Monday, 12 June 2017
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part One)/Welcome To The Machine//Have A Cigar/Wish You Were Here/Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part Two)
'Running over the same old ground, what have we found? The same old fears - wish you were here'
How do you follow up a record everyone, including your worst critics and rivals, hailed as a masterpiece? Why you make another masterpiece of course! Or at least that's what the perfectionist Pink Floyd set out to do with this album, some three years delayed from the success of 'Dark Side Of The Moon'. The path was a difficult one though including half of one aborted album made up of the sounds of household objects (which sounds more promising than critics always say, but at the Floyd's usual speed was complicated enough for them to still be working on it now!) and half of another (which will with a few lyrical tweaks and a colossal change of perspective will become 'Animals' in 1977) before the Floyd finally fell into the most natural 'concept' facing a band who's seen such a massive success: an equally massive fear of failure. If it wasn't for the Floyd's trademark epic style and production sound (which is drawn out to its greatest length across this album, the most 'Pink Floydesque' of them all) you'd be hard pressed to believe this was the same band as 'Dark Side' simply because The Floyd go about things in an entirely different way. 'Dark Side' was a concept about life written from the beginning, made by a band feeling confident and sharp after recent successes and moulded into shape after lengthy tours which represent the peak of the Floyd as a combined, fully-functioning unit. For all the album's tales of woe and worries, what made it sell more than anything else was the confidence levels, as the band pulled off eleven ridiculous game-changers per track and still tied it up in little digestible nuggets everyone (nearly) could understand. By contrast 'Wish You Were Here' is the sound of a dejected band going through oh so many bad times of their own making musical and personal and figuring that it was all over so they may as well just write whatever, with the gloom in the room the 'real' subject matter on display.
Roger Waters' most quoted line about this project is that he thought in retrospect they should have named it 'Wish We Were Here' in reference to how dejected and disinterested the band were. What nobody mentions is what a change it is: every Floyd album up to and especially 'Dark Side' are assertive works all about changing the world around you, whether it be in this world, hippies in a French colony, cutting people up into little pieces or roadies having breakfast. The 'moral' of 'Dark Side' especially is about not waiting for other people to tell you when to start living your life because it's happening now and will be gone before you know it, so stop being distracted by life's petty concepts and act! By contrast 'Wish You Were Here' is a passive album, full of re-actions into life events beyond the narrator's control. It's a record about absence, not presence, haunted by ghosts of lovers and bandmates gone and the spectre of unfinished business, while even the band's biggest successes can't help them escape the twin issues that have them pinned and helpless: the music business machine and the capitalist machine. For all its woe 'Dark Side' made the world sound a great place to be - yes 'Money' is sarcastic but it's sung with joy, not yet greed, 'Us and Them' sees a solution to divisions and wars up and down human history so obvious it hurts ('be kind to one another and embrace your similarities without getting hung up on the differences!') and even 'The Great Gig In The Sky' sounds like a nice place to end up thanks to Clare Terry's beautiful voice. 'Wish You Were Here' though is a world where everyone hurts you, either by leaving you or never leaving you alone. Throughout Roger Waters' second set of complete album lyrics runs the theme of betrayal from the last people he ever thought would let him down: the loved one of the title track, the music world he embraced so whole-heartedly in his youth, the 'machine' he was brought up to think was kind and caring but turns out to be evil and soul-destroying and most of all the band-mate with so many ideas always pouring out of him it seemed like he would never, ever stop. If ever there was an album of grief it's this one, which starts with what sounds like the most melancholy synth chord in existence that's held on to for a full four minutes before the band finally learn to 'let go' and which ends with a five minute eulogy that cries deep dark bittersweet tears. 'Wish You Were Here' is an album that begs for our forgiveness for ever being told that life was kind of OK, because it isn't.
Why is this album, the sequel to a mega blockbuster success after all, quite so 'down'? Well, Roger was in a funny place in the head since 'Dark Side' came out (1974 especially). His childhood marriage to first wife Linda is over, with the way that such love turned to such hatred so fast the dominant theme of his next few works (of all the 'bricks' in 'The Wall' it's the loss of Pink's girlfriends that causes him to truly go insane at last, the 'last straw' after a hard life). Nick Mason, too, was in the middle of a painful divorce to wife Lindy (who plays the flute to his drums on 'The Grand Vizier's Garden Party'). David and Rick's first marriages are also coming unglued, both falling apart after the release of this album and before the next two. When this happens to bands they either get tighter together or looser, blaming the music and touring for the problems in their personal life. The Floyd took the latter course, finding out with bemusement and more than a little resentment that their dreams of collectively 'making it big', answered by 'Dark Side', hadn't solved any of their problems really: they were still unhappy and just happened to now be unhappy with the world and their dog (and pig and sheep) staring at their every move, an uncomfortable experience for a band as resentful of publicity as the Floyd. What's more the irony is that 'Dark Side' was a record that had seemed to warn against success, that 'Money' was a trap as you can't take it with you when you die - or go mad. Becoming disillusioned millionaires who really didn't want to make another record and didn't need to make another record, but who really didn't want to go out and face the world because they'd decided not to make another record, they were in a stalemate.
