Monday 31 October 2016

The Beach Boys "Still Cruisin" (1989)

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The Beach Boys "Still Cruisin" (1989)

Still Cruisin'/Somewhere Near Japan/Island Girl/In My Car/Kokomo/ Wipe Out/Make It Big

Plus: I Get Around/Wouldn't It Be Nice?/California Girls

"For four years straight they ignored the nation, life was occasional shows and lengthy vacations, then The Beach Boys threw a 25th birthday party and got a load of paid rest, because they flung together a 28th album while their career went West, they got the surfboards out the attic and practised their Beach Boys pouts, jumped into the recording studio and promptly fell out, most fans who bought the resulting album could be heard to shout 'gee this is awful - The Beach Boys' career has wiped out!'

In 1987 The Beach Boys became arguably the first rock and pop act to reach an unbroken quarter century in the music business. So much for pop music being ephemeral: here the band were after 25 years with 27 studio albums to show for it - that's a lot of Beach Boys parties to look back on and the world was in a partying and nostalgic mood. After all, what better reminder of youth can there be than early Beach Boys records full of sun, sea and sand? Suddenly the band were popular again because of what they used to represent, a mere few years after a fickle music press had dismissed them as has-beens with nothing new to say even though they'd done nothing different to what they'd always done, trooping up and down the world spreading good vibrations. The band was caught napping when their quarter anniversary came along, but slowly the juggernaut rolled into gear and The Beach Boys were suddenly everywhere. 'Kokomo' was the first evidence of this goodwill - a minor chart hit in America but only the band's second #1 hit in their homeland (after the song's polar opposite 'Good Vibrations' 22 years before; a comparison between the two hits ends there), quickly followed by a number of high profile inclusions in late 1980s summer blockbusters. It only took a small nudge to get the contract-less band back into the studio to make another album, four years after the last non-charting self-titled disappointment - and what's more The Beach Boys were welcomed back to their old paymasters Capitol for the first time 1969. No one knew better than The Beach Boys that careers come in waves and - twenty years after being dropped from the label they turned into millionaires virtually single-handed, the surf was well and truly up.

However, though the audiences were ready to re-appraise The Beach Boys, the band themselves don't sound quite so sure. This latest Beach Boys party doesn't quite have the feel of the others somehow - the band are at the peak of their 'musical differences' with one another, with major lines drawn between the 'Brian song', the 'Carl cameo', the 'Al album track' and Mike and Bruce doing the rest, with no real interaction or any of the once good vibrations. It's not a full party either - everyone seems to have got bored and left partway through, with the half hour playing time the shortest since the early 1970s (a shocker in the new age of digital compact discs and 80 minute running times). What's more around six of those precious minutes are oldies tracks every self-respecting Beach Boys fan already owned several times over (although their presence did make more sense in 1989 than they do now, with 'I Get Around' 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' and 'California Girls' having all appeared in film soundtracks during the past year - and this was the first chance many fans had to buy these songs on CD to boot). In many ways this trip down memory lane makes sense: after all The Beach Boys are back 'home' and history is repeating itself in more ways than one, with Brian Wilson again a pale shadow of himself and undergoing medical treatment for most of the album (with the shady character of therapist Eugene Landy sharing songwriting credits and persuading a less than eager Brian to make peace with brother and cousin and friend long enough to get some money in the bank. Brian hadn't been this unenthusiastic a participant since those last Capitol sessions in1969). That leaves seven 'new' songs on this rather sorry album, of which no less than four had already been heard as singles or on film soundtrack records and the overall feeling that The Beach Boys are just trying to cash in on their name and make some money while they can, taking advantage of 'good vibrations' before they disappear again. Mike refused to work with Al who recorded 'his' song alone, Carl struggled to keep the peace and ended up the only person talking to everyone and Brian sent in his song without even going near the album sessions (not unusual for Beach Boys records in the making it's true, but a crying shame given what happened the last time the band were on Capital and were persona non grata and still pulled together to make 'Sunflower', one of their better records which sold far fewer copies than this one - don't you just hate it when that happens?)

In other words, the world threw a party for The Beach Boys and pretty much any old rubbish they released would have sold just out of sheer goodwill; but they were too busy rowing away from the spotlight to put in much of an appearance at their own festivities so what we got was indeed that pretty much any old rubbish. Suddenly that 'cruising' title doesn't seem so funny: a few roars into top gear would have done this album the world of good. There are, you see, moments on this album that make previous horrors like '15 Big Ones' and 'MIU' seem like art by comparison. The response to 'Still Cruisin' was poor (the general reception to this birthday gift: the perennial 'You shouldn't have...No, really, you shouldn't have!') and most fans don't even consider this a 'proper' album today with its short running time and lack of Brian Wilson whilst even money-spinners par excelence Capitol baulked at the idea of re-issuing it along with the band's 1960s albums on CD across all the many 1980s, 1990s and 2000s re-issues down the years (making this the first of two Beach Boys albums to have been out of print for the best part of another quarter century). You'd never ev-uh play this to a newcomer and tell them that the mind-numbing commerciality of 'Kokomo', the cringing white reggae of 'Island Girl', the eccentric relentlessness of 'In My Car' or especially the (dear God what were they thinking?!) unfunny guest rapping by The Fat Boys on 'Wipe Out' represented everything that was great about The Beach Boys, four examples of a band taking the money and surfing. If you're missing this album (and the odds are in favour that you are, especially if you discovered the band sometime from the 1990s on) then, well, I wouldn't worry too much - even my inner completist is struggling for reasons you'd want to spend good money listening to a tired band intoning about an island paradise for roughly the price it would take to actually go there for real and have a holiday (well, a cheap package one for one night anyway, don't get too excited).

However, unlike every other review of this album ever written, this album isn't hopeless. Along with sequel 'Summer In Paradise' there are moments here where you can hear a great album trying to fight it's way out of the dross and The Beach Boys' natural 1960s pop stylings fit rather better into the 1980s universe of big drums and beauty-over-brains rather more naturally than many of their competitors. 'Still Cruisin' is a 'Do It Again' for a new generation and updates The Beach Boys sound without falling into too many period traps along the way. 'Somewhere In Japan' is a collaboration between Mike Love and The Mamas and Papas' John Phillips that's infinitely more memorable than 'Kokomo' about his daughter Mackenzie (named for godfather singer Scott Mackenzie) getting stranded away from home which brings out the best in two concerned dads as well as spoofing the sound of 'Wilson Phillips', the trio Mackenzie's sister Chynna formed with Brian's estranged daughters Wendy and Carnie. Carl's big chance on this record, with his starring role on 'Make It Big' (the only good thing about the 'Troop Beverly Hills' movie) is also an under-rated song: no carat gold classic but arguably what The Beach Boys should have been doing: a catchy song with a message and some excellent harmonies. In fact the band sound pretty good throughout this record, considering they weren't actually together for any proper length of time while making it and this sounds much more Beach Boys-like than, say, the last album simply called 'The Beach Boys' with the vocals up high and the production bombast limited. The trouble isn't, as so many reviewers have claimed, that The Beach Boys couldn't cut it anymore with the big boys - it's more that they could only get it together for short bursts and having three half-decent new songs compared to four big mistakes and three re-hashed oldies that are treated to pointless tinkering and re-mixing isn't cruising so much as crashing the car. All the goodwill of the album is blown away the minute The Fat Boys start preaching about surfing (when they've clearly spent even less time on a surfboard than water-phobic Brian) or when the faintly patronising 'Kokomo' finds the easy route to chart dominance as a lesser man's 'California Girls' from a lesser period in musical history. There are lots of good things about 'Still Cruisin' (arguably more than on '15 Big Ones' or 'MIU' incidentally), but the things that are bad are so bad you feel 'God only knows I'm thankful that's over' rather than 'yippee I want to hear it again'. Quite likely none of you have ever heard this album more than once a year - I can't say I had until reviewing it - 'Still Cruisin' just isn't that sort of a record, more 'Wet Sounds' than 'Pet Sounds', more 'weed' than 'Sunflower' and 'So Tough' to listen to rather than 'Carl and the Passions'.

The original concept made a lot more sense than the diluted version we got here (and, fun as it is to laugh at Mike Love as the band's bogeyman, this isn't the first or last time a Beach Boys album might have turned out better if the band had taken his lead). After the film 'Cocktail' helped make 'Kokomo' a hit the movie industry suddenly took an interest in The Beach Boys and suddenly every director was asking them to submit songs. By luck rather more than design (truly all these films are wretched, far more so than the songs) most of these were hits at the box office too: 'Make It Big' on 'Beverly Hills Troop' and the title track on 'Lethal Weapon II'. The film directors who couldn't get new Beach Boys then turned to old Beach Boys, with 'I Get Around' appearing on the sweet 1986 children's sci-fi classic 'Flight Of The Navigator', 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' being put to good sarcastic use by Michael Moore in his debut film 'Roger and Me' and - most obscurely - supposed 1986 comedy 'Soul Man' which uses 'California Girls' in part of a plotline about a white-skinned student who longs to be black (if only the band had waited a few years longer they could have had 'God Only Knows' from the 'Boogie Nights' soundtrack or 'Good Vibrations' from 'Vanilla Sky' too). With all these songs scattered on various film soundtracks, Mike proposed one big Beach Boys 'movie' album that gathered them altogether, like a party album only with less overdubs and guitars and more (pop)corn. And then Al said no, but he'd written a song named 'Island Girl' that would fit on an album. Then Brian's lawyers called to say that he wouldn't join the band but did have a song named 'In My Car' he'd send them. And then John Phillips turned up from somewhere near Japan and the Beach Boy admitted defeat and decided this record would be a half-album instead.

Hence this mismash: if only the band had started from scratch or waited to replace those old tracks then there's still a chance 'Still Cruisin' might have worked, in a palatable 1980s hits way at least. What's worse is that the unusual decision to have the three old timeless tracks at the end simply shows up how far the band have fallen. The trio sound as if they've all had an un-credited remix to these ears ('Around' has slightly louder vocals, the double-tracking on Brian's voice sounds tighter on 'Nice' and 'California Girls' places a slightly different emphasis on Mike's twin-vocals), but otherwise sound like 'pure' Beach Boys - the rest sounds like a tribute act trying to do something half-remembered. The very 1980s setting compared to the impressively un-1960s style doesn't help matters much either. The result is perhaps understandable given the original concept and the fact the band weren't talking to each other and that they knew well how quickly the new public goodwill might vanish if they didn't release something quick - and yet it still sounds dumb and out of place, like those compilations that add two new-and-so-bad-they'd-never-have-even-considered-releasing-them-in-their-heyday songs on the end that everyone skips or those 'Now-thats-what-I-call-music-except-for-those-couple-of-dodgy-tracks-in-the-middle-that-just-sound-like-noise-but-had-to-be-on-there-because-these-things-are-compiled-by-chart-success-not-what-the-rest-of-us-call-talent' sets.
So why couldn't the band just get it together and cash in one last big pay cheque? Well events have happened apace since 1985. Dennis is gone and not even the ghostly, mourned, keeping-it-real presence he was on 'The Beach Boys'. Mike has moved on from his transcendental meditation phase and gone back to his former bullyboy self to some extent, with this the period of his infamous fast-fuelled Rock and Roll Hall of Fame attack ('I'd like to see The Beatles get up and do 'Good Vibrations' night after night!'), convinced that with Brian now largely a solo act it falls to him to steer the Beach Boys ship, whether the crew like it or not. Even Al Jardine has tired of playing second fiddle to Mike Love and had a spectacular falling out with the singer (he was even fired from the band for a while for what Mike called a 'severe attitude problem', which basically meant he no longer agreed with everything Love said). Brian, for the first time in his life, couldn't care less about being a Beach Boy - with his first solo album out in shops the year before (and it's strange in retrospect that the goodwill towards the band didn't stretch to stronger sales there) and his imaginary demons on one side and the scarier demon of Dr Landy on the other surviving is a struggle that doesn't leave much for making music: Brian doesn't care anymore (and even when he wasn't well enough to take part on previous Beach Boys records like '20/20' or 'Holland', he clearly still cared). It's left to Carl to sort the whole mess out and he's less than willing, with his own aborted solo career only just in the horizon and the mess of keeping friends, brothers and cousins apart making him ill (this is the start of a slippery slope down to his all-too-early death from lung cancer in 1998, though those close to the band start getting worried about the youngest Wilson here long before the diagnosis). Only Bruce is his normal cheery self as he fills in Al's normal role as the normal dependable number two on this record, but even that Johnstone smile and charm can't get The Beach Boys out of this one. 'Wouldn't it be nice if we were older?' runs one of the old tracks on this album - but though the band are older, they're clearly not yet mature with old simmering tensions blowing over. The shock after reading about the making of this album isn't so much that the band will only make another two more records after this during their next twenty-five years (compared to twenty-seven in their first twenty-five years) but that they made it to their half-century in any functioning state at all.

Overall, then, 'Still Cruisin' is merely a vehicle for a now-suddenly popular institution that can't quite shake off the feeling that it's making do and keeping the engine ticking over while the drivers argue over their next direction to take. There are many reasons not to take this album sensibly: 'Koko-bloody-mo' for one (perhaps the least deserving #1 AAA hit of them all, unless you count 'Starship's big successes as part of the Jefferson Airplane canon and please tell me you don't), while elsewhere the songs are largely recycled (when they're not being repeated), the backing is notoriously 1980s (that's not a compliment!) and Brian, Al and even Carl barely appear. And yet at times things fall into place: 'Somewhere Near Japan', a song about being lost, is ironically the Beach Boys song with the clearest sense of direction since 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' and 'Santa Ana Winds' in 1980; 'Make It Big' is an under-rated grower, 'Still Cruisin' is Beach Boys by numbers that remind you how big and important those numbers are and even 'Wipe Out' can be funny if you're very lenient and/or drunk (this is a 25th birthday party, remember, albeit one that's fashionably late by a couple of years). Of course 'Still Cruisin' is ultimately still dreadful and a pale shadow of almost everything that came before it - but like 'Summer In Paradise' fans have had such glee beating up on how bad the band sound compared to how they used to that they've overlooked the occasional moments when The Beach Boys still sound like one of the best bands on the planet and where the surf is never truly up. Even when the band's powerhouse is effectively trapped in an asylum, the rest of the band can't stay in the same room together and the 1980s sounds are in full swing. This band could still have made it big if they'd wanted to, oh so big.

