights to protest much more than they did a piece of stone with their names on it). A lost opportunity, enlivened only by a punchy, powerful guitar solo played with real venom.

'Beauty' is the album's second instrumental and is curiously named: 'Haunting' is a closer description of an instrumental that like '5AM' hints at a sleepless night of worry. It's a nice piece in its own way but again feels like an overture to a bigger work rather than a free-standing piece - it's certainly no 'Marooned' though I'd still take it over 'Terminal Frost' or most of the 'Endless River' album to be honest.

The jazz lounge 'Girl In The Yellow Dress' is the most peculiar love song Gilmour has written yet. In fact just whose song is it? Polly is again credited with the lyrics even though they're clearly about 'her' ('Dark eyes compelling as bourbon' is a pretty neat description). If so then it's a) slightly odd to write a love song to yourself and b) makes Gilmour out to be the victim and Polly out to be the man-eater who knows exactly what she's doing. Gilmour sounds happier here than he did covering the similar 'I Put A Spell On You', released on a Jools Holland 'Big Band' album.

'Today' tries to imagine Gilmour's death, but he's far more pompous about his own passing than his friend's. The song starts with an organ and a choir, asking his friends and family to 'dwell upon such murmurations' before turning into a slab of 80s funk pop that wouldn't have sounded out of place on 'About Face' (is this how 'Blue Light' was supposed to sound? The two riffs are very similar). Polly's lyrics try to make out how precious life is and how we shouldn't waste it on petty fights, but Gilmour's music sounds like a boxing match, angry and snarling without any beauty. Only a sweeping 'too late' chorus from the backing singers sticks in the memory while some of the lyrics are truly awful even though as a description of a Gilmour funeral pyre they should be the most moving yet ('Evening star, a guitar in the smoke of the fire, light of gold in the garden of old..')

The album then fades on a muted note with third instrumental 'And Then...' It's the best of the three, though it sounds close enough to 'Marooned' to make no difference, only not played with quite so much passion and with some awful tinny drums. This is clearly meant to be a muse about the afterlife, but Gilmour sounds like he's sauntering, going for a quick walk in the park rather than entering the great mystery of life.
Overall, then, 'Rattle That Lock' could have worked. Gilmour tries to rage against the dying of the light with everything he's got, but this is a record that works better with quiet contemplation that restless urgency and anger. Had the rest of the album been more like the quiet contemplative middle, this could have been not only the best Gilmour solo album but one of the best albums in the Floyd canon, sounding enough like the band always have whilst going somewhere slightly new. Alas the rest of the album is either recycled and inferior to past works or trying too hard to be something else. Despite some moments of pure connection and emotion, the lock of Gilmour's personality and drive remains firmly in place for another album, with only a hint of the 'real' him. Which in the context of Floyd traditions is perhaps how it should be. aUNTINHaun

 Other Floyd-related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:


‘Obscured By Clouds’ (1972) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/pink-floyd-obscured-by-clouds-1972_3681.html

‘Animals’ (1977) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/pink-floyd-animals-1977.html

'The Wall' (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-76-pink-floyd-wall-1979.html

'The Final Cut' (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/pink-floyd-final-cut-1983.html

'A Momentary Lapse Of Reason' (1987) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2013/12/pink-floyd-momentary-lapse-of-reason.html


The Best Unreleased Pink Floyd Recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/the-best-unreleased-pink-floyd-songs.html




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