The Floyd also knew how quickly times change, for everybody. Almost half this album's running time is taken up with 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond', a requiem for Syd Barrett. The Floyd were in such an unusual position here. Of all the other bands of the last fifty years only two other bands who made records you could name had band members who had effectively 'gone mad': one was Moby Grape (who never sold anywhere near enough records to reach the level of influence the Floyd had - Skip Spence, once of Jefferson Airplane, being the casualty) and the other was The Manic Street Preachers (who after Richey Edwards walked out on them and his family and 'disappeared' went down exactly the Floyd tack of songs about absence and loss). The Floyd felt they owed it, as the new hottest thing in town, to warn audiences and other bands alike just how tough and brutal the music business was. Syd didn't leave because he had enough or wasn't good enough: he was actively drained of his talents by the music 'machine', with eyes that were once full of such hope and wonder and brilliance (much like the Floyd's pre-Dark Side) turned into black seas of nothing. The Floyd spend a full twenty-five minutes in one great last pleading with Syd to come back, to pull himself together, to be as brilliant as he always was and 'lead' a band who suddenly feel like leading themselves all over again and they can't help but wonder what they might have all achieved with Syd still in the band in 1975 (no leader was more assertive than Syd at the beginning or bursting with ideas). Spookily, in a much-reported story, Syd turned up on one of the (many) days dedicated to making this song, desperate for money after five years away from the public-eye but not quite sure in his confused state where to go for it. Somehow getting past security he stood at the back, passive, balding and over-weight. Used to hangers-on the band ignored him, each one assuming one of the others had invited him, until the penny dropped that it was their leader watching them record their requiem to him, the penultimate great 'Syd' moment in their canon (if only he'd turned up for 'Nobody Home' too!)
That seems to have been the catalyst for the Floyd to pull themselves together and make this album about loss, after dithering uncertainly for the past eighteen months. Ignore what it says in the 1990s CD booklet that this album was recorded 'between January and July 1975'; actually the process stretched back as far as January 1974 in one form or another. Actually either one of the Floyd's previous ideas could have worked - indeed does work given that two songs 'Raving and Drooling' and 'You Gotta Be Crazy' already count for well over half of 'Animals'. But that album would have been perhaps a bit too acerbic, aggressive and, well, cruel for fans to take on board quite yet (It's one thing to warn the hand that feeds you not to follow you into the lions' den and quite another to physically set that lion on to them!) 'Household Objects', long dismissed as the lengthiest procrastination in rock, actually sounds like a god idea to me: Adamant that they didn't want to use 'everyday' voices again like 'Dark Side', the next logical step was 'everyday sounds': footsteps, milk bottles, pinged elastic bands and wine glasses (the one sound effect that was recycled, for the opening of 'Shine On' where it merges seamlessly with Rick's synth to 'beef up' the sound). We don't know what the songs might have sounded like when finished and Roger would have had one hell of a job writing lyrics to fit that lot, but the two finished songs (one on the deluxe 'Dark Side' set, one on the deluxe 'Wish You Were Here' set) reveals a band that were full of ideas, with a 'second' twist on the 'Dark Side' theme of looking at everyday life in a slightly different way. After spending months with just two songs half-completed and half an hour plus to fill, however, the Floyd decided to call a halt and abandon the album, following the biggest success of theirs (or - nearly - anyone's) lives with what everyone referred to as an abject failure.
