Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Two albums by Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Pink Floyd A Saucerful of Secrets

These are of course the first two albums by Pink Floyd. The first one is from when the band was led by Syd Barrett, while the second sees them trying to find a new direction without him. I have heard these both before, as I suspect have you.

It is some time since I last heard Piper at the Gates of Dawn. What struck me on now was how exciting the guitar playing is on the more obviously psychey of the songs - 'Astronomy Domine', 'Lucifer Sam', and 'Interstellar Overdrive'. I am more used to Barrett's two solo albums, on which he plays only acoustic guitar, so this electric Syd was a bit of a contrast. It is not that these famous songs were a surprise, it is more the particular cut of the guitar that I had forgotten.

I had also forgotten how good a track 'The Gnome' is. Largely because of its whimsical lyrics this is easily written-off as a piece of twee nonsense, but I think that is to under-rate the track. What really makes it is Barrett's vocal delivery. There is a faint undercurrent of creepy menace to him on this track that had me wondering if his descent into madness was already starting to manifest.

A Saucerful of Secrets feels like a more serious record. It is perhaps more experimental, but it is more focussed in its experimentation, largely lacking the whimsical noodling that you get away from the main tracks on Piper at the Gates of Dawn. 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' continues to have a threatening quality evoking some kind of brown acid experience, for all that the music remains on a tight rein. But maybe some of the other tracks are a bit thin? Sometimes I wonder if the title track is a bit too lacking in a coherent tune, something people take seriously because it is experimental rather than because it is actually that good. Tracks like 'Remember a Day', 'Corporal Clegg' and 'See-Saw' are inconsequential. And Syd Barrett's last appearance with the band on 'Jugband Blues' sounds almost like him playing up to his "Look at me, I am cray-zeee" (except that I think that kind of playing up to his image would have been beyond him).

Wait, what am I talking about? The title track is an amazing piece of dark psych experimentalism, 'Set the Controls…' is another classic, and the opening 'Let There Be More Light' rocks at you face. The tracks I dismissed above as inconsequential make for appealing bridges between the big tunes. I still think 'Jugband Blues' is not so great, however.

In the pages of Frank's APA my colleague Eoghan Barry was talking about how there is a continuity of sound between Barrett-era Floyd and what came later. Listening to these two again, there is definitely something to this. The second album sounds like it logically follows on from the first, even if it is in some ways more experimental. There is also a clear line of development from 'Interstellar Overdrive' on the first album to the likes of 'Echoes' on Meddle. I think, though, that the band continued to develop over their career, making the links harder to sustain over the longer term. You can link from Piper to Meddle, from Meddle to Wish You Were Here, and from there to The Wall (if you must), but if you take the extremes it is hard to see any continuity between Piper and The Wall.

Or maybe The Wall is just sui generis - given how much of it features loads of orchestral musicians and how little of it sounds like it was played by a rock band, maybe there is not actually much of a link from it to any of the previous Pink Floyd albums? Also, it is shite while many of them are good.

Nice pear (something of an oxymoron, given that pears are the very nadir of fruit)

An inuit panda production

No comments: