Life at 33⅓: Pink Floyd, The Endless River – Relaxing or dull?

Pink Floyd, The Endless River (Parlophone)

Pink Floyd, The Endless River (Parlophone)

Syd Barrett was fired by Pink Floyd back in 1968, but his spirit stayed with the band to the very end.  Roger Waters fired himself after “The Final Cut” (1983), or rather he tried to fire the whole band and bury its name, but didn’t succeed as they kept on rolling, recording a further two studio albums before their final tour in 1994.  But it was not over yet.

The “Live 8” benefit concert in Hyde Park (2005) reunited Waters with Mason, Gilmour and Wright, healing old wounds.  With the death of Syd Barrett (2006) and Rick Wright (2008) one would have thought that finally, the great Pink Floyd had been laid to rest.

Not so.  David Gilmour and Nick Mason simply couldn’t resist the temptation to add one more title to the impressive and vast Pink Floyd catalogue of studio recordings.  It appears that they were doodling a lot during “The Division Bell”-sessions back in 1993-1994.  They had 20 hours worth of instrumental music locked up in the vaults.  Most of it apparently consisted of the interplay between Rick Wright and David Gilmour in slow, ambient pieces quite similar to the intros of classic Floyd songs like “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and “Echoes”.  The difference being that these 1994-pieces didn’t evolve into anything, they were left hanging.

Rick Wright talked about the recordings back in 1994, suggesting that they might be edited down to a 90 minute piece of ambient music.  That same year Floyd engineer Andy Jackson made a one hour edit which was named “The Big Spliff”.  But the group decided against releasing it.

Then in 2012 Gilmour and Mason went back to the original 20 hour tapes, and as a homage to Rick Wright, started creating what was to become “The Endless River”.  They asked Phil Manzanera to pick what sections to work with, and he spent six weeks with the “Division Bell”-outtakes and a Rick Wright rehearsal tape from 1969, assembling four 14-minute pieces.  Then the project took off big time.  Producer Youth got involved, and then a battalion of musicians.  There was extensive overdubbing and re-recording taking place, and one of the tracks, “Louder Than Words”, even turned into a fully fledged song, Gilmour’s wife Polly Samson providing the lyrics.

So that’s Pink Floyd’s swan song, four pieces of music spread over the four sides of a double album.  It sounds very Floydish, no doubt about that, but as mentioned above, the music doesn’t really go anywhere.  It is as if one is stuck inside the “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”-intro, tension building up, very slowly, very delicate, but never reaching that wonderful moment when it all makes sense.  You are waiting for a voice to take you by the hand and lead you into a towering crescendo.  But it never arrives.  Except for “Louder Than Words”, a nice and strong song, but it hardly makes up for all the ambient tension building.

Because each piece is quite short on playing time, all between 12 and 15 minutes long, the vinyl-version actually is a bit annoying.  The CD format is preferable on this occasion, not only because you don’t have to keep turning the records, but also because the music works best if it’s presented as a seamless whole.  There’s not much there to keep you alert, it is wall paper music for the brain, lay down, let the pictures flow.

As a companion piece to “The Division Bell” it might have something going for it.  But to me it sounds more like intro samples from epic songs that were never finished.  It is unmistakably Pink Floyd, I’d say it is a very relaxing listening experience, a polite way of calling it boring, I guess.  But as a swan song and epitaph it doesn’t hold up.  “The Endless River” is more of a footnote, and a nice one as such.

Released: November 10, 2014
Produced by:  David Gilmour, Youth, Andy Jackson and Phil Manzanera
Side 1: Things Left Unsaid/It’s What We Do/Ebb and Flow
Side 2: Sum/Skins/Unsung/Anisina
Side 3: The Lost Art of Conversation/On Noodle Street/Night Ligh/Allons-y (1)/Autumn ’68/Allons-y (2)/Talkin’ Hawkin’
Side 4: Calling/Eyes to Pearls/Surfacing/Louder than Words

Pink Floyd:
David Gilmour – guitars, vocals, keyboards, piano, EMS VCS 3, bass guitar, voice samples
Nick Mason – drums, percussions, voice samples
Richard Wright – Hammond organ, Farfisa organ, pipe organ, piano, Rhodes piano, keyboards, synthesiser, vibraphone, voice samples

Additional Musicians:
Guy Pratt – bass guitar
Bob Ezrin – bass guitar, additional keyboards
Andy Jackson – bass guitar, effects
Jon Carin – synthesisers, percussion loop
Damon Iddins – additional keyboards
Anthony Moore – keyboards (“Calling”)
Gilad Atzmon – tenor saxophone, clarinet

Chantal Leverton – viola
Victoria Lyon – violin
Helen Nash – cello
Honor Watson – violin
Durga McBroom – backing vocals
Louise Marshal – backing vocals
Sarah Brown – backing vocals
Stephen Hawking – voice sample
First published in Pattaya Mail on