Title track 'Still Cruisin' opens the album with a subtle purr rather than an aggressive pounce as per the recent Beach Boys tradition with 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' and 'Getcha Back' and it's a slow burner of a vehicle for the band rather than a car song ready to shut down all-comers. This Mike-Melcher collaboration is much as you'd expect from a Beach Boys car song, but with the added frisson that they're really using the idea of a journey across old familiar ground in an old favourite jallopy as a metaphor for growing older. An intriguing twist on 'Do It Again' but switching the surfboards for the motor, it's interesting that even though the lyrics are unashamedly nostalgic ('Punch in your favourite station, toss in your favourite tape!') the music is actually quite progressive. Mike's half-rap is as bad an idea as you'd expect ('Rocking to the reggae band, lovers walk hand in hand...'), but elsewhere The Beach Boys have actually nailed the early 1990s signature sound and made it sound natural to them: slightly bored cross-threaded harmonies, lashings of jingly-jangly guitar and a drum part that's bigger than anything else in the room. The one track on the album that sounds as if the band are trying to involve everyone (bar Brian), the song gives plenty of room to Bruce's high falsetto, Al's gritty counterpart ('Get yourself in gear!') and Carl's earnest middle eight despite otherwise being as traditional a 'Mike' song as you can get. No, there's nothing that mind-bogglingly inventive here and a bit more excitement and a foot on the throttle pedal would have made a good song even better, but this minor hit single manages to drive down the twin roads of being recognisably Beach Boys and impressively contemporary, which is quite a feat in itself. The song can be heard in 'Lethal Weapon II', not that it really fits there.

The song is eclipsed, though, by 'Somewhere Near Japan', which is a sequel of sorts to Mike's previous oriental love song 'Sumahama'. This track was both inspired by and co-written by old friend John Phillips, who got in touch to relate a story about his then-twenty-one-year-old daughter Mackenzie Phillips (who'd long been a childhood friend of Brian's daughters) who got stranded in another land after a honeymoon spent taking drugs went a bit wrong. Allegedly Mackenzie really did call her dad for help with the words 'I don't know where I am but it's somewhere near Japan' (actually it turned out she was in Guam, closer to America) - an 'SOS' call that somehow got translated into a love song between a girl who wanted 'rescuing' from the boy she calls up. In John's original draft the song went on for multiple minutes and at least fifteen verses (The Beach Boys version runs to four and a chorus) and can be heard on bootlegs for an unreleased 'New Mamas and Papas' album that never got made (with Mackenzie substituting for her mum Michelle and namesake Scott replacing Denny Docherty). When offered to The Beach Boys in the wake of 'Kokomo' Mike re-worked the song and made it more Beach Boys-like, with Bruce adding some touches of his own and working out the production and arrangement. A last 'lifeline' to an old flame before she drowns for good, the song is treated like a great film romance, with a noticeably bigger budget than usual for this period Beach Boys and co-writer Bruce going to town on the production effects. Though the story doesn't make a lot of sense (one minute she's helpless and asking to be rescued - the next she's enjoying the adventure), the song is a lot more likeable than 'Kokomo' with a pretty melody and a sweet chorus that's well handled by Mike and Carl between them. It's not ultra gold classic Beach Boys, but the warmth of the production, the combined forces of the harmonies and the quirky, inventive storytelling makes this a cut above the rest of the album and indeed anything on the next two.

Alas, just as the album seems to be warming up, along comes Al's 'Island Girl', as bland and pointless a slab of reggae as you'll hear on any AAA album, including those by 10cc and Wings. 'She's so pretty, I like her plenty' and 'I'm so happy, I like 'em sassy!' is apparently Jardine's idea of a rhyming chorus, while the patronising tone that the girl only matters because she's 'a beauty' doesn't do him or the band any favours (although at least they're not quite as bad as 'Hey Little Tomboy'). It's kind of a Caribbean 'California Girls', but with one girl standing in as a representative of her whole nation, which is a bit odd when you think about it - I'd hate every woman in the British Isles to be judged by the standards of The Spice Girls. What's odd is that this track - which was pretty much made by Al alone with his sons (who had been longstanding members of the Beach Boys touring band) - features by far the strongest band performance on the album, with Al and Bruce covering the background harmonies between them, Carl having fun rocking out on the counter-vocal and Brian's first of only three vocals on the album catching the ear on the 'Skye Boat Song' style opening. Which seems like a lot of effort to go to on a song that's so bad it sums up in the last verse that 'she says that I'm crazy and also lazy and yet she loves me'. Come back Van Dyke Parks...

Normally Brian would come charging to the rescue on a white horse of imagination and invention by now, but no - instead he comes waddling in on a clown car that rather falls apart. 'In My Car' is something of an oddball, without any of the grace and thoughtfulness of his contributions to his recent 'Brian Wilson' record of the year before or the more traditional Beach Boys feel of his many songs from the past. The last 'car' song in The Beach Boys canon (unless you count the 'Beach Boys Salute Nascar' album of re-recordings as a 'proper' release - and we certainly don't), the lyrics of this one are pretty much just a re-hash of '409' and indeed most Beach Boy car songs after, with Brian's narrator using the size of his motor to impress girls (is it a compensation thing one has to ask?) Even by Beach Boys standards it's a little daft, with one of the greatest writers of his generation spending his last contribution to a Beach Boys album until 2012 singing the chorus 'move sister, groove sister!' over and over. Hopefully that was Dr Landy's contribution, the therapist getting not just co-billing but first billing on the song. On the plus side, though, the chorus ties in nicely with the album's nostalgic mood ('still cruisin' after all these years!' Given that this song was taped after the title track appeared in 'Lethal Weapon II' it's interesting how closely Brian is paying attention to what the rest of the band are up to) and  how come it took a band famous for their car songs 28 years to rhyme 'red Corvette' with 'a night you can't forget'?! The song's real problem is that while the lyrics try to ooze cool, the music is doing completely the opposite: it's jittery, nervous and all over the place as Brian puts on his most comedic part since his star turn as the Grinch on a 1973 Christmas single. For all that, there's something in this track that makes it stand above the worst of this album - a particular touch of Brian magic that means that even though the track is plain stupid, it's a Brian kind of quirky stupid with a nice synth riff that sounds much like the one on 'Rio Grande' from the 'Brian Wilson' album and a whole box full of rhythmical production tricks that sounds more like car crash than car chase. It's clearly the work by a great mind trying to think stupid, even if it's ultimately pretty stupid anyway.

'Kokomo' is the 'big one', the highest selling Beach Boys single in twenty-odd years and the last top seventy-four hit of any kind ('Still Crusin'' peaked at #75) the band will ever have. For the life of me I'm not sure why - and many other Beach Boys aficionados have the same view. No better and arguably a little worse than other 1980s attempts to update The Beach Boys style, this tale of romancing a girl from an Island off the Florida coast is high on the schmaltz factor and is just as offensive as the similar tracks from 1978's 'MIU' album in its mixture of island and Americana slang ('Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya to Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama!') Perhaps confusing their continents, Mike and co-writers Terry Melcher, John Phillips and Scott Mackenzie also throw in some French-style accordion in there too along with the steel drums (weirdly it's played by Van Dyke Parks on his first appearance on a Beach Boys recording since 1973 even though 'Kokomo' couldn't be less like a Parks-style song; one hopes that he spent the sessions asking Mike what some of this song's impenetrable lyrics meant in revenge for the singer's remarks over 'Surf's Up' and 'Cabinessence'). What saves this song is the fact that it 'feels' like a Beach Boys song: it's 'California Girls' again with some cheesy-bordering-on-genius rhymes ('We'll put out to sea and perfect our chemistry') and some nice block harmonies with Carl sounding better than he has in a long time on the chorus. Mike, unusually, gives his best lines to his fellow band members to sing but still fits in some cheeky  and very Beach Boys rejoinders in across the song ('Port au Prince, I wanna catch a glimpse!') A high profile appearance in the film 'Cocktail' (where the song makes a little sense this time round) probably didn't hurt its commercial chances either. However prolonged exposure (and this song was everywhere back in 1988) reveals it's many flaws: a nonsensical storyline, a melody that's closer to an irritating commercial than a piece of art by the band who came up with 'Smile', some slightly dodgy 'primitive local' lyrics and a chorus that's repeated more times than the application of sun-tan lotion all add up to a song that soon exhausts your goodwill. It's not a patch on 'Getcha Back' or 'Still Cruisin', the other rather better attempts to update The Beach Boys sound in this period and both Al and Brian are missing from the harmonies. The only Beach Boys song to date nominated for a Grammy award, it lost out to Phil Collins' horrific work for the feature film 'Buster', which rather says it all. Once again, an early Mamas and Papas recording exists on bootleg and sounds much the same (it's just missing the 'Aruba Jamaica' chorus, which is clearly the work of Mike Love) but it hasn't ever been given an official release. You're not missing much...Note: most guide books to The Beach Boys claim that 'Kokomo' is fictional, which must come as a surprise to the inhabitants of the Kokomo island near Islamorada, although knowing Mike's love for Hawaii he might have had a second 'Kokomo' located off those islands in mind too (interestingly the Phillips original puts Kokomo in the Caribbean - there's an 'Island of Mustique' there as mentioned in the lyric but no 'Kokomo'.

Yikes: 'Wipe Out' is aptly named as this is what nearly happened to the band's career with the release of this single. Somewhere along the line The Beach Boys got it into their heads that a collaboration with some young hip dudes would be good for their career - it worked for Run DMC and Aerosmith on the re-working of 'Walk This Way' not long before. Rumour has it the band's management contacted Run DMC about the idea first before discovering that they were both reluctant and costly, so instead they approached the flavour of the day 'The Fat Boys' even though they knew even less about surfing than The Beach Boys themselves (it's also a little like being snubbed by The Supremes and hiring The Spice Girls instead). Having very little to do with The Beach Boys (in fact only two Beach Boys appear - Mike briefly doing some 'bah bah bahs' and a lot of multiple Brians -  whose enthusiasm suggests nobody told him he was merely the straightman to a bunch of overweight comedians) the result is funny only listenable if you're a) an early 90s rap fan b) a keen surfer with a sense of irony or c) one of The Fat Boys' mothers. Having about as much in common with The Surfaris' gritty original instrumental (an obvious choice for those early Beach Boys albums full of instrumentals you'd have thought) as 'Sail On Sailor' does to 'The Sailor's Hornpipe', the basic riff is merely an excuse for some noisy criss-cross shouting and microphone-popping alongside lyrics about needing a holiday and partying until the 'real' Beach Boys come along and show them how it's done. Yeah, I need a holiday too after listening to this, although heard sporadically (once a decade is enough) it is quite funny as pure 1960s and pure late 1980s sounds hit each other head on. This is also the last Beach Boys moment to be dominated by Brian until 'That's Why God Made The Radio' a full twenty-three years later and for that reason is cause for a party (well, more cause than The Fat Boys had to party at any rate). Most Beach Boys fans have since tried to pretend that this single doesn't really exist, which is particularly hard if you're British where this single was only kept from the top of the charts by Rick Astley's 'Never Gonna Give You Up'. It also sounds incredibly incongruous in the middle of this album with The Beach Boys barely appearing and everyone except The Fat Boys and their proud mothers would surely agree that a straight version of the song would surely have been better. Think of this as The Beach Boys getting middle-aged spread and a mid-life crisis all in one.

The final 'new' song on the album still finds The Beach Boys dreaming that they can 'Make It Big'. 
Easily the best of the three 'film' songs (this one turned up on 'Troop Beverly Hills'), this Love-Melcher song gives over most of the song to Carl to sing and it's a shade above what he's been getting of late. A song full of praise, warmth and encouragement, Carl tells the listener that anything is possible if they have 'faith in themselves' and that anyone can 'make it big', with the extra warning '...if you really want to'. Of course, this being 1980s Beach Boys, they still manage to mess up and the drum sound drowns out almost everything here, while the verses get shorter and shorter to the point where each chorus seems to arrive before you've even started to notice that it's left. Mike's slightly creepy middle eight is alarming (if we, the listener, agree to be his beauty queen' then he'll get us a deal in Hollywood 'and be best buddys with Johnny B Goode' - will you or I break it to him that Johnny is a fictional character?), but every other word in this lyric rings true and this sort of emotional aural hug is exactly what The Beach Boys should have been doing with their talents all these years instead of boasting about cars and island paradises. The fact that Brian and even Bruce seem to be awol again also prevents this from being as true Beach Boys as it ought to be, but Carl's sturdy leave and Mike's nearly-sturdy counterpart makes up for that - and almost the very 1980s sax solo as well. This track would never make it 'big' against the real true classics of The Beach Boys canon, but considering that we've set our sights low enough to have 'Kokomo' on the horizon this is actually a pretty good half-end to the album.

'I Get Around' comes around next, followed by 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' and 'California Girls' (at least the oldies are together on this album!) Why? God only knows (Maybe The Beach Boys' accountants do too) but it seems to have a little something to do with their recent presence in film soundtracks - a concept that was null and void as soon as the second song on the album. That rather un-levels the album as a whole and makes it hard to evaluate given that we've effectively got a mini-LP here (or a double EP if you'd rather) as opposed to a full long-playing record. With only seven 'new' songs to offer us (and four of those were 'oldies' if you were a keen Beach Boys singles collector at the time - and someone had to be with The Beach Boys scoring an American #1 and a British #2 hit in 1987) they all had to be really good for 'Still Cruisin' to ride the crest of the current nostalgia wave. Instead maybe two recordings here  aren't bad, with another couple up to listenable level - and everything else is close to being a disaster. On the one hand, statistically that's stronger than any record since 'LA Light' in 1979  and a lot better than the next two - and yet paying over the odds for an album that runs ten minutes shorter than normal and even then contains three straight repeats seems like The Beach Boys are running on empty, never mind still cruising. On the one hand this is a last hurrah with all our old friends (except Dennis of course) present and correct, with some decent material and Bruce Johnston's usually excellent production values that was good enough to get The Beach Boys some deserved hit status at last. On the other this is a half-baked, thrown-together collection of disparate tracks released to hit the lowest common denominator and recorded by a band who can't even bear to be in the same studio space with each other anymore. Some twenty-fifth party that turned out to be - and yet the fact that The Beach Boys lasted that age at all with some of their reputation intact and maybe even enhanced by this album is also reason to celebrate. The trick is to accept that the band have long ago lost the ability to surprise and please and assume you're going to hate most of this album - and that way you might be surprised by just how much of this cash-in money-making fodder actually sticks in the ears and brain-cells. 

Come on and peruse our Beach Boys reviews - come on, you know you got nothing to lose...

'Surfin' USA' (1963)

'Surfer Girl' (1963)

'Little Deuce Coupe' (1963)

'Shut Down Volume Two' (1964)

‘All Summer Long’ (1964)

'Beach Boys Christmas' (1964)

'Today' (1965)

'Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!!!!!!) (1965)

'Party!' (1965)

'Pet Sounds' (1966)

'Surf's Up' (1971)

’15 Big Ones’ (1976)

'Love You' (1977)

'Pacific Ocean Blue' (Dennis Wilson solo) (1977)

'Merry Xmas From The Beach Boys!' (Unreleased) (1977)

'M.I.U Album' (1978)

'L.A.Light Album' (1979)

'Keeping The Summer Alive' (1980)

'The Beach Boys' (1985)

'Still Cruisin' (1989)

'Summer In Paradise' (1992)

'Smile' (Brian Wilson solo) (2004)

'That Lucky Old Sun' (Brian Wilson solo) (2008)

'Smile Sessions' (band outtakes)(2011)

'That's Why God Made The Radio' (2012)

The Best Unreleased Beach Boys Recordings

A Complete (ish) Guide To The Beach Boys' Surviving TV Clips

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One 1962-86

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Two 1988-2014

Non-Album Songs Part One 1962-1969

Non-Album Songs Part Two 1970-2012

Essay: The Beach Boys and The American Dream
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

Pink Floyd: Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Two 1980-1989

You can now buy 'Remember A Day - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Pink Floyd' in e-book form by clicking here!

"Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall - Live"
(EMI, Recorded 1980-1981, Released April 2000)

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/What Shall We Do Now?/Young Lust/One Of My Turns/Don’t Leave Me Now/Another Brick In The Wall (Part iii)/Spare Bricks/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/Outside The Wall

(Yelled at full pelt): "Pathetic! THis is for all the weak people in the audience! Is there anyone here whose weak? Let's all have a clap! Come On I cant hear you! Get your hands together! Have a good time! *murderous scream*"
There's something to be said about hearing what might well be the single most human album delivered in concert with all the raw energy, emotion and mistakes of your typical live album. It's not that the studio album of 'The Wall' was detached - far from it with all those Roger Waters screams all over the place - but it did too often sound like exactly what it was, which was a bunch of session musicians trying to fit their parts around those recorded by the band all on different days. This live document of two shows at Earl's Court in August 1980 and June 1981 (one of the few arenas big enough to stage the full gig and two of only four the Floyd ever performed of their greatest theatrical work) lacks the visuals that made the shows so memorable, but it is a particularly strong live album in terms of feeling like you were really there. You can feel that the guitar solo played by David Gilmour on 'Comfortably Numb' is straddled on top of a gigantic wall somehow, just as you can tell that Roger as 'Pink' is getting more and more isolated in tinier and tinier bricks across the middle of the piece. Perhaps the most surprising thing is how well the Floyd are working together here despite all the dramas of the past few years. 'Run Like Hell' particularly is played with real venom and sparring between Roger and Dave, a million miles away from the rather pathetic live versions both men will go on to make in the 1980s and 1990s. The world weary 'Hey You' is a delight, Roger's mournful bass meeting David's hopeful guitar and Rick's timid, tentative synth head on, a maelstrom of just-about-keeping-it-together that collapses triumphantly under the crushing weight of depression. 'The Show Must Go On' gets an extra verse cut from the album but in the lyrics booklet ('I didn't mean to let them take away my soul, am I too old, is it too late?' Gilmour sighs in front of a gorgeous spoof Beach Boys choir  led by honorary member Bruce Johnstone just like the record). Roger sings 'Nobody Home' with such power and directness you half wonder whether Syd has just walked into his line of sight in the front row. The band jams on the two songs exclusive to this set - 'What Shall We Do Now?' which got replaced with the inferior 'Empty Spaces' and the time-filling 'The Last few Bricks', a clever cycle of past themes repeated until the stage-hands got the last few bricks in place - prove that the Floyd could still rock and still rock hard. Only 'Comfortably Numb' sorta collapses, but only after the band have already reached so many peaks across the seven minutes that they're exhausted by the time of the climax, while a happier 'skiffle' version of 'Outside The Wall' works better for the audience in the arena than it does for us. You can understand why Roger is giving his all and he's never been better with his wicked gleeful manic laughter and a second half where he gets a little too carried away 'discovering' that he's become a right-wing Nazi, but the others' commitment is staggering too given how much they seemed to hate this album. Gilmour's guitar grunt is gorgeous, Nick's drums inspired and Rick - whose working on this tour on a wage, for goodness sake, having just been kicked out of the band - is a little star all night, his keyboards twinkling away with all the inner loss that the more abrasive Roger won't admit to.

What you won't find on this album are the usual things you look for on a live LP. There's precious little talking to the audience (the first words spoken don't appear until after the 'Another Brick' round of songs near the end of the first side when Roger finally bids 'Good Evening and Wilkommen') and the best mainly consists of some delightful Waters ranting, spoofing what should be happening at a rock concert (the start of 'Run Like Hell' has him madly screaming at an audience that they're not having enough of a good time, screaming 'enjoy yourselves!' with murderous intent). The interruptions by the emcee, who builds up tension in a 1950s style before being drowned out by the band in the first half and spoofs himself by speaking ...very...slowly in the second doesn't quite work either (the audience clearly think it's a mistake when it first happens). If you didn't understand the original album and came looking at this one for answers, I'm not sure you'd grasp the concept any better either, with Waters taking almost all the parts and the plot still getting very lost somewhere around the middle. Oddly enough Roger was about the only one who really didn't like this album and complained bitterly in the press when he was outvoted 4-1 against releasing it (manager Steve O'Rourke being the extra vote). His complaint that the show was meant to be seen as well and heard and that the packaging was awful are both good points (although Storm Thorgerson's use of the 'surrogate band' masks on the cover is fittingly eerie), but misses the bigger picture. We have his son Harry to think for this album, as he flipped over a test pressing and told his dad he'd never sounded so good, with this a chance for young fans like him to get closer to experiencing the live show they weren't born for! Actually the packaging too is ridiculous, bumping the price of this double album set to something nearer a four disc box set by virtue of a load of photographs taken from a distance and shots of the band so far away they look like ants. No matter, though - it's the music that's what's important here and it's never sounded so good. Is there anybody out there? Man, I'm never going to leave...

Nick Mason "Fictitious Sports"

(Harvest '1981')

Can't Get My Motor To Start/I Was Wrong/Siam/Hot River//Boo To You Too/Do Ya?/Wervin'/I'm A Mineralist

"When you're tryin' something new you're bound to have people boo-ing you!"

This is the best album jazz singer/writer Carla Bley ever made. Which is all well and good if you like Carla Bley's albums - not many people do to be frank (though it's less painful than most modern jazz to listen to) and certainly it bears almost nothing to do with Pink Floyd. Nick's contribution basically consists of playing drums and offering a few ideas on a co-production rather than anything astonishingly creative while you can still tell it's him playing (Nick has a very distinctive sound after all), naming this album after the drummer is a bit like crediting 'Dark Side Of The Moon' to 'The Nick Mason Band' or ignoring Syd Barrett and plumping for 'Piper At The Gates Of Mason'. Only worse because at least Nick got a few band co-credits on those records - on this album he doesn't even get that. Clearly there's a bit of commercial shenanigans going on here, with Nick trying to help an old friend out (he mentioned later he was looking for something to do when old friend Carla sent a demo tape and he decided they might as well struggle together than separately) and you can see that this idea might have worked: Bley made sure all her fans knew this album was out under a different name and Floyd fans got an unexpected entry into a new musical landscape, not necessarily hated by everyone (although some of the comments online do make it seem that way sometimes). Even so, it has to be said that in the early 1980s when the Floyd were already alienating most of their fanbase and a new career seemed to be on the cards for everybody, this sudden switch of gears probably wasn't a wise move. Parts of this record suddenly make 'Several Species of Small Furry Animals...' sound completely normal.

There are, however, a few reasons not to dismiss this record entirely out of hand. Soft Machine's Robert Wyatt appears on backing vocals on many of the tracks and should really have got a co-credit: the two bands had a long and involved shared history after various tours and guest spots together (including Wyatt taking the Waters part on David Gilmour's 'Remember That Night' gig version of 'Comfortably Numb', but this is the longest two members of the two bands work together. There's a case to be made that Nick's drumming is better than it's been in years, as he's really challenged by the semi-improvised nature of the band, who often shove in a squealing sax motif at just the point when you think the songs are finally going to do something 'normal' (though Dave and Roger thrived under the new professionalism and attention of the mid-70s period, Nick's and Rick's talents got overlooked - it's nice to hear that Mason could do still keep on his toes). The track 'Boo To You', an automatic knee-jerk to audiences who'll dismiss this out of hand and getting the insults in first, is hilarious (and very Roger Waters as it happens). The most 'normal' song here, 'Hot River', is often cited as a Floyd pastiche too. To be honest it's more of a rock and roll pastiche - anything with a tune or words would be the most Floydian moment on this album you suspect - but Nick at least took it as a joke ('It has all my favourite clichés of the past fourteen years' he joked, quoting the vocal, guitarwork and production reminding him of various Floyd albums). Overall, though, this album is closer to the feel of 'More' and 'Obscured By Clouds' than an actual 'album' - it's a free-flowing record that plays to its own rules and is out to surprise you throughout, usually in a bad way but sometimes for good. In the world of Pink Floyd solo albums 'Fictitious Sports' doesn't quite get the wooden spoon then, but it's not quite medal status either. Perhaps the most disappointing thing is the cover, which as blocks of boring colour with a few squiggles to make out a basketball and tennis court must rate as the least imaginative Hipgnosis design ever (to be fair, they didn't have much to go on from the music).

"A Collection Of Great Dance Songs"

(Harvest/EMI, November 1981)

One Of These Days/Money (Re-Recording)/Sheep//Shine On You Crazy Diamond(Parts 1,2,3,5 and 7)/Wish You Were Here/Another Brick In The Wall Part Two

"Once of these days I'm going to cut your songs into little pieces, re-record some others and sell them off in some cheap and tacky cover at vast expense!"

Back in 1971 Pink Floyd heard that EMI wanted to release a retrospective and stepped in to make sure that 'Relics' was made care, full of fan favourites and rarities that offered a bit of everything. Ten years later however, with a new breed of fan rushing in after 'The Wall', nobody cares anymore. Certainly Not Roger Waters, who dumps the whole thing on Gilmour's shoulders and looks the other way. Certainly not EMI, who come across a sticking point over the licensing rights for 'Dark Side Of The Moon' (courtesy of the Floyd being licensed out to a different record company in the States - although the Floyd were on EMI their whole lives in Britain, they were swapped between two or three record labels in the States, though oddly 'Meddle' was also on EMI, hence the album version of 'One Of These Days' at the start) and ask the band to re-record one of their classics as quickly as possible. And most certainly not Hipgnosis who, contracted to come up with a cover image, come up with one of their worst ideas yet - a dancing couple held in place by ropes outside a barn (Gilmour wasn't entirely joking when he said the cover was 'so awful I assumed we'd get it cheap'). Tacky looking and tacky sounding, this record more than ever reminds of the original line cut from 'Dogs' back in 1975 'Gotta keep people buying this shit!'

Of course, the curse of being a collector is that you kinda need to buy it anyway if only to see how badly some old friends have been wounded in the process. 'Money' is as good a re-make as Gilmour and Dick Parry can make it, re-cycling the rhythm track and the sound effects of the original whilst giving just a different enough performance not to get sued (Gilmour's voice has deepened anyway with the years and he gives a much rawer growl this time around). 'Sheep' and 'Wish You Were Here' get little trims to take away some of the sound effects that were used to segue into these tracks on the original albums. 'Another Brick' features the unique ear-catching 'loop' of the drum beat at the beginning as per the single version - but is otherwise the same as the album, complete with Roger's demented teacher shrieks at the end.  'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' fares best out of all the six songs, cut down from twenty off minutes to ten and effectively losing the end of 'part one' and the start of 'part two' with some deft editing that sticks the two vocal parts together. The edit is rather deftly done, actually and better than critics always say, going straight from 'Come on you painter you prisoner and shine' to 'Nobody knows where you are how near or far...'  Unfortunately though by also cutting out virtually the whole ending and keeping most of the lengthy opening, the song feels very top-heavy, ending on a  unique fade of Gilmour's guitar chords while everything else dies away (so you don't get the synth and bass jam session at all). Even so, it's a rather poor affair, with Pink Floyd effectively laughing at the stupidty of them having to release a compilation, giving it a stupid title, cover and track listing and expecting us all to buy it like good little sheep anyway. Wrong idea, wrong packaging, wrong band. 


