RICHARD S JONES: So I feel we’ve signed on for quite the discussion here. Before we begin at the very beginning, I’m keen to find out what album for you best represents the significance of Pink Floyd?
WILL RYAN: There are so many ways to approach that question, which is one of the reasons I love Pink Floyd so much. They were a continually evolving band that at different points in their career offered something completely unique and separate from any other point. The group dynamic is a perfect analog to what the sound resulted in. I think in terms of significance it’s hard to deny that Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall are their two most culturally and perhaps musically significant albums, and I can understand arguments for either when trying to narrow that question to only one. I’ve gone at different points in my life liking both those albums more than the other and feeling one was more significant. Even now it’s hard to come down on either side. I think I’m more emotionally attached to Dark Side because it was my introduction to the group and came at such an early impressionable age for me – that being early adolescence due to my dad’s love of the record. A lot of people hold Floyd up as a wholly prog band, but I feel like that’s not what makes them significant whatsoever. The genre is beside the point. Their relevance is in their approach to albums, which is why post-Meddle seems to be the only era of the band the world is willing to recognize. In that sense, I’d say The Wall is more of a triumph because it is so complex and focused and, yes, accessible. The songwriting is so sharp and the arrangement of the album as a whole is really unprecedented with how sound effects and samples are used. Yet I’d argue the music is better and richer on Dark Side. All that said, the era of the group that I’ve come to love the most, and I didn’t really discover it until college, is the post-Barrett, pre-Dark Side. I think Live at Pompeii might be my favorite document the band has put out even though it’s not an album. Alright, so where do you weigh in on The Wall and Dark Side and what’s your favorite stuff?
RICHARD: I think you’ve highlighted quite a salient point there when you describe post-Meddle Pink Floyd as the only era the world is quick to recognize. I think that’s largely because that’s the overriding theme on Dark Side Of The Moon isn’t it? It’s not a concept album but this broad beast of an aural statement, which seems to encompass everyone’s paranoia and ill feeling about things that will one day inevitably happen. Lyrically it’s universal enough to speak to everyone… “Is this album telling us we’re all kinda fucked? It is? Shit. Well. Okay then. We better strap ourselves in…”
For me the most significant record, not necessarily for ‘the World’ but for Pink Floyd ‘the band’ will always be The Piper At The Gates of Dawn because it was an album that would go on to shape what would in so many ways prove to be the band’s saving grace further down the line for members of the band. It would provide this well of inspiration and a returnable source of sincerity. The specter of Syd Barrett didn’t really leave the band until Animals and The Wall, where Waters began taking sole ownership of Pink Floyd’s sound. But of the albums recorded post-Syd, up until Animals, I don’t find it any kind of cosmic coincidence that the strongest tracks come with more than a passing hint of ‘Syd the Beat’. So on Ummagumma, for instance, you’ve got Waters’s ‘Granchester Meadows’, which harks back to that pastoral carefree time in Cambridge where Barrett’s magical sway proved essential. On Meddle you’ve got a whole side in “Echoes” that I’ve always taken to be a recreation of that interlude-less light-driven freak-out which won people over back in the early days of the UFO Club. Rick Wright’s “Summer ’68″ on Atom Heart Mother, Dark Side‘s “Brain Damage,” “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” most obviously of all on Wish You Were Here. As great as The Wall is, I always find it a cold and emotionally detached record. Which many will say make it an unquestionable success, but it was less a collective coming together of a band at its peak and more a platform for Roger Waters to make the album he’d been formulating in his own mind for years. Mostly amid a building acrimony between him and the others, hence that sense of detachment. It seems unfair to call it a vanity album given it features some outstanding turns by all four members of the Floyd, but for me it’s not the truest Floyd album.
Live At Pompeii, though, is a wonderful document of Pink Floyd. And it can only have happened around that time where the band were hitting a stride and making waves on both sides of the Atlantic. Four snooty middle class lads with cash on the hip and ideas too big contain. A great document of the time as much as it is the band.
You touched upon the idea there of genre, and also of their early days. To me both these facets are critical when assessing Pink Floyd’s legacy and I’ve often wondered what fans on your side of the water tend to make of that psychedelic era? What are your opinions of this time and what would later become Progressive Rock in relation to Pink Floyd?