Failure is the keyword of the finished 'Wish You Were Here', the band finally 'getting' their direction by focussing not so much on what they'd done as much as their fear of not quite doing it again. Poor Syd is the perfect example of what a cruel world can do to even the world's brightest and best, a diamond in reverse, not formed from a lump of hard black 'fuel' into a beautiful sparkly diamond, but a beautiful sparkly fuel fizzing with ideas turned into a black shapeless rock (or at least that's what happens to his eyes). Poor Syd never gets to see how much he meant to so many fans and how much his bandmates still miss him (the beautiful guilt-ridden 'If' aside, it's notable that the Floyd have largely ignored Syd and his legacy till now and been too concerned with rescuing their careers while they still had them - only after the success of 'Dark Side' it is clear that the Floyd can continue forever if they so choose with no record company ever being brave enough to turn down a band who once stayed in the charts for nearly a decade). 'Welcome To The Machine' reveals how the world is set up to fail each and every one of us, unless we play by its rules by becoming servants of the machine itself and its Roger's most paranoid lyric, seeing his past as nothing more than, well, another brick in the wall for the 'man' to play his puppet strings and help him enslave more people. As if to prove that the music business is as much a trap as any other the song is followed by 'Have A Cigar' and as if to prove that it isn't even a particularly Pink Floyd track band friend Roy Harper is roped into singing it after both Roger and David admit defeat (that word again: actually Roger sounds pretty good on pre-album live renditions, sneering the lyric the way the 'Teacher' reads out one of 'his' childhood poems in class in 'The Wall' film). 'Wish You Were Here' is as lost and broken and lonely as any song you'll ever hear, taking all that direction drive and purpose from 'Dark Side' and turning it into a world where nobody knows what they're doing, the narrator and his lover two goldfish chasing each other round in a goldfish bowl never quite getting it together. The pair are now on different ';wavelengths', leading to a big joke at the end as the band switch from 'FM' to 'mediumwave' (the two dominant bands of radio signal in the UK at the time. It makes perfect sense, given the topsy-turvy nature of the Floyd, that arguably Roger's most successful, poetic and hauntingly emotional lyric is not only set to David's most successful, straightforward and detached piece of music but that both are about failure. Clearly written too about Roger's failing marriage, it's a song where with all the will, all the love and all the means in the world a millionaire rock-star and his wife who've been through it all across a decade together still can't find enough in common to stay together, big success or not. 'Wish You Were Here' never made as big a splash with the general public as 'Dark Side' because failure is never as 'sexy' as success and even if 'Dark Side' had never sold a single copy it sounds like an album full of confidence, assertiveness and belief. However 'Wish You Were Here' is a fan favourite because failure is so much more of a Floyd theme than success ever was, full of the band at their most lost, their most sad and their most grief-stricken.
That's not the only difference between the two blockbusters. 'Dark Side' is a very 'busy' album which succeeds as well as it does partly thanks to engineer Alan Parsons who manages to make speech and sound effects sound like the heartbeat of the record rather than a gimmick (literally at the beginning and end!) 'Wish You Were Here' is a record of big empty silences, long wastelands of emptiness and a cold frosty feel that makes even its most emotional moments feel guarded. It's an album dominated, for the last time, by Rick's unique sounding keyboards that manage to sound as close to a robot as anyone had come pre-Kraftwerk. The album opens with four minutes of next to nothing and ends nearly the same way, with only the lightning bolt of a David Gilmour guitar part breathing blood into the album. It's a sound only the Floyd could have made work, one of profound emptiness as the lovers never meet, the musician discovers he's still part of the machine (twice!) and the band's chief inspiration ends his days quietly fading away. Rick deserves huge applause for his nuances and space, putting to good use all the lessons the Floyd had learnt on their previous few albums (not just 'Dark Side' but 'Meddle' especially), learning how to make the 'gaps' and silences where nothing happens as important as the parts that are. Rick gets the whole final eight minutes or so to himself (Nick's drums aside) and it's sad to think that it's virtually a last hurrah for the band's co-founder, the band's quietest member the perfect instrument for the quietest moment of the band's quietest album. Gilmour gets the opposite job, charging like a bull through 'Machine' and 'Cigar' with all the wild fury of a heavy metal band, but there's a difference between the taut disciplined lines of 'Dark Side' and this album as he gets more and more frustrated, his solo on 'Machine' especially amongst his best work (and a good 'warm-up for arguably his best work on 'Dogs'). Nick gets little to do, certainly compared to 'Dark Side', but few drummers would have 'understand' this alienated lonely and helpless little album as well as he and his cymbal work during the second 'Shine On' especially is stunning, a slow-motion, feet-dragging 'do I have to?' as the band finally bids us goodbye.
This is, however, Roger's baby - even more than 'Dark Side' was. Waters underwent something of a change in personality around here, going from being firm but fair and part of a democracy to being 'bloody unreasonable' according to many reports. I think part of the problem was that, after years as (roughly) a democracy in between Syd bowing out in 1968 and 'Obscured By Clouds' in 1972, Roger had started dominating the band, with 'Dark Side' his concept and every word his work too (even if Rick actually gets more credits on that album, courtesy of his involvement in instrumentals). For this album he sat back to see what the others would bring - but found they were waiting for him. With so much going wrong at home, you get the sense that Roger really really really didn't want to be in the recording studio delivering another baby in 1975, but facing that or releasing nothing wrote an album about his feelings and went through hell to make it. This was a hell he never quite forgave his fellow bandmates for and will lead him to 'assume' his leader role on the next three Floyd albums, even to the point of becoming a crazy dictatorship for a time.
Hipgnosis and Storm Thorgerson too deserve a whole machine-load full of kudos for their part in this album's artwork, which has been much pored after ever since, as full of imagery and surrealism as this album ie empty and quite often brutal. While stupidly changed for the CD re-issues with whole new ugly pictures (why do that?!), the original LP is a work of beauty. The album originally came in its own unique black bag, as if hiding the record from view (and fitting with album themes of failure and not wanting to be 'looked at'). A 'seal' over the top (an unbroken one thus becoming an instant collector's item!) features a fleshy hand and a robotic one meeting in the middle, a 'pact' between the human and machine worlds, over a 'backdrop' of each of the four elements: earth, fire, air and water. The album cover underneath focussed on 'fire', shot in the parking lot of movie studio Warner Brothers (why? They were rivals with EMI weren't they?!) where two businessmen are shaking hands and one of them is, literally, getting 'burned' but appears to feel nothing (and yes one poor stuntman really was set on fire, although his business suit is actually a flame-retardant suit and he got 'put out' immediately, with the cover shot as quickly as possible). Unfortunately a first take went wrong when the wind blew the wrong way and the poor chap got the edges of his moustache singed - what a courageous move to agree to a second take after that! The other image shots featured on the back and middle of the original's gatefold sleeve were easier to shoot: For 'Earth' we see a businessman in the Yuma Desert who isn't 'really there' with just his clothes, shoes, hat and briefcase depicted (his features air-brushed out by computer). For 'Air' a naked woman floated past, barely seen inside her dress, floating around in Norfolk. For 'Water' a diver splashes into California's Mono Lake without causing any ripples; the most time-consuming picture which meant the poor swimmer had to stand still for several minutes, holding his breath. The actual record label itself features an 'extra' image, of a swimmer drowning in the desert, getting his 'elements' out of kilter (this cover may well be referring to the Medieval medicinal belief that a patient had four 'humours' of air, earth, fire and water that had to be kept in 'alignment' equal with one another and that illness was a case of one getting out of control compared to the others, which is as good an explanation before the knowledge of bacteria and viruses as any I suppose). The Floyd, expecting big things of Hipgnosis after 'Dark Side', asked not to see the designs until they were final (although for the first time Storm got to hear the music for 'clues' as they were making it) and when they first saw the mock-up cover, complete with bag, they all applauded. sadly things will never go this well for Hipgnosis and their most high-profile clientele ever again...
Overall, then, 'Wish You Were Here' is something of an odd fish adrift in a tiny goldfish-bowl of its own self-indulgent making compared to the sheer accessibility and everyman status of 'Dark Side'. Not everyone (you hope) would identify with this album's songs of heartbroken loss, mind-breaking paranoia or soul-destroying visions of a friend, leader and inspiration turning slowly inside out from light to darkness. And yet this is an album fans keep coming back to, partly I think because it feels 'special' and offers something no other album (including every other Floyd album) can. Grief is a hard thing to keep up in an album and no other album I know stays there for good ('The Wall' perhaps comes close, but that album also features anger, bitterness, fear, dark humour and ultimately hope, not to mention lust). Most albums are 'afraid' to anywhere near somewhere as bleak as this album's landscape, full of wild empty spaces, broken promises and hearts too numb and exhausted to cry proper tears. But this one revels in its misery, turning the screws up so high that you can't help but feel touched by it, even whilst the Floyd try the double-trick of keeping this album largely emotion-free. There are other albums as mad, sad and dangerous to know as this one -and other albums as cool, calm and level-headed. But never together. The sound of a child whose stopped crying because no adult comes to feed or play with it anymore and he's left to fend for himself in a cold grey world but inwardly never stops crying, it's a record for lonely misfits and struggling geniuses alike. Is it Pink Floyd's greatest work as so many people say? Not quite - not with just four songs (and one of them a novelty comedy) and much as I love 'Shine On' nine parts of it is at least two too many. 'Dark Side' has so much more going on and therefore so much more to enjoy, while 'The Wall' looks at disintegration in an even more unique and thorough manner and even unloved, ignored albums like polar opposites 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' (fun and fierce) and 'The Final Cut' (political and pathetic) offer me personally a much more intriguing and fulfilling listen. But there's no mistaking this album's cold-hearted power either: for an album about failure, made in a relative hurry after the abortion of two others, it's still one hell of a success.