(Capitol, '1983')

One Of These Days/Arnold Layne/Fearless/Brain Damage/Eclipse//Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun/See Emily Play/Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict/Free Four/Embryo

" ratiug ym kcab gnirb ratiug ym kcab gnirb ratiug ym kcab gnirb ratiug ym kcab gnirb       ...and the wind cried Mary!"

There are quite a few Floyd compilations out there, but most of them tend to stick with the obvious. The American-only post-Wall cash in 'The Works', though is worth mentioning because it's bonkers: I'm not sure anyone in their right mind would ever have considered putting ranting-Scotsman-meets-sound-effects 'Several Small Species' on a best-of where it sounds even more out of place segueing in not from the fly with the rolled up newspaper sounds of 'Grantchester Meadows' but the sunny pop of 'See Emily Play'. The 'new' segue between 'Fearless' and 'Brain Damage' works rather well, though, with the Liverpool football club crowd now egging the narrator on to 'insanity'. Equally few other Floyd compilations have room to adopt some of the more overlooked Floyd classics like 'Free Four' or 'Fearless'. The inclusion of two rare Syd Barrett singles, only previously made available on album on 'Relics', is also a bonus and frankly makes this set a whole lot more enjoyable than the 'official' best of 'A Collection Of Great Dance Songs' released in a few years' time. However the real reason you'll want to own this is because it sports the only 'official' release of Pink Floyd's greatest unreleased song 'Embryo', a similar but more playful and much much shorter version of 'Echoes' recorded during the 'Ummagumma' sessions but left unfinished, even though it was a stronger composition than anything that actually made the studio album half. Pink Floyd were horrified and tried to have the compilation pulled, without success given that they were no longer on the Columbia label in the States, though they've successfully blocked any re-release of the album in the CD era (though that hasn't stopped bootleggers making their own from vinyl copies). Back in the day this album was also worth buying for the quadrophonic mixes of 'Brain Damage' and 'Eclipse', curiously the only songs from 'Dark Side Of The Moon' here despite it being by far the best-selling album the Floyd released on their American label, though this has since been re-released on the Dark Side 'Immersion' box set. A shame about the rather ugly cover though, with the band name and album title written in grey block capital letters supposedly being but up by a builder and about as un-Floyd and commercial as you can get (still beats the 'Dance Songs' dancers with holes in, though). 

Roger Waters "The Pros and Cons Of Hitch-Hiking"

(EMI, May 1984)

4.30 AM (Apparently They Were Travelling Abroad)/4.33AM (Running Shoes)/4.37 AM (Arabs With Knives and West German Skies)/4.39 AM (For The First Time Today Part Two)/4.41 AM (Sexual Revolution)/4.47 AM (The Remains Of Our Love)//4.50AM (Go Fishing)/4.56 AM (For The First Time Today Part One)/4.58 AM (Dunromain' Duncarin' Dunlivin')/5.01AM (The Pros and Cons Of Hitch-Hiking Part Ten)/5.06 AM (Every Stranger's Eyes)/5.11 AM (The Moment OF Clarity)

"Pease hold my hand as we blunder through the maze and remember nothing can grow without rain"
'There were arabs with knives under West German knives, a murderous Yoko Ono telling me to jump to my death and girls on motorbikes telling me to run away to the country and, oh Aunty Em, it was such a strange dream!' 'Ssh Roger and go to sleep - I'll read the rest of that A A Milne' book to you to get you to sleep...'

Somewhere in a parallel universe, the rest of Pink Floyd heard Roger Waters' twin set of demos for this album and 'The Wall' and plumped for the surrealist  psychedelic of 'Hitch-Hikers' instead of their future best-seller, a peculiar record that plays with concepts, time and imagination in an even more unhinged way than it's big brother. While 'The Wall' was also something of a gamble (a double album about barriers centred around a cosseted rock star who turns into a Nazi?!), 'Hitch-Hiking' would have been commercial suicide, a peculiar melody-less record that makes 'Atom Heart Mother' and 'Ummagumma' seem like sensible ideas (though oddly enough it's the one Floyd manager Steve O'Rourke pushed for the band to record and even Gilmour added that he thought many of the songs were 'better'). Ostensibly it's a dream told across forty minutes where rules are bent and time is non-linear so we move suddenly and jarring from one scene into another. Officially it's the made-up tale of a man who goes hitch-hiking across California after a mid-life crisis and all his dreams of what he's going to do with the pretty hitch-hiker he picks up at the side of the road. In truth, it's Roger's sub-conscious having a field day, as he's hit by guilt about the break-up of his band and his first marriage, desperately trying to find logic and reason in a world where everything concrete he's ever relied upon is suddenly turning to quicksand. Though the two projects have more in common than is usually supposed (the whole album could easily take place in Pink's mind, in the part of 'The Wall' where he loses touch with reality in between the self-realisation of 'Nobody's Home' and the medical interruption of 'Comfortably Numb'; indeed 'Sexual Revolution' originally appeared as part of 'The Wall' demo tape), the biggest difference is that Pink is a passive character, a Syd-style character who withdraws into himself the more that people get at him; 'Hitch-Hiking' is much more aggressive, with Roger's narrators determined to find his own way out of his mess, with several songs dreaming of escape even if every new direction seems uglier than the first.

So what are the pros and cons of 'Hitch-Hiking'? Well, it's an album quite unlike anything else ever made, which is always a better result than a poor copy of something else. Roger is in great scream and occasionally great voice throughout. Some of the more 'normal' songs - 'Every Stranger's Eyes' and 'For The First Time Today' (a two-part song, typically for this album, told to us backwards) - are rightly heralded by fans as lost gems amongst his catalogue. The decision to name every song after the time of deep sleep dreaming (the album takes place between 4.30AM and 5.11 am, so for 'us' they take place in real time, although the album seems to take years to play out in Roger's head) is a clever one. It's the only place where you can hear Roger laughing his way through a cod-operatic German folk song and the only album to contain a song where Yoko Ono tells all male listeners to leap from a tall building in the name of feminism ('Why prolong the agony? All men must die!') It's a record that deserved to make a far bigger splash than it did when released as the long-delayed second Roger Waters solo album - simply for breaking so many rules if nothing else.

But sometimes rules are there for a reason. Compared to other similar Roger Waters concepts this one sounds self-indulgent, full of personal references that are harder to grasp and identify with than Waters' other big concepts like 'Moon's life pressures or The Wall's sense of alienation (those are his real children frequently heard across the album, following on from their cameo on 'The Final Cut' and all the events that happen - surreal as they may be - feel even more autobiographical than 'The Wall'). Even the best tunes on this album sound unmemorable compared to Roger's best work, while most of the melodies more or less sound the same anyway, sung in a similar whisper that makes this album more of a close cousin of 'The Final Cut' (though without the warmth). Though fans like to quote the impressive array of guest parts, including a rare 1980s role for Eric Clapton (well if you've got to replace David Gilmour with someone you might as well go for the best...) and singer Madeline Bell as the 'biker chick' (Roger is simply credited as 'man'), in truth they distract rather than enhance this album which might have been better sung by Roger alone rather than as yet another 'pop' album. This record also starts the trend of Roger smothering his small smouldering songs in a mass choir of backing singers, something that will damage all his solo work from this point on. The front cover, the rear view of nude model Linzi Drew across a torn split in a block of colour, is needlessly distracting given that it has nothing to do with the music and though probably meant 'ironically' as a comment on commercialism just makes Roger look as bad as everyone he's trying to poke fun at.

The end result is an album that's heavy going, but rewarding  - at least in part - if you're prepared to invest the time and effort to look past the repetition and all the shouting. This is a tougher journey even than 'The Wall', without the added lift from 'Another Brick' or 'Comfortably Numb' to keep things moving and needs perhaps an extra couple of excellent songs to be truly ranked as an important part of Roger's writing. However few writers have ever been quite as brave or as revealing as Roger is here, who is effectively creating the soundtrack to a mid-life crisis, his characters wobbling between the security of the last few years and the promise of the new and unknown, torn between fading love and growing lust. The single biggest problem with this album is that, unlike every other Waters concept which ends definitively with either the blown up or aliens finding us dead or the simple tearing down of the wall, this album doesn't ever seem to reach a conclusion. Roger's as lost and muddled as he was when he started the album - though he promises us a 'Moment Of Clarity', for all we know the comfort of the familiar could be just another trap, another dream sequence. There's also an awful lot of shouting, even for those like me who loved 'The Final Cut' and hearing the full album in one go is a tiring experience. However unlike some reviews out there, this album is neither pointless nor worthless and is something every Roger Waters fan should at least (perhaps only) once, just to get to grips with what makes its creator tick. An album without any real veneer to hide things from us or to tidy ideas up, it's as close as we're likely to get to the 'real' Roger.

4.30AM ('Apparently They Were Travelling Abroad)' starts innocently enough, with Beth Porter as the 'wife' trying to wake Roger up from his slumber and seemingly giving up as he's under too deep. A far too perfect sequence of two new lovers driving away to a new life in a show of solidarity, the twist at the end of the song seems to be that Roger is watching the events unfold to somebody else and wishing it was happening to him ('The sun shone down on her lovely young limbs, and I thought to myself she's too good for him'). The melody plays 'Final Cut' style keyboards over all this ('Your Possible Pasts' especially) while Roger is at his lascivious best, making the line 'is anyone...hungry?' sound like the creepiest question ever asked on record.

4.33 AM ('Running Shoes') is a noisy four minute rock song with bleating saxes and manic drums as Roger throws in some bizarre metaphors as he stands at the side of the pavement watching events unfold ('She had the kind of a smile that only a dull child would have drawn while attempting a graveyard in the moonlight'). Her head is turned by his Green Lamborghini though and  Roger plays the line 'she could feel the power in my engine' for all he's worth. Again, not much of a song with largely the same tune as the last song.

4.37 AM ('Arabs With Knives') rudely wakes him into another dream, one where arabs with knives have invaded this safety while Roger's response, weirdly but in keeping with dreamland, not fear but outrage that he can't even be safe at home in bed in England these days. More alarming to him is his new lover telling him 'what we did was wrong' at which point he has 'one of his turns' and throws her out of his house. Roger ends the song by ordering breakfast - this one's less psychedelic than the 'Atom Heart Mother' days although it's good to hear he still liked marmalade...

At 4.39AM ('For The First Time Today')  Roger finally gets what he wants, holding his lover in his arms, and immediately regrets it. A torturous cry of 'ooh babe' straight from 'Mother' leads into Roger caterwauling 'Stay With Me' like Rod Stewart on steroids. This is the least musical 'song' here and is more of a narrative between the other songs, highlighted by some nice keyboard work by Michael Kamen and an eerie string arrangement.

By 4.41AM ('Sexual Revolution') Roger has forgotten his doubts and got horny instead. Originally intended for the part of 'The Wall' following 'Young Lust', this song has Roger trying to get his girlfriend to conform to what he's been taught, urging her to paint her lips ('Not what the Good Lord made, but what he intended!') and - more like Pink than the rest of this album - sounds so up himself you want to slap him. Roger is human enough to plead with her that 'I'm only a rat in a maze like you', though. Waking up in a sweat in 'our' world, his wife puts him to sleep again with more sexual innuendos than a Carry On film.

At 4.47 AM ('The Remains Of Our Love') Roger has an epiphany which sounds like a more muted repeat of the happier half of 'Comfortably Numb'. He doesn't want to leave his wife and she isn't mad at him anymore, telling him 'come here you silly boy - I was only joking!' The pair try to start a new life in the country while Clapton plays some pretty country licks on a slide guitar (sounding not unlike his pal George Harrison in the process), but things soon go wrong: the pair are arguing as early as the car ride there over what directions to use.

Over on side two it's 4.50 AM ('Go Fishing') - at least on early copies, later CDs skip the ten second pause that makes this second side start spot on time - Roger is remembering past car journeys when his family were safely together and every journey meant taking a mini-house full of 'books about everything, from solar panels to how nice natural childbirth is' (Roger has very intellectual parents!) A pretty opening quickly goes wrong, though, with a 'Final Cut' style loud section which disturbs the peace even though lyrically this is still an idyllic picture. Roger gets to write, read 'Winnie The Pooh' to his children in between puffs on a cigarette and 'only occasionally go into town' while his wife works away at a loom. The family even adopt a fox cub and give him a new lease of life after his mother becomes 'somebody's coat'. But, of course it all goes wrong: the children catch Bronchitis, the car runs out of diesel petrol, 'the crops turned brown, the leaves fell down - it was over'.  A distraught Roger snarls 'Fuck it then - maybe I'll see you around?!'

At 4.56AM ('For The First Time Today' Part One') Roger is back at the same place but sinking down not going up, convinced his marriage is over and realising he no longer has the excuse of his wife being 'Tommy',  'playing dumb, deaf and blind' to his infidelities. Al Roger is left with is a lonesome road.

At 4.58AM 'Dunroamin' Duncarin' Dunlivin') Roger is the one waiting for a lift and the one being taken for a ride. Roger plays along with his latest groupies' pleas for a new life and even buys them old ducks on the wall but both of them are playing, her 'waiting for Mr Right to come along' and Roger hiding from having to make a decision. Unfortunately the longest song on the album doesn't have much of a tune, instead repeating the earlier refrain from 'Running Shoes' et al at a slower speed.