WILL: I know when I talk about the early days of Pink Floyd to people in my area of the world it comes with a lot of explanation. Even self-professed fans of Pink Floyd seem to be weary if not ignorant of anything previous to Dark Side of the Moon, but I also know a good many people that love that early stuff – coincidentally those tend to be musicians or just general music nerds. The 67 – 72 era, over here at least, has managed to remain wholly underground. It makes sense though. The band seemed always caught up in whatever era they were currently residing in, and when they became commercially successful there wasn’t really much need to harken back to the more psychedelic and improvisational material. I think there a lot of inroads to Floyd fandom and many people I know found their way in on the side of prog or “classic rock” or simply pop music, which is valid, but it tends to focus on the side of Floyd that dropped improvisation. I sort of approached the group early on from the side of psychedelia, which I think might be that Barrett-centric aspect you’re talking about, if I can generalize a bit, which most definitely lasted well after his departure, albeit – especially in the 70s – in a much more orchestrated sense. I think you bring up an interesting point with The Wall. There definitely is an element of detachment, but I don’t know if that makes it any less emotionally impactful. The Wall and The Final Cut have always struck me as Floyd’s most emotionally immediate records, and in The Wall‘s case, I think that detachment translates as longing and a number of other emotions that seem to strive away from emptiness. It’s an astonishingly complex record, and a human record in such a specific way that the thematic material of Dark Side of the Moon was never aiming for. I think The Wall gets propped up for its thematic surface level, but there’s a whole lot of contradictory and complexly uncertain stuff going on beneath that. Obviously that would all mean nothing if the music wasn’t on point, but I think it is, especially Waters’ vocal delivery, which on The Wall and The Final Cut became very raw and emotional and honest. That’s just my personal experience with it. I know a lot of people who feel a little rubbed the wrong way by how the band dynamic started to become a little one-sided, but when assessing the material, I usually try to forget about it. Waters seems like he was probably a supreme dick at that later point in Floyd’s run, but it resulted in some incredible music, so I can’t complain.
RICHARD: There’s no question of The Wall’s significance. It simply works, and always will work, whenever, wherever. Whether you feel apathy or empathy for it. So for that it’s got my vote.
Interestingly Joe Boyd once attributed some of Pink Floyd’s appeal in America to their “unAmericaness,” which, when you think about it, is a great observation. Especially when compared to Led Zeppelin or The Stones who had been flaunting (flouting possibly?) American roots for a few years in the run up to ’73. I think the closest Pink Floyd ever really came on record to approximating a similar sort of rock ‘n’ roll legacy in their career was on “Money,” with that very English and very snobbish take on Booker T, and “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)” where Gilmour knocks out a convincingly chic Nile Rodgers guitar line. So when rock eventually needed something foreign and unfamiliar, it arrived. Out of space almost.
The reason I think I keep coming back to that early Piper-era, and the reason why I hold it so dearly is because it’s a wonderful counter to that major criticism most people have of Pink Floyd; this suggestion that they are too contrived, too capable and calculating so therefore not captivating. That baffles me. People tend to forget that amid that initial wave of progressive rock many of its artists and the albums they turned out – most of which are now considered ‘classic rock’ albums – didn’t transpire overnight. Instead they were eventually arrived at over years, either through that late ’60s psychedelic era or via that early ’70s period of dissatisfaction with what that ’60s set out and ultimately failed to achieve. It was during those formative years that Pink Floyd learnt their craft, got experienced and began forming all of these grand ideas in the fresh ways. And it’s in this period where you can find the color, humor and early seeds of experimentation that that would later permeate so much of their work. Pink Floyd were selfishly attending to (or collectively self-serving) their creations long before Jonny Rotten was wearing that ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ t-shirt and it’s this self-centered interest in their music that makes Piper as intriguing as Dark Side Of The Moon or The Wall. This idea that they were always making records for themselves as musicians, not for us as listeners, runs through all of their records I think. Although perhaps less so in that more affable Gilmour fronted Floyd.
My interest piques on Wish You Were Here. Which I enjoy listening to as much, if not more than Dark Side Of The Moon because on that album I still find myself examining how the music fits into their history rather than questioning how a fictitious concept might make me ask what Pink or Roger did next? “Comfortably Numb,” “Run Like Hell” and “Is There Anybody Out There?” are terrific though. And “Fletcher Memorial Home” on The Final Cut is probably one of Roger Waters’s finest songs. One thing I do appreciate, and always respect from Roger Waters, however, are his lyrics. He was just the master of pathos and clever to pair his own personal subject matters with larger social concerns of the time. And The Wall still works now. Which is probably why it is so adaptive and can be knocked down and rebuilt a hundred times over. There’s also no question that the stage show must have been something to behold. I still fear Gerald Scarfe’s marching hammers and Draconian teachers having been made to watch a shitty VHS copy of the film when I was young. Terrifying. Now though, in hindsight, I can never decide whether those theatrics were an impressive forerunner of what would later become ‘Spinal Tap excess’, or a very expensive live beard to hide away what was, admittedly, four very drab and uncharismatic musicians playing live on stage? What do you think about Pink Floyd ‘the show’?
WILL: I think you’re spot on in denoting the Piper-era and most of their late 60s output as musically self-serving. That’s a really good way to sum the direction those few years took. That sounds a bit negative as “self-serving” certainly has a stigma, but I think in this case it’s more to do with how introverted the group seemed at the time. It’s interesting to note how local and club-trotting Floyd were their first few years, especially when contrasted to the arena-packing status they ultimately achieved. There’s an aura of intimacy that comes along with some of the best and most esoteric 60s groups that often belonged to a scene no matter what part of the world. Yet that’s been all but written off as a quaint beginning. I think you’re right though. It’s perhaps the most interesting and unpredictable time for them as an evolving band, albeit the least accessible. I personally gravitate to albums as whole statements, which is another reason why later Floyd appeals to me so much. I’ve really come to see those divergent directions the band took as almost different groups altogether. Everything really changed in no time at all to become more orchestrated as you said. I think because Floyd started to play their music live so close to what was on record, they sort of needed that visual component. I do think they were able to take it to a place that sidestepped the excess of later 70s rock groups or at least they put that excess toward a more artistic vision instead of excess for excess’ sake. But I think there’s also something to the “hide away” element you mentioned. Pink Floyd became sort of a faceless group compared to their early years. I can’t think of another band that is made up of so much iconography as Floyd. I think the live element was just another part of that. And I think, for better or worse, it defines Floyd as an inseparable element to who they were or what they’ve become in terms of rock mythology. I mean, The Wall became a pretty distinguished feature-length film. Any thoughts on that iconographic element? Maybe you disagree. It’s interesting you mention the “un-American-ness” of Floyd. I think one of the styles of music I most associate with being solely European is the Krautrock stuff of late 60s/early 70s, which Floyd’s brand of space rock preceded by a couple years, yet sounds very much in touch with. Do you have any thoughts on that connection? I feel like there’s something there, but it goes unsaid most of the time.
RICHARD: Well, I think there’s a fair measure in Piper that would suggest that particular period as their most accessible. Those early singles and album tracks like “Bike” and “The Gnome” are unabashed pop songs nestled amid imposing prototypes of what would eventually become big Floyd ostentation (“Interstellar Overdrive” for instance). But the key thing to remember is this was 1967; Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came along and changed the face of music overnight, shifting mass appreciation from singles to albums. Yet, here you had a band who emerged with a record, recorded at the same time, in the exact same studio as Sgt. Pepper’s and also takes in both pre and post impressions of that vital shift. Progressive pop music. Three-minute songs alongside nine-minute jams. Perceptive, contemporary, with an ear cocked to the future. Wonderful. I feel what came later on grew even more self-serving but I think you’re absolutely right about that European influence. Distinctly French in method if like most you subscribe – as I’m certain the Floyd themselves did – to the notion that they approached recording music the same way an artist would apply his brush to a canvas. Or something similarly bombastic. Plus their involvement with Barbet Schroeder on More and Obscured By Clouds, along with Roger Waters’ ‘Pink Floyd ballet’ recital for Roland Petit found them steering their sound away from popular product toward more academic/artistic arrangement. There’s no doubt that Pink Floyd were gearing up for a more creative existence, and that’s a point found in your Krautrock comparison. I think musically there are many links between Pink Floyd and Krautrock; an appreciation of outsider styles like jazz and the avant-garde, an audacious approach to production, and, as we agreed, a self-interest in their creations. But one of the broader associations I’ve always liked is that of history. More significantly the timing and cultural impact of a World War on two unconnected generations. Across European fronts, baby boomers born in the wake of World War II would infamously go on to generationally distance themselves from their parents and consider their customs outmoded. Most palpably through the ’60s when ‘teen-aged’, sharing peace, love and hair, one for all and all for fun etc. But into their twenties/thirties and with that ’70s hangover, for those who didn’t emerge as acid causalities or on the flip, high-powered sales executives, most of the professional musicians surfaced technically capable but cynical that they had become their parents. Disillusioned (definitely so in the case of Roger Waters) with things like war, which their decade fought to stamp out. And perhaps disillusioned with what they failed to achieve. So what else was there to do but reset the clock and start over? And of course this self-reproach must have felt even heavier in Germany when you consider how that generation had to shoulder the burden of their country’s role in the war, on land quite literally divided. Krautrock and the some of the music Pink Floyd would go on to create in the ’70s to me often feels like music of the future, but music with a load of caveats, conditions and footnotes. Chin up, push on, but be wary…. At it’s core though most of Krautrock and some of Pink Floyd’s output is not music instantly comparable or indebted to styles established commercially, or held in common esteem.
I totally agree with you on the iconography of Pink Floyd. And you’re right; few bands – with the possible exception of The Beatles – seem to come with so many visual motifs. After losing Syd Barrett Pink Floyd were left four very capable, very middleclass ex-students who had turned into very professional musicians. Which the general British public must have viewed as something of a lackluster breed by celebrity standards. I’m sure the band even crushed hype by openly loathing that ‘space rock’ tag in the press and disapproving of drug use. But, as we said, they were doing it for themselves and those grand theatrics brought Pink Floyd to life as much as the music did on occasion. Giant inflatable pigs and functioning airplanes at live shows. I don’t think I’d want to know anyone who couldn’t appreciate that level of eccentricity.
What’s your favorite Pink Floyd record cover by the way? Not to tip the sacred cow here but I’ve never liked the cover of The Wall. But Atom Heart Mother and Animals always makes me grin. Love those covers.
WILL: From my perspective the pioneering experimentalism that was born out of a post-war mentality, as well as a more archetypical example of post-modernism, in both England and, probably especially, Germany, reminds me of the experimentation that went into the creation of jazz in early twentieth century America. I think the parallel comes from a conscious need to distinguish a new generation via music and build upon some traditional and folk music with very out there and purposeful experimentation using nontraditional instrumentation and revolutionary musical ideas. Though, with Krautrock, there is some American influence, The Velvet Underground being the big one. This is kind of getting away from Pink Floyd, but I think you bring up a very meaty point in the case of where the sound of Krautrock came from and I think that changing landscape at the end of 60s is really infused in that German psychedelia and proto-electronica as well as Pink Floyd’s improvisation. You could even cast that lens on American bands like MC5 and The Stooges who were partial to forebearers like Sun Ra more than Sunny Boy Williamson (though they did have that too) and whose lengthy improvisations took on an atonal and anti-rock edge. Though I think if you put those bands under a more specific microscope that comparison might fall apart. The Stooges often get labeled as nihilists, though I think it was more of just a prototypical punk attitude and MC5 were obviously more politically charged and very American in that sense. But I digress… Tying it all together, it’s interesting that themes of war ambivalence have cropped up across Floyd’s discography starting with “A Saucerful of Secrets” and ending with The Final Cut. I honestly don’t feel wholly equipped to dissect that cultural dynamic and Floyd’s place as a part of it, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Maybe we can come back to war as a Floyd theme when we talk about The Final Cut because I definitely want to touch on that record at some point. Do you know of any other English bands that were improvising similiarly to Floyd in that early era?
As far as album covers, I’m partial to Meddle and Animals. Animals is especially striking and provocative. I guess that brings up the question, how do you feel about the political edge the group started to develop on Animals (and Wish You Were Here to a certain extent)?