At first the recording of 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' was a failure too. The Floyd all agreed that it was their most promising song written by 1974 and given that the Floyd didn't agree on a lot back then it was an obvious track to spend a lot of time on. But a first early version just didn't work, though to be too slow and boring and not 'epic' enough to be the cornerstone of an album. After several expensive weeks the band tried again, recording what they considered to be a tighter, more powerful version of the song only to find a few days later on playback that two of the channels recorded had been draped in echo (while the others weren't) which put the whole song out of synch (so far neither version has been released). Dejected the band started a third time, far more disillusioned than before - but fittingly for the composition this is a real case of triumph out of adversity and the performance that grew out of these trials ended up embracing the best of both versions, together with some new additions, such as Gilmour's majestic four-note guitar riff which now became the 'link' between Rick's mournful synths and Roger's equally mournful lyric. The track is unusually structured into multiple 'sections' and apparently split into two 'halves' almost from the minute the song was born (the second half doesn't differ from the first half as much as you might think). The sub-sections are marked, in part one, as I (0:00 when Rick hits the saddest chord in rock history), II (2:09, when Gilmour's bluesy guitar starts sighing along), III (3:54, when Gilmour hits the mother of all guitar riffs, pausing to let it s power sink in before the rest of the band finally answer the call-to-arms and chime in at 4:30), IV (6:27, when Rick hits the 'trumpet' setting on his synth) and finally (for now) Part V. It takes a full 8:42 until the lyrics come in at all and many first-time-round Floyd fans assumed this track was going to be left as an instrumental.
However it isn't and the lyrics are the central part of the song - it's just that, to hear them, the stage has to be set and this song about coaxing, helping and abetting talent and visionaries needs to take it's sweet time, just as the band mourning the loss of it needs their 'space' too. It's as if the band get to mourn Syd in turn: Rick, his original right-hand man, setting the tone with his melancholy, close friend Gilmour turning in sad anger, Nick his friend hitting a drum with true misery and finally Roger, Syd's biggest devotee, writing a lyric of desperate betrayal and hurt. What a lyric it is too, both a celebration and a commiseration for rare talent, as Roger tries one last time to urge his friend out of his shell and back to what he used to be, to 'shine'. Waters grew up with attention falling naturally on Syd: he was so full of life and a ball of energy that everyone naturally deferred to him, seeing him as a 'sun' giving off heat - now the tables are turned and it's Roger in the spotlight and Roger in the shadows as the bass-player tries to get his friend to 'shine' once more. The lines about being 'caught in the cross-fire of childhood and stardom' are the two things that most 'got' to Syd, as fame and attention and responsibility sat so poorly with the childlike qualities (and songs) that fans flocked to hear. Now Syd is a rock and roll myth, no longer a human being, a 'target for far-away laughter' whenever anyone writes a story dissing the Floyd. In a second verse, that comes several minutes later, Syd 'reached for the secret too soon', falling so heavily into drugs and his own mind that he left himself no way back to talk to us mere mortals still waiting for the answers. Roger is a caring friend here, trying to protect him from 'shadows at night' and the harsh spot 'light' that exposes his character to the world, with everyone wanting a piece of him including his inner demons. He's realistic enough thought to tell us that Syd 'wore out his welcome with random precision', a great line that rings true with the accounts you can read in most Floyd biogs of Syd's behaviour in early 1968, when he was reliably unreliable but in a different and more unmanageable way each day. Along the way Roger tries to see Syd as a bigger character than any of the restrictive labels the music press use, but even he can only think of single descriptive words that all sound rather other-worldly. Syd is no longer remembered as a human being but as a legend, a martyr, a raver, a 'seer of visions', a painter, most sweetly a 'piper' (a name-check for the Floyd's first and Syd's only band album 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn') and most hauntingly as a 'prisoner', a life of freedom now given way to one small house in one small street of one small town of one small country. It's an astonishing lyric, personal to the story and so accurate that nobody could be in any doubt who it referred to and yet resonating for anyone whose ever grieved for someone lost, whether to death or for someone's real self, knows where this lyric is coming from.
The performance is slow and sullen, deliberately conceived so that it feels like the heaviest thing in the universe. The Floyd seem to have deliberately gone for the 'feel' of Syd as he is now rather than he was 'then', claustrophobic and trapped, but there are touches of sunshiney brilliance dotted throughout the song both to keep us interested and to remind us of what Syd once represented. There are lots of great subtle touches, which is odd given that the song is so straightforward and bare (and slow). There's the 'wine glasses' piece from the abandoned 'Household Objects', which seem to have been quite coincidentally fitted the key of the song (or maybe this third re-make was deliberately made in that key so as to use them?), twinkling away under Rick's opening synth-work. There's a whole choir of female backing singers as per 'Dark Side' but here they're used sparingly for colour, way down the bottom of the mix. There's some lovely harmony work from Gilmour which points the way forward to his future solo/post-Roger Floyd performances of this song where his sweet falsetto offers a very different interpretation than Roger's still-hurting, still-vulnerable performance here. There's even a saxophone solo from band friend Dick Parry, returning after the success of his star turn on 'Money' which should be the last thing that could work in such a setting ('Shine On' is slow, sad and humble - saxophones are fast, joyous and epic) but somehow does, answering Roger's vocal in a whole different 'language' as if Syd is speaking to us in tongues we can't quite hear. When the song started life, as a few melancholic Rick Wright phrases, few would have guessed they'd end up here, but Roger's lyric and David's guitar riff both clearly point to such a song and Syd was clearly on everyone's minds now that the band were enjoying the success they'd once dreamed of with him in the band. It's a sweet tribute, a little too long and slow in places (Part IV could have been cut out with no loss whatsoever and it's a brave if not foolhardy decision to keep this song playing for a full thirty seconds before you can hear anything on even the highest setting of your vinyl or CD player) but from the heart and doing the Pink Floyd thing of paying a huge emotional tribute to a bandmate who was clearly still much loved and much missed, without getting all emotional about it. No wonder so many fans like it and rate it so highly, although for most of the wider public this track lacks the power and universality of most of 'Dark Side' and 'Comfortably Numb'.