The most singalong, memorable musical moment on the album is 5.01 AM ('The Pros and Cons Of Hitch-Hiking'), an upbeat uptempo rock song which finally gives Clapton the space to play his trademark sounds. Unfortunately lyrically it's about the weakest song here, a clichéd track about a female biker and Roger a 'fish taking a hook'. The second half of the song is the part with the Yoko Ono references and are downright peculiar - if any artist knew how precious life was (especially in the mid 1980s) its Yoko Ono, who campaigned so hard for peace and ending wars. However it does give Roger the chance for some belated humour: 'Jump' she says, 'No -I'm too young and good looking!' I cry.

The best song on the album without a doubt is 5.06AM ('Every Stranger's Eyes'), in truth the only moment here that sounds like a 'proper' song. Stopping off at a diner, Roger gets asked by a waitress if he wants a cup of coffee and he falls in love - for about the fifth time today. Roger's back to his listing ways in the lyrics but at least he does so poetically here, discovering that he can fall in love with strangers from all round the world if he sees a special spark of character and kindness in their eyes (('In transit camps, under arc lamps, on unloading ramps, in faces blurred by rubber stamps'). In one sense this is a song of solidarity for the lost and homeless, a Roger without a home seeing 'himself' in 'every stranger's eyes. He ends the song by remembering that he once saw himself in his wife's eyes too and longs for her to 'rekindle the hope' he once saw in her eyes. Like 'Nobody Home' on 'The Wall' it's the moment of humanity the album badly needs and one of Roger's best songs for the dispossessed and downtrodden.

By 5.11AM ('The Moment Of Clarity') Roger has reached a decision - for now anyway, goodness knows what he thinks the next time he wakes up. Though its fading the longer he wakes up, Roger realises that he's fated to live the rest of his life with his wife and that the grass really isn't greener anywhere else. A little bit afraid that he really is alone when he first stirs, he's relieved to see her sleeping body next to his - for now anyway - realising that his problems stem from one profound thought: 'I couldn't take another moment alone'.

In real life Roger stayed with his second wife Carolyne Christie - the Third Marquiss Of Zetland - for another eight years, the pair divorcing in 1992 after sixteen years together (Roger recently divorced his fourth, suggesting that he's still darting between the glory of security and the thrill of the unknown even today). 'Pros and Cons' sounds like his romantic and realist sides fighting each other out for where his life and those of the people around him might be better off - together or apart - but it doesn't really come to an answer. Like Eeyore, the grumpy A A Milne character who stares at his reflection and calls himself 'pathetic', Roger is trying to face up to who he is and what he stands for across this album and still can't decide what decision is best. With 'Hitch-Hiking' a metaphor for affairs and liaisons, compared to the planned shared long-haul journey of marriage, Roger tries to enjoy both and come badly unstuck. So too does the music at times, but there's a bravery about this album's bravado and a chance to revel in the revelations that makes 'Hitch-Hiking' a worthy album in the canon. A confused, heavy going, repetitive, slow-burning, downright peculiar mixture of surrealist imagery and sub-conscious thought admittedly, but a worthy album all the same. Though a Floyd version of this album would never have been as loved or respected as 'The Wall', it could yet have been a 'fan favourite', with more Roger Waters per square inch than any other album he's yet made.

David Gilmour "About Face"

(EMI, March 1984)

Until We Sleep/Murder/Love On The Air/Blue Light/Out Of The Blue//All Lovers Are Deranged/You Know I'm Right/Cruise/Let's Get Metaphysical/Near The End

"I don't want this anger that's burning in me!"

'About Face' has gone down in Floyd history as the 'one where Gilmour gets angry'. Recorded in a pique of pure Gilmourness in the wake of 'The Final Cut's pure Watersness, this is the record with the front cover that looks as if it's caught David unprepared mid-argument, his nostrils flaring, his lips pursed, his eyebrows half-raising into a frown while her jerks back his thumb as if to say 'don't blame me - blame him!' at an imaginary Waters whose ghost hangs heavy across this album. It's a record full of songs named 'Murder' and 'All Lovers Are Deranged' and a pointed 'You Know I'm Right' and has a reputation for being a bit, well...noisy. The Bob Ezrin producer's credit doesn't bode well for this being a quiet melodic album either given both 'The Wall' and 'Momentary Lapse'. Given that the songs that worked least well on the Gilmour-led Floyd albums were full of similar bombast and aggression ('The Dogs Of War' 'What Do You Want From Me?') I wasn't exactly looking forward to this record and put it off until I both couldn't find any more other Floyd records worth buying and at a cheap enough price to allow my conscience to rest easy that it was worth it for a 'collection completer'.

I should have discovered this album earlier. Though there are moments of high-tempo rock and more than a little frustration coming over in the lyrics, people have got this album all wrong. This is a sweet little record, one that's humble and small but is so tired of not being heard that it occasionally has to grow from a mouse into a monster to make it's points, before apologising and getting hung about it. The songs tend to be Gilmour at his most sympathetic, struggling to work out other people's motives and trying to make peace with things that bother him - even if he struggles at times, as in the case of a murderer interviewed on the news or, of course, Roger (though 'You Know I'm Right' is about the most low key 'how dare you' song you'll ever hear). The only two songs that really go for the jugular, fascinatingly, are the products of David's all-too-brief working relationship with The Who's Pete Townshend. Both men were at a loose end, their bands having seemingly fallen apart between them and at the end of difficult periods in their respective love lives. Interestingly Townshend and Gilmour together seem to equal a mixture that's more like both their respective 'Rogers' (Daltrey and Waters) - angry, sarcastic and bitter (the pair met when 'The Final Cut' over-ran and had to be finished off at Townshend's Eel Pie Studios. he probably got on well with Dave as both shared houseboat studios and a passion for guitars, though oddly Pete doesn't seem to have got on well with Roger, one of the few writers who could go toe to toe with him in terms of big ideas and concepts; a third Gilmour/Townshend song 'White City Fighting' will end up as the title track of Pete's album in 1985). 'All Lovers Are Deranged' is a spiteful vengeful anti-love songs that tells us that there's no such things as love and we're all suffering some wicked delusion which we need to snap out from right now. 'Love On The Air' is calmer, but still harks back to the inner turmoil both men suffered in the 1970s, part 'Wish You Were Here' ice detachedness, part 'Who By Numbers' depression. Elsewhere Gilmour - in between having Roger and Polly Samson as his main creative partner - writes seven lyrics himself, more than any other project he'd ever been involved in. Perhaps that's why 'About Face' feels more personal, with the stakes higher and the confessions more plentiful.

Left to his own devices, Gilmour seems more keen on returning to the pastoral tranquillity that marked out his first Floyd songs and will be especially felt on his next two solo records (delayed for twenty and thirty years respectively). Most of these songs are pretty - prettier than on 'David Gilmour' - and thoughtful, as concerned with life and people as any lyric from 'Animals' or 'The Wall' but without the irony or bitter excuses of Waters' work. The trouble with this album is, David also wants to play out the frustrations of the past few years so many of these songs get big epic productions and steaming fat guitar solos, which in themselves are as great as ever but over-topple this fragile, brittle collection of songs. With Roger still quiet over the idea of the Floyd making another album (before his proposed court case brings out the fighter in Gilmour) Dave clearly worries that this is the start of a new lifetime of making records like this, rather than a one-off the way his debut had been, so also throws in every last mid-80s gimmick he can think of. Sometimes that backfires as it does on every 1980s album that's written from the heart: everything's kept at a distance, with thudding booming repetitive drums the antithesis of soul-searching. But at times it works - well, more than it will on 'Momentary Lapse' anyway - with the new direction bringing out a new side to Gilmour. Though cobbled together from two separate abandoned versions and edited into something new and also long hated by fans 'Blue Light' is a great song, Gilmour stamping his mark over 'his' parts of 'Run Like Hell' with a chopping guitar part that fits oddly well in period sounds the way the original is one of only a handful of disco songs that make sense. The sudden switch of gears from low key singer songwriter pop to tormented 1980s heavy metaller on 'Murder' is also a delight, as if Gilmour is so incensed at the suffering that he tries out some of his own. 'Until We Sleep' is also a 1980s song in every way, with doomy effect-laden vocals, booming drums, a shimmering digital backing track and a sense of not much happening, but because it sports a decent slow-burning tune and is so different to what Gilmour usually gives us it works - sort of. You wouldn't want another album of this stuff, but 'About Face' is better than both the time period and reputation suggests.

Still, though, the album's true inner beauty shines most on the thoughtful ballads. 'Out Of The Blue' is one of Gilmour's loveliest, purest songs and sounds more like Rick's usual style - a melancholy song about suffering being put right played on a piano, with an orchestral part that beats any on 'The Final Cut'. 'You Know I'm Right' is more of a plea than an argument, Gilmour trying so hard to be the face of reason while admitting that he's so moved to anger he can barely keep his emotions in check. 'Cruise' is Gilmour's one and only solo political comment, a pretty ballad that sounds on first hearing like a love song but turns out to be a love song from Britain to America when studied, a 'thankyou' note for being burdened with a set of nuclear missiles for spare change while Britain massages the bigger power's ego. And best of all closer 'Near The End' is glorious and features a trick Gilmour will return to again: the record a metaphor for his career. Will we, the fans, turn it over and start again? Or have Pink Floyd gone through too many changes, leaving their supporters behind? Will he lose our affections and support as well as Roger's? Not content with that, Gilmour turns it into a song about death wondering what he'd be left with if he died tomorrow - what his life was all for. It's an astonishing song so Gilmour in so many ways, touching on the miscommunication themes of 'Division Bell' and the fear of the unknown of 'Rattle That Lock' and 'The Endless River' with a self-realisation of what's happening to him that borders on Barrett levels. All that lot leaves only the rather anonymous instrumental 'Let's Get Metaphysical' in the 'you really don't want to hear that' box - the other nine songs though are all valid and varied entries into Gilmour's canon. Though his other three solo albums all contain individual songs up to this record's level, this is easily Gilmour's most rounded work and one of the best Floyd solo albums out there, up with 'The Madcap Laughs' 'Wet Dream' and 'Amused To Death', great company indeed.

'Until We Sleep' almost comes with Roger's 'Wall' cry 'Are there any paranoids in the audience - anyone here who worries about things?!' The single most 80s pop song any of the Floyd released, it ought to be awful but instead it works rather well, with Gilmour a lone vocodered voice in an uncaring unfeeling soul-less world that seems to have gone mad. Only Gilmour's stinging guitar brings any warmth. 'Play and blow your cares away' Gilmour sings at one point, but not as if he means it - instead this song is a plea for calmness and stability in a world so shaken to the core he half-fears the stars won't be in the sky next time he wakes up.

'Murder' starts off as a pretty ballad, a faster 'Wish You Were Here'. People find solidarity after a tragedy, none of them quite comprehending it 'with eyes that just stare'. Gilmour is more interested in the murderer though, ashamed that someone though this was 'the only way of making his mark', even comparing himself to the murderer as his anger rises up and spills forth in an electric ending that's as emotional as we've ever heard the most reserved member in this most reserved of bands. Gilmour revealed later that he had John Lennon's assassin Mark Chapman in mind when he wrote it (a shame, actually, that he wasn't still collaborating with Waters, who'd surely have blamed Lennon's death on a Government conspiracy and mass hypnotism: Gilmour's pure feeling would have worked well in tandem), although the lyrics are vague enough to be about anyone. Goodness knows there are enough similar cases out there sadly, as Gilmour knows all too well. A gloriously unhinged guitar break at the end is the icing on the cake, Gilmour spitting feathers at the stupidity and aggression in the world.

'Love On The Air' sounds more like Townshend's work than Gilmour's, with its metaphorical lyric about love beaming out like a radio wave (is this where Roger got his inspiration for 'Radio KAOS' from?) and twinkling synths more like his 'Let My Love Open The Door' single three years earlier. The chord changes are very Gilmour though, reaching out a hand in the darkness and trying to take the sting out of the song's tale with soothing reflection while the pure lyrics pleading to be left alone sound like common ground for both men. 'No one will hurt me again - no one will cause me to cry' sighs Gilmour, more in hope than certainty, wondering why he's getting no reply for all the messages for 'love' that he's 'transmitting'. By the time the song comes round again the final time round it's grown in size and sounds like it's found a resolution of sorts.

'Blue Light' was reportedly hard work to get right. First recorded as a sort of manic extended funky jam to have words added on top, Gilmour realised it wasn't working and tightened the song up in the editing suite. ASs a result the compressed riff turned out remarkably like 'Run Like Hell' (which can, surely, only be a good thing), while over the top he added heavy percussion emphasising the off-beats and a busy horn section that's more like jazz. The result is an intriguing hybrid, what the Floyd would sound like if they ever made a Mariachi marching band version of a Santana covers album. The lyrics, long dismissed by most reviewers as pop nonsense, are actually quite revealing for Gilmour, who never did write many lyrics. Another song of longing for the perfect woman, he passes on looks and riches in favour of someone who can bring comfort and support to him. He imagines a 'blue light' around them - symbolic of both prostitutes but also 'help' - it's the colour of police car, ambulance and fire engine sirens. Gilmour is, as it happens, only another couple of years away from meeting Polly, the love of his life.

'Out The Blue' continues the colourful theme with one of the loveliest ballads in the Gilmour canon. The guitarist pours out his heart to us as he gets on his high horse about the future of his and our children. Everyone, he says, deserves to 'live in the light, be safe from the storm', but knows that the world doesn't play ball, with too many innocent victims 'their blood spilled like wine'. Gilmour is tired of pretending that the 'thunder' of oppression he feels in the air all around him will just go away, but equally he feels powerless to stop it. Interestingly, this song shares a certain feeling and melody to 'Paranoid Eyes', while recycling the orchestra and sudden surging synths of that album and the 'we fall' echoed voice of 'Hey You' from 'The Wall'. Nowhere does this track feel like a 'Gilmour' song, though that's rather fitting for a song about being taken out of your comfort zone. A delight.