RICHARD: That jazz element is important but maybe less so in terms of actual practice when considering most stuff post-Syd I think. Dark Side Of The Moon especially if you consider jazz music to be this freeform trade off between musicians. As far as I can tell, Dark Side was recorded as anything but. But then again that’s what I’ve always liked about it: its design. It’s a predetermined suite that cleverly has jazz associations like wind instruments, longer compositions (movements?) and odd time signatures. Irregular signatures that are so well-worked they force a penny to subconsciously drop in your mind and make you forget about structure and appreciate the fact that you don’t always need it 4/4 to enjoy rock music. It’s alien at times but you can still immerse yourself in it. While we’re talking about outsider styles I also think the gospel and classical elements are fantastic too. Rick Wright’s piano intro and Clare Torry’s backing vocals on “The Great Gig In The Sky” are outstanding. If you ever get the chance read about how she contributed her vocal to that track. (The best example you’ll ever find to support how puzzle-fashioned Pink Floyd assembled that album.) I especially love how the end of that particular track segues into the till and coin samples of “Money.” Archaic and transcendent one minute, prog-funk thereafter. Saxophone too – very jazz. But by cloaking all of the above in enough electricity and grandeur, Pink Floyd banked the success of Dark Side for years to come. When all of those sounds collude you end up listening to a record that could pass for whatever you’re happy to call your bag. Rock, jazz, prog, classical… Planet aligning stuff.
Your point about the American influence in Krautrock is true too. I think if you were getting into bands like Tangerine Dream, Can and Amon Duul early on (i.e. back in the day) you’d have probably come through that psychedelic era aware of groups like The Velvet Underground and Mothers Of Invention. This is best reflected on the opening track of Amon Düül’s second album Yeti I think, which encompasses that crossover you’ve highlighted. “Soap Shop Rock” kicks off with a relatively familiar US garage rock dirge but a few minutes in you quickly realize that it’s anything but typical. After those first few moments come fourteen strong minutes of avant-garde noise, heavy space rock, violas, and eerie wails. Blues, classical and jazz are all in there too but as with so much of Krautrock I think it was less about approximating those traditional styles and instead seeing just how far you could take them beyond the point of recognition. Pink Floyd didn’t do this as much as package a wonderful and marketable version of this approach with Dark Side Of The Moon. Where Pink Floyd took total control of the music, players of Krautrock probably just took the music wherever it wanted to go.
If you’re looking for bands in the ilk of Pink though, I highly recommend most things affiliated to the Canterbury Scene. Soft Machine’s Volume 2 (‘69, Probe) is essential. Gong, made up of original Softs guitarist Daevid Allen and wife Gilli Smyth has come to define space rock for many and their first two albums on the French label BYG are killer. Caravan’s In The Land Of Grey And Pink, Khan, Egg, pre-Rain Dances era Camel. Comus! Comus are exceptional. Many of these acts either shared the stage or scene with Pink Floyd at one time or another but remained truer in my opinion to that improv-driven, collective-led ethos of being gigging musicians. And Magma! Away from England, but only a stones throw across the water. So many great bands, most of whom were signed to the major labels’ underground subsidiaries like Vertigo, Dawn, Deram and of course, Harvest.
But let’s talk about The Final Cut as I can tell you’re a great admirer. It’s always been one of those Pink Floyd albums I’ve paid little mind to because it sits so far away from that early line-up. And possibly because, as you pointed out, it has ‘political edge’. I think punk confirmed in many of us Brits a need to either hear about politics in less than three minutes, or not at all. You had Springsteen and Dylan. We had Elton John and The Beatles. Says it all I think.
What does The Final Cut say to you as a listener?
WILL: I was actually going to mention Soft Machine, which is interesting because they started out with shorter tracks and then went on to release a double album with 20 minute long noisy jazz improvisations even perhaps beyond what Floyd was doing sonically around the same time. I’ve scrapped the Canterbury scene a little and I wasn’t sure what connection it had with Floyd. Interesting. Gong is awesome too. Definitely taking things to a more straight forward “space rock” jazz rock realm. Great bands. I could write pages on “Great Gig in the Sky.” Perhaps my favorite Floyd track after “Careful With that Axe” (the connection between the two is definitely palpable). Just the pure visceral outburst of emotion in the vocal performance is astonishing. I think you hit the nail on the head with Dark Side in that it’s an orchestration built without as much linearity. It feels like the ultimate crossroads for the group in that pieces of their experimentation is still in play, but, again, it’s much more constructed and purposeful and pre-meditated than anything that came before it. Though I often wonder if it’s simply down to production and budget in regard to how much more sophisticated the record is in terms of arrangement when compared to anything that came before (or after, for that matter, though that’s not the point). That said, Dark Side is so embedded in my early childhood memories that it’s hard to separate my critical judgement from that aspect of my perspective.
But okay, so, The Final Cut. I actually do have a lot to say about Roger Waters’ “political” themes of that latter era where I think he came into his own as a lyricist. I should also say that I actually watched The Wall film last night for the first time in many years, so that got me thinking a lot about this. And I’m actually like you, I avoided The Final Cut for most of my life because it fell so far outside of Floyd’s spotlight period and it often has the sort of passive reputation as a dark horse because it has none of what came to define Floyd. It’s raw and minimal and organic. Lot of piano and strings. My love for it is a relatively recent event considering how long I’ve been glued to the group. I’d heard it when I was younger and I remember hating it, but I can’t really say why. In any case, yes, The Final Cut is incredibly political, but I think where it differs from Animals, and it has this in common with The Wall, is that it’s borne out of such a personal place for Waters rather than a place of unprecedented political commentary, which Animals certainly was. I think Animals can be quite cutting and astute with its commentary, but in comparison to The Wall and The Final Cut it is much broader and allegorical and has little outside of finger-pointing politics and Orwellian social commentary. Some might disagree with me on that, but Animals, to me, has never really been about the lyricism in any case. The Wall and The Final Cut really come across as Waters trying to reconcile his father’s war-time death, which obviously played an enormous part in both records. I group these two albums together because a lot the material was written consecutively and the lyricism is very similarly approached. The Wall is much more ambitious and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s the better overall record and listening experience. I mean, it’s a character study revolving around isolation and abandonment and Waters succeeds in the writing, successfully and intricately tying together a father’s death, a mother’s repressive influence, an abusive school life, and a wife’s betrayal all to formulate a single person’s literal and metaphorical isolation from the people around him. He then goes on to connect those very individual themes to a broader definition of power and oppression. That’s just the writing, and the music more than captures the feelings those lyrics are reaching for. It’s simply incredible to me how surgical a deconstruction of a character the album is (I do think the album works better than the film in this respect, by the way). The Final Cut, is a more direct approach to Waters’ father’s death and the futility of war when viewed through the eyes of an individual as a part of world that has little concern for that individual. The Final Cut can be a bit more abstract than The Wall, making it vary in the specificity of its lyricism, but I think where it succeeds, and perhaps in some cases exceeds the previous record, is in how emotionally raw Waters’ delivery of those lyrics is and how they occupy the minimal arrangements. And, unlike Animals, the political commentary comes from an extremely personal and specific perspective that’s often more effective in its implicitness, highlighting the effect of war on an individual, his life after, the alienation he felt, the effect on those around him, and how incredibly distant and irrelevant it all is from the workings of Margret Thatcher and company. I think what really strikes me is there’s no element of self-importance to the political aspect of the record. I don’t think Waters ever had the notion that this record would be a grand flag-waving statement. If anything, it reeks of cynicism and the futility of an individual’s effect on that grander working. I think at some point it’s hard to even call it a political record anymore. It’s an intricate and layered character study connecting a single person to a grander theme that permeates the world around him, perhaps broader and more explicit (and much more flawed) than The Wall, but perhaps even more personal to the writer and performer, which comes across in the music and especially the vocals. I think the first verse of “The Gunner’s Dream” is really the record’s most singular and defining moment. It’s honestly hard for me not to get choked up every time I hear it. It’s also just jaw-dropping writing.
