Life at 33 1/3: Madness and a new beginning

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Pink Floyd: A Saucerful Of Secrets (Columbia)

It is nothing short of a miracle that Pink Floyd managed to record such a decent album in the midst of the Syd Barrett collapse.  At the time (the summer of ’68) I was disappointed, the record sounded like a soft, resigned version of “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn”, robbed for all its distorted, electrical interplanetary outbursts and strange, little psychedelic nursery rhymes.

“A Saucerful Of Secrets” is more like a slow moving mantra, gliding through space.  It seldom raises its voice.  Today however, I gladly admit that it has stood the test of time much better than a couple of the albums that came after.

The group had to hire a new guitarist, David Gilmour, when Barrett gradually became harder and harder to deal with as his mind slipped away.  His contribution to the album is minimal.  He appears on just a few tracks and has only written one of them, “Jugband Blues,” which he also sings.  That is a big difference from their first album where Barrett wrote eight of its eleven tracks and co-wrote a further two.

The band is confused and it bleeds into the music.  They are both trying to build on their reputation created by that magical first album, which of course was close to the impossible, and stake out a new course for themselves.  Identity crisis at play.  Where to go?  The captain had left them, they were on their own.

The mixture of cosmic semi-instrumentals and whimsical songs is the same, but as I mentioned, they lack Barrett’s tormented brain, his high voltage guitar blowouts and his disturbing lyrics.  But they are trying, almost mimicking, as a collective, but with Roger Waters at the helm.  And they are not doing that bad.

The title track and “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” are slow, hypnotic journeys perfectly suited for live extensions.  “Corporal Clegg” sounds as if Barrett is visiting Waters’ brain, although the lyric is anything but Barrett, but rather a preliminary warning about Waters’ war-obsessions.  Actually there are no weak tracks.

“Jugband Blues” wraps up the album, a touching little song, bizarre in its painful gaiety.  It is Barrett’s last contribution to the band he created.  He was gone, but not quite as his ghost would haunt the band for years – and probably still does.

Released: June 1968

Side One

1. “Let There Be More Light” (Waters) 5:38

2. “Remember a Day” (Wright) 4:33

3. “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” (Waters) 5:28

4. “Corporal Clegg” (Waters) 4:13

Side Two

1. “A Saucerful of Secrets” (Waters/Wright/Gilmour/Mason) 11:52

I. “Something Else”

II. “Syncopated Pandemonium”

III. “Storm Signal”

IV. “Celestial Voices”

2. “See-Saw” (Wright) 4:36

3. “Jugband Blues” (Barrett) 3:00

Personnel:

Roger Waters – bass guitar, percussion, vocals.

Richard Wright – piano, organ, mellotron, vibraphone, xylophone, vocals, tin whistle on “Jugband Blues.”

David Gilmour – guitar, kazoo, vocals.

Nick Mason – drums, percussion, vocals on “Corporal Clegg”, kazoo on “Jugband Blues.”

Syd Barrett – acoustic and slide guitar on “Remember a Day”, guitar on “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, vocals and guitar on “Jugband Blues.”

Additional personnel:

Norman Smith – producer, drums and backing vocals on “Remember a Day.”

The Salvation Army (The International Staff Band) on “Jugband Blues.”