Over on side two 'All Lovers Are Deranged'. Written by Pete and Dave feeling more than a little sorry for themselves, it's a snarling stomping rocker about how love makes us do the stupid things and should be listed as a mental aberration. In time lovers both moan about rules they themselves created, 'disembodied souls' that 'fall in fits and starts' and are always moving away from each other and that love is born out of an intoxicating fire that is always going to burn itself out in time. 'You never really fall in love unless you're seventeen!' Gilmour sneers Roger-style as he admits that all future love affairs are coated with the realisation that things will never be perfect. The best song on the album for those who like the noisy stomping side of Gilmour's work, his playing on this song is incredible, ending with a 'crunch' of which even Townshend would have been proud.

'You Know I'm Right' is a clever song from someone bright enough to know that the other side is as stubborn as he is, but equally determined not to give way. 'That's absurd!' Gilmour splutters, wondering about the cause 'is it you or me? Why do we always have to disagree?' Gilmour takes the higher ground by stating that he always tries to at least understand the 'other side's point of view and would never 'turn his back' as his enemy has done, but that doesn't help him win the argument. Though you could make the case for this being a late-period song about the divorce with Ginger, it 'fits' the on-going battle with Roger better, with 'recriminations all around' not just between the pair. Typically, Gilmour uses his song as both reflection of the stalemate, with a main riff stuck in a groove unmoving, and a solution, with a happier chorus that he has to pluck out of the air and sing in falsetto. The song ends where it began, with a truce of sorts, both sides thinking that they've 'won'. A highly revealing track.

'Cruise' sounds like an ordinary period pop song, a little Dire Straits in the finger-picking style and organ accompaniment. But lyrically this may well be the best song on the album, Gilmour sarcastically praising those who brought nuclear missiles to Britain to 'save ius from things we just don't understand', innocently believing that owning the bigger weapons will keep us safe, rather than simply make us the next target when a superpower makes one even bigger. 'You've really taken me in' sings Gilmour, bluffing - his innocent narrator simply referring to being an immigrant in a new land of hope. 'Close friends should never fall out' he sings rather pointedly -in fact Roger would surely have appreciated this song, so close to his own style and jam-packed with 'Wall' style organ parts.

Only 'Let's Get Metaphysical' palls and even this is a more substantial instrumental than any from Gilmour's first album. Most of the track features piano and sleepy strings until Gilmour's slightly over-loud guitar comes in to disrupt the hypnotic spell. It sounds like a great opening for a song that never comes, building up to a climax two-thirds of the way through before ebbing and flowing away again.

'Near The End' though is a great closer. Gilmour is referring to the record at first when he asks the listener if they like it enough to 'turn over and start all over again', adding that he hopes we've felt a 'stirring in our heart'. But the rest of the song is more long-term: Gilmour knows a big change and a major break is coming, he can feel it all around him and it saddens him. All these years he thought the Floyd (for the song is surely about them, perhaps with Gilmour's first marriage in there too) were building to something - and it's not happened, with Gilmour once 'convinced we were getting older and wiser' now alarmed to find 'we were just getting old'. A gorgeously creepy main melody leads neatly to a sweeter chorus,  willing for there to be something there to hold on to when he wakes though he knows it's slipping away. Gilmour then imagines himself on his deathbed, when 'what once was bright is growing dim', trying to be proud of what he's achieved but a little afraid, too, that he's got it wrong - that all this time he's been deceiving himself. A terrific little song, full of very Floydian touches (such as being woefully dark and depressing, and yet somehow slightly uplifting too thanks to Gilmour's music forever at least trying to reach up to the sun) and much under-rated.

 What a tragedy that there's no song that even attempts to dare to be this good on 'Momentary Lapse' and that very few tracks on that album will live up to the standards of this. With its Roger-like gloom and drama it's 'About Face' that's the better 'fair forgery' of the Floyd song, the absence of Nick and Rick not withstanding and this record might well be the most overlooked album in the Floyd canon of them all (along perhaps with 'Wet Dream' and 'Amused To Death). Selling a mere 500,000 copies - compared to the millions of the Floyd's last run of records and even Gilmour's own, sadly few people ever got to hear this album the first time around and even less seemed to understand and like it. Surely, then, it's time for an about face of their own: this is a worthy Floyd record, the deepest and most resonant to date in the Gilmour collection, marred only by a 1980s production framework it uses better than most albums anyway.

Richard Wright in Zee "Identity"

(Harvest, April 1984)

Confusion/Voices/Private Person/Strange Rhythm//Cuts Like A Diamond/By Touching/How Do You Do It?/Seems We Were Dreaming

Cassette and CD bonus track: Eyes Of A Gypsy

"Although you have to play you find parity by listening to the voices inside you"

Rick must have looked over at what was happening on 'The Final Cut' and felt relieved not to be a part of the Floyd anymore. However, by the same token, Dave and Nick must have looked over to see how far and desperate Rick had fallen - joining up with ex-Fashion synth player Dave Harris for a ridiculously of its time album - as a warning for what might have happened if they left the Floyd. It's often been said that the biggest problem with 'Identity' is that it doesn't have one, being a faceless crib of every other period synth album around. The only other album like it in the Floyd canon is Nick's 'Profiles' and at least that collection of jingles had the decency to be short (for the most part) and memorable (at least while the song was playing. 'Identity' just sounds like a typical 1980s pop album with Harris' croaky gruff vocals and already dated sounding pop sensibilities drowning our Rick's softer, more melancholic side. You'd be hard to pressed to know that this album had any link with the 1970s Floyd sound  - after all, his name no longer a commercial draw, EMI didn't exactly flag up Rick's past and instead marketed this as a new act. repeated listenings does reveal a few touches of the old Rick here and there though on the better tracks.

'Voices' for example features a 'Marooned' style keyboard opening,  electronically treated vocals (actually by Harris but sounding more like Rick) and the overpowering sense of melancholy and paranoia in the lyrics. The long drifting 'Crazy Diamond' style opening to, erm, 'Cuts Like A Diamond' (was this deliberate?) which does what Rick used to do effortlessly on 70s technology now updated for, gulp, 80s synths and pan pipes (though it's a more suitable backing and a far better song than anything on 'Momentary Lapse'). The Dire Straits-style finale 'Seems We Were Dreaming' which as far as I can tell is the only one with Rick's vocals which sounds like an outtake from 'Wet Dream' (although all the voices on this album are so electronically-treated and the two vocalists relatively similar, so it's hard to tell), with lyrics about the thin line between reality and fantasy. The rest of the album, sadly, sounds more like Fashion than anything by Pink Floyd and if you've never heard of them then that's probably for good reason - they were as much a part of their decade as The Spice Girls were in the 1990s and are hard to take now even for the most bandana-wearing, shoulder-padded, smash-eating 80s retro yuppies out there. Still, a record long dismissed as one of the worst ever in the Floyd canon isn't actually that bad, merely misguided, and deserves half a sympathy point at least for being so relentlessly of its time - something of an oddity and quite a brave idea for an ex-member of a band who were always so consciously removed from time. There's very little Rick here though in truth and its own creator dismissed it as 'an experiment that should never have been released' years later, while the lack of anything memorable doesn't exactly make this 'Ee-Zee' listening for fans (we're here all week folks...)

Nick Mason/Rick Fenn "Profiles"

(Harvest, October 1985)

Malta/Lie For A Lie/Rhoda/Profiles Parts 1 and 2/Israel//And The Address/Mumbo Jumbo/Zip Code/Black Ice/At The End Of The Day/Profiles Part 3

"A game's a game I hear you say, enough emotion in a day, we'll never live enough to play I hear you say"

Like Gilmour, Nick spent the few years after 'The Final Cut' assuming his day job was all but over and he'd have to find a night one. Unlike his colleague, though, Nick wasn't a natural candidate for a solo album - he'd never written a full song (sound effect collages yes, songs no) and was a better speaker than a singer, while despite the star billing his previous album had effectively just featured him playing the drums in a jazz band. Mason always had a love of films, however, and as setting up your own film company was a very mid-80s thing for a musician to do (this is the era of George Harrison's Handmade Films and several others) he decided to have a go at that instead. The project never really got off the ground, though Nick did make a rarely documentary about himself (''Life Could Be A Dream', which is indeed what it seems until you realise that there's no mentions of the other Floyd members and that the rest of his life at the time was more like a nightmare). Along the way he met a likeminded soul in Rick Fenn (a fellow AAA artists by virtue of his three year stint in 10cc between 1978-1981 and at a similar loose end after the loss of his band) who proposed that instead of making films outright they could provide the soundtracks to them instead. Nick was game so 'Bamboo Films' came into being, a production company with high hopes of scoring the biggest film soundtracks but instead only ever really got going on a few other low budget documentaries and advertising jingles. Most Floyd critics scratch their head over the whole enterprise, figure that Nick just wanted a new Porsche for his growing music collection and put it down to having too much time on his hands. However I've always felt there was more to it than this: the Floyd had only just dug themselves out of a very deep financial pit with 'The Wall' (Roger teasing the others with bankruptcy by with-holding the tapes for a time) and were already approaching another one as across 1985 Roger decided to seek his way out of the band via a costly legal battle. Though 'Profiles' sold little and probably cost more to make than it made (that's a nice glossy cover it uses after all, a very Hipgnosis design of shadows blowing a megaphone, very-much-there-but-not-there, that's very Floyd despite not being by them at all but Paul McCartney's old designer Clive Arrowsmith) it also sounds as if Nick could have made an alternative career for himself at this point, happy just to be making music and a little money with friends rather than millions with the warring Floyds.

'Profiles' is a sort of hodge podge of the best of these, a 'Relics' style combination of bizarre oddities, rarities, antiques and curios that includes something old ('At The End Of The Day' is one of the more substantial moments from 'Life Could Be A Dream'), something new ('Lie For A Lie', an actual song mainly by Fenn and given to a guesting David Gilmour to sing) and something borrowed ('Mumbo Jumbo' is so like everything else around in the mid 1980s it hurts). However there's nothing here that's 'blue', which if you've come to these albums in order is something of a shock: 'Profiles' may well be the chirpiest album in the Floyd canon, with no gloomy Roger Waters lyrics, no Rick Wright melancholy keyboards, no morose David Gilmour solos ('Lie For A Lie' is a happygolucky kind of a song) and not even a Carla Blay jazz lick in sight. Perhaps because of its status as a collection of ear-catching jingles, 'Profiles' doesn't have any reason to be anything but jolly, which makes it a more appealing solo album than some in the Pink Floyd universe straight away. The handling of period technology, too, sounds much better in Mason and his pal's hands than it ever seemed to on the later Pink Floyd, with these chirpy synths used the way chirpy synths should be, not as ponderous atmospherics as so often happened on 'Momentary Lapse'.

The downside to all this is that 'Profiles' is also the most shallow of Floyd albums. Most of the songs are instrumentals and unlike, say, 'The Great Gig In The Sky' there's no real hook or meaning behind them. I've played this record a few times over the years and despite the immediate-catchyness of the jingles I can't remember how any of them goes now that the album's finished. Though most are undeniably pretty (barring a noisy ten minute title track, though the shorter 'Profiles 3' is rather lovely with its pinging guitars and shuffled percussion), they're also pretty pointless unless mid 1980s jingles are your thing (and if they are then I'd see a doctor about that quick). Mason again gets precious little to so, although you feel that he was at least in the room when these songs were getting bashed into shape, unlike 'Fictitious Sports' - and Rick Fenn, a highly under-rated talent, is probably a more capable partner of shouldering a whole album than Carla Bley had been. There are, thank goodness, two songs that make the whole record seem a little more substantial and both are up to the standard of most Floyd solo releases, if not the band albums - there's certainly enough skills displayed here to make you wish Mason and Fenn had written a whole album like this. As it turns out Rick wrote 'Lie For A Lie' (a poppy song about matching like for like and playing games in relationships, which is very like his 10cc reggae style) almost by accident, the pair deciding to write 'Israel' (an oddly aggressive protest song with a great synth hook) as a way of 'balancing' the two sides of the record with a song each. Both feature guest stars from the men's past: Denny Peyronel turns 'Israel' from a serious song with a message to say about crumbling civilisations into a cartoon, while Gilmour excels on 'Lie For A Lie', a welcome chance to actually sound happy without the baggage of the last few years of Floyd). Both are well worth hearing and so is the whole album in a funny sort of way, if only to hear what a 'happy' Floyd album sounds like - just beware that in Floyd terms this is a snack rather than the usual banquet.

Roger Waters/Various Artists "When The Wind Blows" (Original Soundtrack)

 (Virgin, October 1986)

When The Wind Blows (David Bowie)/Facts and Figures (Hugh Cornwall)/The Brazilian (Genesis)/What Have They Done? (Squeeze)/The Shuffle (Paul Hardcastle)/The Russian Missile/Towers Of Faith/Hilda's Dream/The American Bomber/The Andersen Shelter/The British Submarine/The Attack/The Fallout/Hilda's Hair/Folded Flags

"The sea of battle rages round the ancient tombs, while mother nature licks her wounds"

Roger's first act, post-Floyd, was to revive the old band passion for matching visuals and audio with the first film soundtrack since 1972's 'Obscured By Clouds' (with the obvious exception of the band's own 'Wall' film). By Roger's recent standards this was an easy project and Waters seems to have enjoyed not having the pressure of having to write a full-on concept album or a work that had to live up to the Floyd name/ Unfortunately it's also the start of a fleeting love of 1980s technology that will mar the next few Waters projects and on which the old Floyd hallmarks of silence, thought and depth are sacrificed for booming linn drums and noisy synthesisers. Roger was an obvious choice to provide the music for Raymond Briggs' deeply frightening cartoon, which is to the 1980s what 'Dark Side Of The Moon' was to the 1970s: a collection of a generation's doubts and fears about how the world was turning out and what might be in store in the future. A harrowing cartoon about nuclear annihilation as seen through the eyes of an innocent elderly couple, who trust their Government to do the best thing and believe in their ridiculous 'warning' booklet about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack to the letter, it's deliberately made to be as shocking as it can be. Briggs, a writer of children's books including 'The Snowman' and 'Fungus The Bogeyman', is never a stranger to tackling big themes for young audiences (the first is about death, the second prejudice via scary monsters) and so is a natural sparring partner for Roger. However Briggs excels himself here with his masterwork which appears to all intents to be for a family audience but is instead the most grisly cartoon ever made, a world away from the usual fare (most reviewers compared it to Disney, though it only works for contemporary Disney stuck in the mire of 'My Little Technicolour Mermaid' - 'Pinocchio' and 'Bambi' especially are also two highly grisly cartoons about death and betrayal).

Sadly, though, Waters doesn't quite raise his game enough with the soundtrack album. Admittedly like most soundtrack albums Roger is limited with how much mood and meaning he can pack into an album that's effectively a group of instrumentals and a title and closing song. However the likes of 'More' and 'Obscured By Clouds' had proved how well Roger and co could cope with drawing up feeling through nothing except music - here the melodies get a little left behind in a sea of period technology. In some ways it works - better than on the sequel 'Radio KAOS' anyway - by virtue of making out that what's really responsible for the cold war is a feeling of disconnection and emotional coldness that was always heading towards the digital sound of the 1980s so short on love. However heard across a whole album, it's awfully wearing on the ears - and given that the film is already wearing on the eyes, deliberately so, it's a shame that it isn't just a little bit softer.
As a sign of just how mired i the mid-1980s this project is, though, Roger comes out of the film sounding much better than his contemporaries. The film's theme song - provided by David Bowie - is hideous, lacking any of the film's directness or subtlety and falling into loud-mouthed cliché, while Hugh Cornwall's 'Facts and Figures' and Genesis' The Brazilian' are pretty gormless too, more about making noise than making music. Only Squeeze's retro 'What Have They Done?' feels as if it belongs on this album. That leaves Roger with a mere twenty-five minutes to make his mark via a collection of pieces that range from a few seconds to seven minutes. The best of these are 'Towers Of Faith', a first reunion with 'Great Gig' singer Clare Torry, which is less moving than back in 1973 but better than Torry's contributions to 'Kaos'. A combination of biblical tales of destruction and modern greed and avarice, it's a song that peaks too soon but features Roger's wrath at its most scathing and features the best line of the album: 'The Pope rode up in his armoured vehicle...and said something I did not understand. Well, it was in Polish...' 'Hilda's Dream' features some pretty acoustic guitar 'n' synth noodling not too far removed from 'Unknown Song', the outtake from 'Zabriskie Point' but a little slower. 'The Andersen Shelter' is a pretty orchestral piece that uses the clever technique of fading the film dialogue under the music so you can just hear it - in the film of course the music does the same for the speech. 'The Attack' is a scary synth battle that few fans would be hard pressed to recognise as Waters' work. although you can hear shades of 'On The Run' and 'Welcome To The machine' in the digital world's relentless anarchy and oppression. 'The Fall Out' is all new though, a snaking eerie landscape where very little exists except an echoing murmur of what once was. 'Hilda' Hair' is an unexpected burst of jazz, the poorly OAP hallucinating that she's back in her first plume of youth, with those familiar synths knocking on the door trying to get in. The soundtrack album then concludes with the epic 'Folding Flags', a sequel of sorts to 'Brain Damage' with the same mixture of depression and singalong hope. A re-telling of 'Rock A Bye Baby' that damns the world powers who caused the destruction ('You can prove all you want but your people will still be dead'), it's a worthy finale full of pathos and hope until a godawful sax solo turns up and takes over the second half of the song. Just my luck - a nuclear bomb's gone off and yet all the saxophones seem to have survived...

Overall, then, 'When The Wind Blows' is a minor item in the Waters canon, but a worthy album nonetheless. If you can see past the generic pop provided by other people at the start, the ten second nuggets of sound effects (not counted as actual songs in our review) and the fact that Roger is adapting his sound to another creator's vision then there's much to enjoy here, with two strong songs and a few bits of inventive experimentation making this a worthier Waters album than 'Kaos' to come. At the time it was quite a brave and uncompromising soundtrack for what must surely be one of the bleakest films ever produced. Then post-Berlin Wall - an event marked by Waters himself in three years' time - it seemed like an intriguing time capsule from a time when the events of the film looked not only possible but probable, one day eventually. Heard again nowadays in a slightly scarier and more evil world it seems ever more prescient. In the words of another Waters song it's 'a warning to anyone still in command of our future - to take care'.

Roger Waters "Radio K.A.O.S"

(Harvest, June 1987)

Radio Waves/Who Needs Information?/Me Or Him/The Powers That Be/Sunset Strip/Home/Four Minutes/The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)

"Give me some confirmation there's a way out of here!"

Roger had seemed so confident when he left the Floyd for dead in the mid-1980s that everyone assumed he had a grand masterplan up his sleeve, a solo album concept that was sure to blow anything the rest of the band could do out of the, err, Waters. But actually this is the time when Roger began to falter. The stakes were higher than they had been for 'The Body' or 'Pros and Cons' - this time Roger really was launching a solo career and wanted people to come along with him for the ride. Figuring that he needed to make something greatly commercial, he put his trust into period synths and sounds for an album that given Roger's usual speed at making albums sounded dated before it even reached the shops. Many fans have commented that if only Roger could get round to re-mixing this record and stripping the excesses back (in the same manner as John Lennon's 'Double Fantasy' a few years ago) there might be a great LP in here somewhere. However, I doubt it because worse than the sound of this album is the substance, Roger's usually spot-on ideas about how much of a story his fans can take seemingly deserting him.
The plot revolves around  a simple-minded paraplegic named Billy, who grows up in an impoverished family hit by the coal miner's strike. Billy a computer whizz, starts a false computer simulated nuclear attack that brings the world's superpowers to question whether they really would push the big red button, while Billy confesses to a local radio that actually it was him what did it. Goodness knows that plot alone is complicated enough for a 40 minute album, but hidden in there somewhere is Billy's twin brother Benny whose also a coal miner and has lost his job and is unable to feed his family. Annoyed by a condescending Thatcher TV broadcast about how miners should be 'looking harder' for other work he stages a protest, which goes horribly wrong when a bridge is damaged so badly a car flies off it killing the people inside. Molly, their mum, is distraught when both brothers are questioned and although Billy is left off he's sent to America to live in America (at least, if you count the album's B-sides as 'canon') Billy, of course, doesn't know this yet but picks all this up through 'radio waves', although that sense of every bit of information intertwined that Roger sings about sounds more like what will become the internet in another decade or so. That's a lot for any album to pack in and to do so you really need to understand the characters if you can't always understand the plot. The trouble is, Roger's other characters tend to be defined by what happen to them across a plot - Pink, for example, is a nothing and no-one character at the start of 'The Wall' but by the end you at least have some sympathies for him, even if you think he does go on moaning just a bit. Billy, though, is under-written with no similar songs told from his point of view, merely songs about him and trying to short-circuit our empathy with his disabilities never quite comes off either because there's no background to it (if Billy had been injured in a war, or had an operation cancelled because Margaret Thatcher the Milk Snatcher took his dad's job away then this record would make more sense, but it feels like something's missing from the storyline somehow, eve with the three period B-sides that are also linked to the plot taken into account. Billy's synthetic voice too is impossibly hard to hear, though to be honest the broad American radio DJ Jim Ladd isn't a lot clearer and his attempts at humour sound woefully forced and out of place.

You can forgive a lot about  a concept album if the songs are good enough, but again Roger's usual knack of writing big concepts in with small human details seems to have deserted him. Most of these songs are mere pop songs and rather bland ones at that, more memorable for the repetitive beats than the words or melodies. There are, at least, a small handful of songs that stick out across the mire, usually the ones that use the production values the least: 'Who Needs Information?' is the one song here with a heart to match it's rhetoric, 'Me Or Him' adds some Japanese style instrumentation and haiku-style lyrics although none of this seems to have anything to do with the plot, 'The Powers That Be' is a sweet ballad with Roger's usual humanism in play at last and the album's most famous moment, the finale 'The Tide Is Turning', at least sports a decent tune and some long belated hope. However even these songs lack Roger's usual wordplay and sound pretty dispassionate too, with Roger taking a back seat to ill-fitting guest stars such as Paul Carrack and even old Floyd session singer Clare Torry, who struggles with 'Home', a song a million miles less expressive than 'Great Gig' despite this being one of the few songs to actually feature words. There is, in fact, a lot of interesting ideas thrown into this mix - it just needs developing across a wider space and with more interesting songs to keep our attention. Many fans will back Roger when he says that his passing love for the new period technology got in the way of the ideas - the bank of synths was, after all, an obvious means of replacing a whole missing band on Roger's first 'real' solo album. But even if you'd taken the technology away this would still be a messy and hard-to-follow album, with that usual Waters insight and poetic-ness reduced to a few sound-bites and characters who are never more than shadows.

'Radio Waves' is noisy pop that seems to spend an awful lot of the song repeating the title mindlessly, like a spruced up big budget commercial, which is a brave and dangerous move for an album with so much plot to convey. Roger seems to be discussing the idea of the social media early here, though, with the FM channels full of a world of people who all have opinions to express. The lyrics though are crude and unworthy: 'Magic Billy is in his wheelchair is picking all thisstuff up in the air...' Weirdly, and post-modernly, the song ends with the DJ announcement of a song named 'Radio Waves' that makes several reference to the plot.

Suddenly we're introduced to Billy's brother Benny on a tale of the two dispossessed brothers walking down town and wondering who buys all the stuff they see on sale and feeling jealous ('How do you make a have out of a have not?') 'Who Needs Information?' is one of the least memorable tracks in terms of song, but it's probably the best lyric on the album as Roger's 'Final Cut' style sneer sticks up for the anti-Thatcher protest voices that the society of the time was simply dismissing without thought. Heard here, in a well-we've got-nothing-to-lose-have-we? demonstration , the Brothers' anti-austerity protest sounds like the most natural thing in the world, although in truth it fits the 2010 London riots better than any event that happened at the time (until the Poll Tax riots that led to her downfall in 1990 there were surprisingly little grass-roots marches against Thatcher in Britain). For now, Billy's sense of 'Radio Waves' passing to him from other people is claustrophobic: 'Who needs information' he sighs 'When you're living in constant fear?'

'Me Or Him' is Radio Kaos' problem in a nutshell - what starts as a sweet ballad about Benny worrying about his brother turns into a much bigger song trying to cover the whole of human evolution inside four minutes as well, with this the album song that most points the way towards 'Amused To Death'. Figuring that life was better off before someone invented the wheel, Benny sighs (the brothers do a lot of sighing across this album) that life now a dog-eat-dog world where he sees to spend most of it competing for a 'parking spot'. Benny physically uses a radio so he can talk to 'ordinary people' again, but all he can hear is the scene of the protest/'accident replaying in his head. A period news clip then has sound-bites of an interview with a right-wing paper asking whether the Russians would dare to be so bold if Ronald Reagan were president (Clue: oh yes they would!)

'The Powers That Be' is the most needlessly noisy and 'modern' (in as much as any 1980s album now sounds modern) song on the album, with Paul Carrack's grunting shout a pale compensation for the loss of David Gilmour. A typical Roger Waters 'list' song, full of all the pressures of modern life one after another, with only a 'you better run out home' chorus to tie them all together, it's hard to know what this song is saying: stay home and don't protest? Or that this life is scarier than you know and full of forces you don't understand, with loss of human lives 'attrition'? The song ends with Billy bidding goodnight to the DJ with a dog barking mysteriously in the background.

It turns out that the dog belongs to Billy's uncle David and he's now been moved out to Sunset Strip, though good luck working that out just from the lyrics! 'Sunset Strip' has Billy feeling as if he's just entered a different world to the bleak futureless monochrome Britain he's left behind - this American way of life is garish and full of twinkling artificial lights. Billy feels 'alien and strange, outta range', but he enjoys the nature around him and the beach where life is quiet enough for him to 'tune in' with the Welsh valleys of home. Here the only thing people seem to talk about on the air is what sort of fish they don't like (!) The DJ interrupts with a shout of 'shut up and play the next record!' The listeners at home quite agree...

'Home' is one of the more intriguing tracks. Though the song starts as a geography lesson with another of Roger's 'lists', Waters does quite a bit of fortune telling here, asking us if we're prepared to believe that other cultures hate us so much that we're willing to give up so many of our freedoms (the way we did post 9/11). Giving the power of us and them to the powers that be turns us all into 'second class citizens', longing for the old days of cowboys shooting out in duels rather than the uneven battles between those with power and those without it. Billy feels 'a lion within him that roars' as he picks up on all the frustration around the world. Alas the song is soon ruined by the mother of all Roger lists as he describes just about every human being on the planet like a musical game of guess who ('Could be a foreigner, could be a Turk, could be a cyclist out looking for work...') and some hideous linn drums that make what should be a moving song lifeless and distant.