As we fade on the sax solo we're met with the ugly alien landscape of chugging robots and blaring synths. The segue to 'Welcome To The Machine' seems designed to portray Syd - a unique creative genius - and his madness as an unfortunate by-product of an industry designed to make us all the same and for all of us to make money for our higher-paymasters. Success didn't soften Roger the way it did so many of his peers - on the contrary, once his livelihood was assured he got darker and meaner in his pursuit of portraying life the way he saw it (ie darkly). He turned up to the band's revived 1975 sessions with this song's lyric in tow and probably got an equally dark reception from his bandmates as this song takes the acerbicness and acidness of 'Dark Side' to new levels. There isn't a collective of outside pressures we have to face up to on this song - instead there's only one pressure and it's a colossal one, to hunker down, to get a job, to live out a certain lifestyle, to make money (a little for us and a lot for the 'machine') and no one escapes it, except through madness it seems. The 'machine' (ie 'the man') know everything about us: they have our names, they provide us with 'toys'; designed to turn us into good citizens and run 'scout' meetings and school to develop this instinct. They 'allow' us dreams they can control of stardom and music before we discover that they too are a trap and they 'own' that as well, with music and art a factory-line of pressure to live up to past glories and flog your guts out promoting your new ones. Everyone whose 'thick' lives inside the system because they can't imagine life outside it - and everyone whose 'clever' still can't escape it, following each other in a long line of disillusioned artists scrabbling for pennies, buying guitars to 'punish your ma' even though she's got the world behind her telling you to 'knuckle down' and 'get a proper job' and rebelling against a school system that can mark you down for life if you go too far and fail your exams.
It's a stupid corrupt evil system, recycled by every generation that comes to power, and doesn't Roger know it, using up his spare time between recordings writing a melody and backing for his monster of a mini-masterpiece. This is a song that sounds huge and even more sterile and uncaring than 'Crazy Diamond', especially when treated with endless amounts of machines apparently running a 'rinse cycle' until the throbs between programmes slowly come together to form a beat that's joined by David's guitar and Rick's gloriously sinister synth. Gilmour, who apparently wasn't that taken with the song, still sings the vocal double-tracked: one voice angry, snarling and haunted, the other spoken, calm and cool. The result is eerie, as if David's inner turmoil is already being drained out of him by the 'machine', made to behave, to get into line, not to shout. The only emotion, ironically, comes from Roger's glorious bleeping electronics who cackle, stomp, march and yell their way through the song, the closing alien landscape seemingly tearing our characters to bits. Only a short flamenco-like burst from Gilmour's guitar escapes the entrapment for any length of time, twice, before being slapped down by the synths as two Roger basses seemingly 'throw' the melody from one hand to another. But it's short-lived, dying in a thunderous drum roll from Nick. On this song evil wins and it still sounds pretty stunning today - goodness only knows what it must have sounded like back in 1975 when these synths were still fairly new!
'Have A Cigar', a leftover from 1974, doesn't really fit. It's not just the lyrics, which are no longer direct and honest but acerbic and sarcastic and dripping with 'haha jokes on you!' glee in contrast to the rest of this pulling-no-punched album. It's not just the melody which goes back to featuring 'proper' instruments and up-front guitars, the one track here that a pre-'Dark Side' Floyd fanatic might have recognised on first hearing. It's not even that - in a move surely unthinkable by any other major group of its day - none of the Floyd sing this song (Roy Harper was asked to take part by Roger after he nixed his own vocal and David requested not to sing it as he didn't agree with it). It's everything: 'Have A Cigar' is the 'real' world breaking through this album's cosy if melancholic little sojourn, the little nagging voice of industry that seems to repeat from 'Money' all over again but from a more specific music-business point of view. The song is sung from the point of view of a record executive, overjoyed at an album's unexpectedly good sales after they'd dismissed the talents creating it as no-hopers messing around (it's not much of a stretch to see this as EMI's re-action to 'Dark Side', especially the 'Which one's Pink?' gag which apparently really was uttered in the band's presence during a meeting with an American record company executive who had never heard of the band and assumed it was a person's name, not two obscure bluesmen stuck together).
