Pink Floyd - The Endless River - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Pink Floyd - The Endless River

by Rich Morris Rating:6 Release Date:2014-11-10

This collection of spruced-up outtakes from Pink Floyd’s last official album, 1994’s The Division Bell, is apparently a tribute to late keyboard maestro Rick Wright. I’m sure I can’t be alone in finding that a little surprising, since he was treated pretty shabbily by the other members of Floyd. Sacked during the making of depressive mega-opus The Wall, he was rehired as a session musician, a situation the remaining two official members didn’t see fit to reverse in a hurry when they continued with the band after famously truculent bassist Roger Walters quit.

On the other hand, recognition of Wright’s place at the centre of the band has been a long time coming. He wrote early classic songs ‘Remember a Day’ and ‘Paintbox’, which helped the group find a voice beyond the gonzo psych-rock of poor, acid-fried Syd Barrett, and just try imagining such towering Floyd achievements as ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ or ‘Us and Them’ without Wright’s distinctive keys. My all-time favourite Floyd track (one of my all-time favourite piece of music, actually) is the instrumental ‘Any Colour You Like’, on which Gilmour’s trademark psych-blues riffing intertwines with some of the best synth playing even committed to tape. I just never get tired of hearing it.

So, whatever the backroom politics, this release is generally a good and nice thing. A shame, then, that large sections of it are underwhelming, often sounding like exactly what they are: tarted-up backing tracks for songs destined to remain unrealised. Things start very promisingly; first track ‘Things Left Unsaid’ begins with pure ambient keyboard tones which recall Brian Eno’s gorgeous ‘An Ending (Ascent)’, before evolving into something like Vangelis’ more gentle compositions for Blade Runner.

The opener segues neatly into ‘It’s What We Do’, and by the time the slow, booming drums kick in, you know you’re in classic Floyd territory. And that, in microcosm, is basically what The Endless River offers. It’s a quick hit of classic Floyd, but the mostly instrumental numbers here lack any real depth or character of their own.

At times, you feel remaining members David Gilmour and Nick Mason (and maybe Wright) must have intentionally tried to reference past glories. ‘Anisina’, for example, owes a clear debt to ‘Us and Them’ but is nowhere near as good, not just because it lacks a vocal, but because it replaces the mournful air of the 1973 classic with a cloying, sentimental rhythm and too many guitar histrionics.

Elsewhere, however, things are better. Several tracks work well as instrumentals. These fall into two categories: the more ambient numbers, such as the exquisite ‘Ebb and Flow’ and ‘Sum’, which recall two of latter-day Floyd’s best instrumental works, ‘Cluster One’ and ‘Signs of Life’. Other tracks, such as the aptly named ‘Skins’, rock out in interesting and unusual ways, putting one in mind of early Krautrock by Tangerine Dream or Can, or even more esoteric oddities such as Far East Family Band or the Akira soundtrack by Geinō Yamashirogumi.

As mentioned, almost every track is an instrumental, some clearly just scraps and fragments. Stephen Hawking (or, you know, that thing he talks with) turns up on the staggeringly titled ‘Talkin' Hawkin'. Otherwise, the only fully-formed song is the closing number which, thankfully, is worthy of inclusion in the Floyd canon, if only because of its jaw-droppingly honest opening lyrics: “We bitch and we fight/ diss each other on sight”. Musically, it’s just Floyd-by-numbers but what do you expect?

However it’s been sold to us, it seems likely that The Endless River is simply the result of Gilmour and Mason finally being inspired to finish a project they left to gather dust 20 years ago. Taken in that way, the finished result is just fine, but Floyd fans and anyone who’s curious should know what they’re getting. It’s not a new album, it’s not even a collection of unreleased songs. It’s some odd-and-sods given a spit and polish, basically, and its best bits are very nice indeed. But you probably won’t listen to it much. 

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