'Four Minutes' is where the plot really kicks in, with Billy deciding that what the world secretly wants is an end to their misery. Roger's clearly been watching the period film 'War Games' here as he has Billy's keen brain infiltrate the nuclear missiles of America and Russia and somehow makes them look as if both isees are in imminent danger. Billy's bluff works, with both sides aborting just in time (though it's unclear whether the missiles really would have blown or whether Billy just made them look that way). Typically, though, the DJ thinks he's joking and rings off before realising Billy meant it and trying to get him to ring back. Billy, though, is too busy singing one of the most plot-driven songs on the album, a song about never taking second best. Trying to make the human race remember 'every time you vowed never to step back on the plane' and every time we felt the lion roar before giving up and resting on our laurels, Billy urges us all to remember this moment and that we have power over our aggressors. Alas the song itself is rather less easy to remember. This song seems to have been left over from both 'The Wall' and 'The Final Cut' - while it might not have settled well on the former, it would have made a better ending on the latter than 'Two Suns In The Sunset', at least had it been recorded with that album's orchestral feel rather than the 1980s pop.

That was, apparently, the original ending, which would have made 'Kaos' even bleaker than 'The Final Cut'. However in the middle of writing the album Roger was sat at home watching his old pal Bob Geldof's 'Live Aid' concert happening all over the world and feeling that there might be a future for the human race after all. With the most memorable melody on the album, 'The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)' works well in context as an 'Outside The Wall' style soothing balm, although it's a much 'purer' song than that, without any hint of Roger's usual cynicism. It's maybe a little too sickly, actual, with the threat of a 'charity single' hanging over it all, while the rhymes of 'children burning' and 'yearning' for the title are a bit of a stretch. A good song even so, though and the only comfortable ending this work could have had: nothing's really changed, with Benny still in prison and Billy half a world away, and yet everything's changed.

Overall, then, 'Radio KAOS' suffers from Roger simply thinking of too much. He's always loved pushing his audience as hard as he can, through a series of hard-thinking works, but this one is perhaps the heaviest going for fans in terms of plot with no equivalent of 'Another Brick In The Wall' or 'Comfortably Numb' to keep us going. It is easily the weakest of Roger's solo albums and in truth is a less 'fair forgery' of a Pink Floyd album than 'A Momentary Lapse Of Reason', with Roger trying even harder than Dave to sound like Pink Floyd without knowing how to do that without the others there. Still, though, if these two albums are the lowest between them across the whole book, it's not really that low a standard: 'Kaos' especially suffers from too much thought rather than too little. 

Nick Mason/Rick Fenn "White Of The Eye" (Film Soundtrack)

(**, **1987)

Intro/Jam/Murder Number One/Vesti La Giubba/Customized Stereo/In Bed At Day's End/You Sexy Thing/Slim Jenkins' Joint/Do You Still Hunt?/You Sexy Thing Two/I Call That Hotel Home/The Grand Tour/Why Me?/Peanut Butter Two/A Country Boy Can Survive-Murder Number Two/Joanie/Want Some Soup Mom?/I Can't Believe You've Done That/Puke/You Can't Kill What's Already Dead/Don't You Fuckin' Move Bitch/Mommy?/Danielle Gets The Key-Carchase/Psycho Killer/Malher's Second Symphony/Ten Years Gone

"You can't change the channel, man. Future or past!"

'White Of The Eye' was, perhaps, Mason and Fenn's highest profile film commission. A middle-selling box office hit, the last y artist turned director Donald Cammell (who started his career in 1970 directing Mick Jagger in 'Performance'), this was a 1987 spy drama based on the novel 'Mrs White' about a stereo installer turned murderer tracked down by a detective who risks life and limb in the closing scene confrontation. I'm not sure it really deserved a soundtrack album and most of Mason and Fenn's contributions are mood-enhancing seconds rather than properly structured instrumentals, but you can see why the pair released it in the hope of picking up some extra work. Sadly this never came and instead Mason will unexpectedly find himself back in the studio as one half of Pink Floyd anyway before he could have done much more. The resulting album sold badly - so badly people still aren't quite convinced whether this is a 'proper' album or just a bootleg - but while no long lost classic it deserved better than that sharing 'Profiles' knack of a catchy tune and more of Fenn's excellent Gilmour-style guitar work. 'Profiles' still wins, though by virtue of its two actual songs of which there's no equivalent here. 

"Delicate Sound Of Thunder"

(EMI, November 1988)

Shine On You Crazy Diamond/Learning To Fly/Yet Another Movie/Around and Around/Sorrow/ The Dogs Of War/On The Turning Away//One Of These Days/Time/Wish You Were Here/Us and Them/Money/Another Brick In The Wall Part Two/Comfortably Numb/Run Like Hell

"What have we found? Ther same old fears, with you were here"

Pink Floyd had never needed to release a live album before this one. They'd always been a studio band, out for perfection and though they were a great live band in the 1969-1972 era especially (which you can see in the 'Live At Pompeii' film) they didn't necessary want to be seen as a great live band - their driving force was making their albums as pristine as they could be and using the gigs to knock out the rough edges for them. By the late 1980s, though, times had changed. Part of the Gilmour band's drive to prove that they 'were' Pink Floyd was being able to sell enough tickets to draw a huge crowd and re-creating their back catalogue close enough to the originals for people not to notice. On this level they were successful: Gilmour had sang lead on most of the songs anyway and unlike 'A Momentary Lapse' both Rick and Nick were fully functioning members adding their own distinctive sound to the pot. Gilmour spent a long time perfecting the 'spectacle' of the show especially, so that the audios are accompanied by one of rock's first giant screens featuring animation and specially shot videos, a giant bed that flies across the stage, a blow up pig (which had to change genders after Roger tried to claim copyright on it), a spitfire and a laser light show that made most professional new year's firework displays look cheap and nasty. Most of the fans who went to the first 'normal' (ie non-Wall) live show since as long ago as 1975 really enjoyed it and still rave about it today - with good reason if the slightly fuzzy video is anything to go by.

However as a tour souvenir this album is slightly less enjoyable, with a sense of the band going 'look, see, we are Pink Floyd really we are!' without the first clue as to what the real Floyd really are. There are no experiments here and even the bits that may have started as experiments in rehearsals have by now been repeated note for note so many nights in a row that they're simply lifeless. 'Money' for example, noodles along for several extra minutes even though both band and crowd have stopped enjoying it long ago, while Gilmour so clearly hates 'Another Brick In The Wall' it comes over all too loud and clear on the soundtrack. At least the old songs used to have some life about them once however, which is more than you can say for the - gulp - six songs from 'A Momentary Lapse' heard in a row at the start, after only a truncated 'Crazy Diamond' to get the crowd going. So bad are some of these songs, which have even less life than they did in the studio, you wonder how many fans even bothered to come back at half-time. There's certainly no excuse to put them all together, although it does conjure up images of Roger dementedly screaming 'how can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?!' There's a moment  on this album, strangely left in by the editors, which rather says it all: before the song starts an engineer accidentally lets loose the opening clocks of 'Time'. The audience cheers, the clocks stop mid-note and everyone goes 'awww' in unison as the band start up yet another interminable new song. Everything sounds so 1980s too, hence Roger's famous saying as he slammed the shows at the time: 'Those are my songs and my pig up there night after night. It's their dry ice though!' 

That said there are highlights here. 'Sorrow', played for real through a pa system this time, sounds majestic and is a song that seems to have gained new resonance for Gilmour since he wrote it, as he turns in a far better vocal all round. 'One Of These Days' - bizarrely missing from the CD version though heard on the double vinyl and double cassette copies - is no match for the original but does as good a job as any band can thirty years on. When it finally does appear 'Time' is the best mixture of the old and new this era Floyd managed, Nick and fellow drummer Gary Wallis criss-crossing digital drum patterns with (on the video) neon-glow drumsticks. 'Wish You Were Here' is also impressively stark and simple after the preceding hour or so of noise. Sadly, though, it's all a bit ordinary for a band of the Floyd's calibre, proof only that the Gilmour lineup can appeal to the old crowd, not that they can give the fans something worthy of their loyalty. The similar 'Pulse' from six years later - which replicates no less than nine of the songs here - is by far your better best, played with more care and pizzazz. That band is one playing for fun - this is one playing for money, prestige and duty and is a far harder slog. Eben the Hipgnosis packaging is their weakest, a man with an overcoat full of light bulbs and bird's wings (meant, apparently, to symbolise the sight and sound of a Floyd gig) lacking their usual sense of imagination and scope.

Syd Barrett "Opel"

(EMI, Recorded 1969-71, Released April 1989

Opel/Clowns and Jugglers/Rats/Golden Hair/Dolly Rocker/Word Song/Wined and Dined/Swan Lee (Silas Lang)/Birdie Hop/Let's Split!/Lanky (Part One)/Wouldn't You Miss Me? (Dark Globe)/Milky Way/Golden Hair (Outtake)

CD Bonus Tracks: Octopus (Alternate Take)/It Is Obvious (Alternate Take)

"A dream in a mist of gray, on a far distant shore, the pebble that stood alone"

An unexpected release nearly twenty years after the last word from Barrett, this outtakes set proved that EMI had been lying all those years they said there was nothing worth excavating in the Syd Barrett vaults. A testament to just how creative Syd had been, especially in 1970, despite being so emotionally lost, 'Opel' is as the title suggests a precious stone, a further missive from an old friend we never thought we'd hear of again. Of course, it needs to be remembered that this is an outtakes set and many of these tracks were passed over for good reason: lengthy drum solo 'Lanky' and twee short originals 'Birdie Hop' and 'Let's Split!' are easily Syd's most embarrassing works, sensibly passed over at the time in favour of better material while none of the alternate versions add much: 'Dark Globe', for instance, is awful. But the best of this set is a revelation: 'Clowns and Jugglers', the first take of what became 'Octopus', is perhaps even better than the finished product with the backing musicians grimly holding on across Syd's twisty-turny chord and temp changes, doing its best to buck and throw them off throughout. The James Joyce inspired 'Golden Hair' is prettier than ever. 'Swan Lee' is a take away from pure greatness but is a charming psychedelic American Indian tale that's the closest of any of Syd's solo works to the manic greatness of 'Piper At The gates Of Dawn'. Title track 'Opel' too may well be Syd's most beautiful song outside 'Chapter 24', as well as the most 'knowing' song since 'Jugband Blues', a man trapped on a desert island after searching for shiny jewels but unable to find his way back to shore (many people have wondered how one of Syd's best songs could ever have been overlooked - sadly it's probably the off-key agonising finale 'I'm tryyyyying' that did it, though in context at the end of a painful song it's a moving moment, Syd trying hard to move his song along and get it to resolve on a final chord that's just out of reach). Though not quite up there with 'The Madcap Laughs' and 'Barrett' as so many fans rushed to proclaim on release, 'Opel' is far better than most outtake sets and like the best of these rarities compilations reveals even more about our lost pioneer than we knew already. Sadly plans to include the first official release of Syd's Floyd outtakes 'Scream Thy Last Scream' and 'vegetable Man' were vetoed by the rest of the band at the eleventh hour, leaving this compilation - like Syd's career it has to be said - tantalisingly limited and just short of greatness.

Nick Mason/Rick Fenn "Tank Malling"

(EMI, Unreleased Soundtrack Album 1989)

Piccadilly Circus/Helicopter Ride/Old Flame/Submission/Hide Me/Stranger In Paradise/24 Hours/Flashback/They're Getting Close/Thinking/Tease/Attack Of The Killer Pimp/Phone A Friend/Yet Another Nightclub/Poof/Office Party/Mr Smooth/Stealth Mode/Bible Study/Break In/Trinket Boomerang/Shower Scene/Goodbye Cashman/Moral Revival Campaign/See You In Paradise

The third and - perhaps mercifully - last of the Mason/Fenn collaborative projects is even weirder than the first two. By now the idea of wacky jingles masquerading as instrumentals and songs was beginning to pall a little and the pair were starting to realising that their side project wasn't the big hit they'd hoped for. This second film soundtrack is not a very good or fitting project, a typically unfunny late 1980s comedy about a journalist sent to report undercover on a Moral Revival Campaign, who unwittingly upsets everyone with his brash ways but stumbles upon a giant paedophile ring (if only people had actually heeded these sort of 'clues' before Jimmy Saville's death eh?) Until the day they turn 'Radio KAOS' into a film (as inevitably they will) this stands as the most misguided Floyd film project, although it does star a young Ray Winstone in the title role and the last appearance by Jason King's  Peter Wyngarde (who should have known better) so you could credit the Floyd drummer as a talent spotter of sorts, I suppose. After flopping at the box office the film was re-released as 'Beyond Soho' but didn't exactly fare much better. Like many film scores but especially 'White Of The Eye', the music is bitty, listenable only in the context of the film and even competent rather than memorable. The highlight: the 'boss' of the ring is compared to Hitler, followed by a burst of German military-sounding drums! With the film dying a slow death the expected soundtrack album got cancelled, though it appears to have got quite far through the process before being abandoned - Mason and Fenn even had time to name their songs and work out a running order (not always the same one as the film), providing an impressively lengthy twenty-five songs' worth, some of which last just a few seconds (though only twenty three feature the duo, with a song each by George Forrest/Robert Wright (no relation) and Chris Thompson). There even seems to have been an album cover made, although that could just have been the invention of a bootlegger with far too much time on his hands.  As even Nick himself said after hearing the playback 'If you sit down to listen to this material I think you will realise, rather suddenly, that you have other things to do!' Alas this project also brought an end to Nick's work with Rick Fenn, who drifted into commercials and session work (including his old pal Graham Gouldman's band Wax).

A Now Complete List Of Pink Floyd and Related Articles To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

‘Wish You Were Here’ (1975)

‘Animals’ (1977)

'The Wall' (1980)

'The Final Cut' (1983)

'A Momentary Lapse Of Reason' (1987)

'Amused To Death' (Waters) (1992)

The Best Unreleased Pink Floyd Recordings

Surviving TV Clips 1965-2014

Non-Album Songs 1966-2000

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part One 1965-1978

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Two 1980-1989

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Three 1990-2015

Landmark Concerts and Key Cover Versions

Essay: Why Absence Makes The Sales Grow Stronger