The record executive's cigars are seen as a symbol of his over-indulgent rich lifestyle and offered to 'us', the 'rockstar', as we're clearly now 'one of them' now we've made some money. Along the way we get called 'Dear Boy', get told what 'respect' he has for us, get told to rife the 'gravy train' for as long as it lasts and get told to look at the 'charts' to measure our success. Nowhere does this music label boss talk to this musician about music, which rather says it all. Roger must have been really feeling the pressure from everyone to come up with another album that sold as many copies as 'Dark Side' which was clearly impossible - if the band knew how to get that big that quick they'd have done so with album one of their career, not album eight. Roger is already feeling pressure enough from himself to write an album that's as good, creative, artistic, meaningful, groundbreaking and moving as his past record - he doesn't care less for the sales and the two are clearly looking at the world through different eyes. This song is, like 'Machine', another 'trap' - musically too, stuck together with a rigid bass note and synth system (Roger and Rick working together well, for nearly the last time), with the dashes of colour and freedom only represented by David's angry squeals on the guitar (His solo at the end of the song is one of his best, going from mocking and hollow and flashy to desperate in the time it takes Rick's synths to 'swoosh'). As for Roy, he's tremendous and although the band have all since regretted 'giving this song away' (and as magnificent as Roger sounds on bootleg performances of this track from 1974) he's the outside voice this song needs. Nobody would have believed a word the Floyd had said, but hearing someone else we hadn't come across before, acting as a 'guest' voice on the album, we're temporarily fooled by what this track is really all about. Maybe we are meant to care what people think of us and make money to feed our families and line the pockets of greedy record executive fat-cats and...hang on a minute, we nearly fell into that trap ourselves as listeners there, it's such an easy hole to fall into and everyone around you seems to want you to fall into it, whether you're a musician or a creative or not. The result is a song that lacks the layers of this album's other four pieces but is, nevertheless, a forgotten and under-rated song. Perhaps missing the point (deliberately?), EMI released this as a single in a few countries they had power over, but sensibly took the Floyd's advice to leave this album 45-less in the UK and USA.
As if to show just how 'far away' from the Floyd's own interpretation of 'success' this is, a funny thing happens during the segue to the next track as, without warning, the full thick heavy metal sound of 'Have A Cigar' 'whooshes' and turns tinny on us, mimicking the sound of an FM Radio (the place most singles were turned into hits back in 1975 before the internet and talent shows). It's a brilliant invention, especially when the haunting guitar lick to 'Wish You Were Here' itself starts up and David starts playing along to himself in 'our' dimension, the two guitars so far apart yet still so much in tune it physically hurts. This song has become a beloved fan favourite for a reason: it's possibly the world's most unemotional band's most emotional track and despite the poetry, despite the slow tune where not much happens, despite the emptiness at the heart of the song it says so much. This is a song about two people who want to like and be with each other not quite getting it together for something petty and minor. Roger probably wrote it about his disintegrating first marriage, still unsure as to why it was going so wrong. To fans it's ambiguous enough to mean anything they want it to mean. The song takes a picture-postcard sentiment spoken everyday ('How I wish you were here') and makes it deeper: the narrator doesn't just want his loved one to tag along with him to the beach he wants to be with her for the rest of his life, to experience everything with, to share everything with, for life to mean something with.
As so often happens with Roger's warmer-hearted songs he passes this one to David to sing and he excels, even though it's subtle poetry is a world away from anything he's ever had to sing before. The grass is not always greener apart: indeed the green field the lover left for turns out to be a 'cold steel rail', at least for the narrator left behind, while her vision of Heaven is his Hell and her blue skies 'pain'. Syd's spectre might linger again on the line about 'trading heroes for ghosts', while 'trees' full of life have become 'hot ashes' of death and 'change', that great lure, has become 'cold comfort' dished out by a patronising world. Roger then returns to the theme of his lost father Eric Fletcher Waters, whose death in WW2 as a conscientious objector made to fight anyway is going to dominate the next few years of Floyd-dom as he sums up the only possible ends to life: a 'walk-on part in the war' or a lead role in a cage'. It's the last verse though that makes this song, as a sad narrator bidding a minor key farewell suddenly shifts position, the love in his heart rising up as he tries one last time to wish his loved one was here and seeing the world the way he does. Without her - and for her without him - they're just 'two lost souls swimming in a fish-bowl', trapped to go over the same old ground over and over. Apart they're failures. Together, though, they could have accomplished anything. Fittingly for a song about collaboration this remains the one last great moment written equally by Roger (words) and David (music), rather than Roger writing music to an abandoned Gilmour recording (as per 'Comfortably Numb') or David putting his seal on an abandoned set of Waters lyrics (as per 'Young Lust'). Both are in perfect sync here, with David inspired by Roger to write his lovely sighing melody. It's a piece so raw and vulnerable that you can hear every last pick of his guitar (at least the one nearest us), including the tap of a string as he slides down to a new note. Only at the end does this song give way slightly, ending up a busked Gilmour sing-song and like many a Floyd song lasting a minute or two too long as it slowly searches for answers but only finds a fade. Even so, it remains one of the greatest ever Floyd songs, as poignant as any song in their canon and somehow twice as heart-warming.
Do the lovers get back together again? Not in 'real' life and probably not on album where the song fades instead to a swirl of wind as we return to the scene of 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part Two). This time the mood is meaner, darker, more desperate - less sad, more angry. It may be that the band saw the 'middle' tracks of this album as an explanation to what happened to Syd, broken by conformity, record executives and loneliness. This time around there are nine 'parts': VI (0:00, starting with Rick's throbbing synth and ending up in a wild screaming Gilmour guitar and ending in the only truly 'loud' and out of control moment on the album), VII (4:55 when the song lightens it's mood briefly to return to the main theme and Roger's third verse), VIII (6:24 with its lightly rolled Gilmour arpeggios that suddenly turn into a jazzy 'come on!' urgent take on the haunting refrain) and IX (9:03, when the song goes back to where it nearly began, with a haunting troubled synth version of the main theme and three Ricks all compete with each other to shed bittersweet tears, the song finally ending on a fade as the song drifts away, a cry to Syd to come back left unanswered). That third lyric is by far the most striking moment in the second half of the song, now set in the present day not the past: 'Nobody knows where you are' sighs Roger (not strictly true - the Floyd paid for Roger's house! But making a lot of sense in abstract terms as Syd disappears into himself) before adding that, as on 'If' and 'Brain Damage', Waters too feels himself breaking under the pressure of living and may well be 'joining you there'. The song ends sort-of happily, as Roger imagines getting so far out of it that he somehow ends up roughly where Syd is now and the pair can take up their old friendship, and 'bask in the shadow of yesterday's triumph'. Roger's chilling vocal has never sounded more desperate and despite the words you can tell he believes that they will never actually come true. Instead he leaves off with one last cry of 'Shine' throwing in a few more descriptions of Syd for good measure (a 'boy-child' and - notably given this album's theme of failure - 'a winner and loser', Syd embracing both at different times in his life). The result is a second half that doesn't quite match up to the first and once again has a whole section that could have been skipped entirely (VIII this time, however good Rick's playing). But it's a song that feels as if it needs to be this long somehow, asking Floydians to remember both effect after showing us cause and demonstrating again just how badly the band still miss their comrade in arms. For us fans who miss Syd too, both in mind at the time and body since, it's a moving tribute.
Overall, then, 'Wish You Were Here' is an album that I'm surprised is as loved and regarded as it is. That's not to say it's a record unworthy of adulation at all: every song has its place, each one is powerful and each one does its job, quite miraculously so in the case of the title track, one of the greatest AAA achievements of them all. But this is an often cold, frequently dark album full of clues and symbolism, not to mention just four actual songs. It feels in many ways as if this album was made to be deliberately heavy-going, to put off the average record fan who might be interested in buying this record after 'Dark Side' and to make them think twice about turning Pink Floyd into part of the 'system' again. You suspect even fans used to the highs and lows of 'Atom Heart Mother' and 'Ummagumma' might have second thoughts about a slow-burning album of just four songs where everything happens under the surface. And yet this album did well, reaching #1 in the UK (which is something 'Dark Side' technically never did) and not just in record sales terms but by word of mouth as well, this album passed on from friends and family in exactly the same way as 'Dark Side'. Though less 'obvious' a listening experience, written with codes, hints and sarcasm, it's still an album a lot of us clearly identify with, a warm heart radiating and pulsating just strongly enough underneath cold clouds of loss, despair, grief, frustration, cold anger and absence. It remains the most 'Pink Floyd' Pink Floyd album ever and while not necessarily the best thing the band ever did (as some will tell you - it's maybe another ten minutes shy of perfection?) it remains a colossal achievement, brave enough to break new ground whilst being brilliant enough never to lose its appeal. In other words, even this attempt at 'failure', to give the band breathing space and more manageable following post 'Dark Side', was itself a 'failure', too successful for its own good. Instead the band - and Roger in particular - will have another go at shaking everyone off with 'Animals'...
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