RICHARD: Well the Falklands was that first real instance of war those baby boomers I mentioned previously had to face as conscientious adults (in Britain at least) and I think you’re absolutely right about many things here. In fact I felt compelled to go out and buy the recent reissue of The Final Cut yesterday after reading your assessment and I’m really glad I did. The sound on the remastered version is impressive. Like I said, I’ve never given it much time before but revisiting it earlier made me feel kind of foolish for putting it to one side for so long. There’s no denying that it’s a very Roger Waters-sounding album and the history of its creation would corroborate this since, like The Wall, it’s another of his cherished children. But you’re bang on the money about it not being overly self-serving in a lyrical sense. It’s very rich and picaresque isn’t it? Politics are there throughout but not always central to what is really being sung about. Namely loss, isolation etc. Listening to it back it comes over a bit like a heroic journey with war as a backdrop and final curtain. I’ve always liked “When The Tigers Broke Free” because it sounds very noble. I especially like the way it ends abruptly on the line, “And that’s how the high command / Took my daddy from me.” I’m Welsh so was never really raised with this national sense of British pride some Americans think all us Brits have (although it’s something I definitely recognize the older I get), but the sort of conflicts Waters sings about here would have affected my father, his grandfather, and his father, and so on. It’s the emotional consequences of war that linger for generations, as Waters sums up neatly in the lines, “Still the dark stain spreads between their shoulder blades / a mute reminder of the poppy fields and graves.” Maybe as the years go by I will grow to value this record even more. I’ve certainly developed a new-found respect for it while thinking about it today.
There are some moments where I think it falls victim to the dated trappings of early ’80s production techniques. Like the phased guitar intro to “The Hero’s Return” and saxophone solo on “The Gunner’s Dream,” but these are neither here nor there. That latter track is just magnificent. “The Gunner’s Dream” and, as I mentioned earlier on, “The Fletcher Memorial Home” is Waters at his very best in my opinion. When he reaches those sorts of levels of self-exploration he really is able to pull something special out of nothing and make it accessible, for everyone. Weirdly too, having heard this album again, I now see a very touching side to someone who at the time was at the height of his personal tyranny. I was reading up about this record and didn’t realize that it was very nearly his first solo album. Where do you stand on his solo stuff? I think it’s interesting enough but too melodramatic for my liking.
WILL: I’m so glad you gave The Final Cut another shot. I had the exact same experience with it before getting super caught up in the record. I think all your points are spot fucking on. The tenderness and specificity of the lyrics are definitely something you wouldn’t expect from an album that gets the political rap. Picaresque is a great way to describe them. I totally agree that some of the 80s production stuff does come through a little strong, but I think a lot of the string arrangements counteract any of the cheese the 80s-ness might have held for me. I’ve actually kind of embraced that aspect to be honest. I sort of love the sax solo on “The Gunner’s Dream” as melodramatic as it is. “The Fletcher Memorial Home” is the track that really makes me feel Waters’ frustration. There’s some brilliant stuff in there. The moment where he’s listing off leaders’ names and the strings rise is pretty devastating.
As far as Waters’ solo career goes, I honestly haven’t listened to enough recently enough to have an opinion. I know I’ve listened to The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking a couple times, but I can’t remember it all that well. I know it was conceived around the same time as The Wall. Is it worth going back to?
Before we wind down with some bigger questions I think we would be crucified by some people if we didn’t touch on Wish You Were Here as I know some hold that in as high regard as Dark Side and The Wall. I’ll say a couple of maybe controversial things for the sake of argument: I think WYWH and Animals are the only Pink Floyd records that are tried-and-true prog rock. And I think WYWH is sort of overrated and Animals is better. Tell me I’m wrong.
RICHARD: Nah, that ’80s production works. You’re right to embrace every note. Maybe I should have said ‘of its time’ instead of ‘dated’ given those little touches only really stand out because they fall at quite pivotal moments. It’s important to remember too that they are essentially just natural developments of the sort of things Pink Floyd had relied on previously (saxophones, phased guitar, etc) so there’s little complaint from me on that front. It’s not as if it’s ’80s coke-driven disco, or epoch-teasing nonsense like Welcome To The Pleasuredome or No Jacket Required, or something truly ‘dated’ viewed in cynical hindsight. Although this is the sort of thing Waters found himself moving more and more toward later on, the further into that decade he wandered alone. If not wholly in terms of sound then definitely in terms of that frustrating ’80s approach to production, which found musicians valuing presets over common sense. Not that you can blame him. Unlike previous decades where he had to work hard for the right kind of sound he wanted, technology had created, programmed and saved them all. Sadly at a fraction of the quality.
Waters’s solo career though is interesting for a number of reasons and worth looking into, if only to dismiss outright after a few listens. I get the sense that he liked to hide a lot behind these grand progressive ideas, especially when left to his own devices. By the time of Radio K.A.O.S. he had reached bizarre levels of self-indulgence with lucid political plots that were borderline Anthony Burgess audio books… wheelchair bound Welsh boys and tales of nuclear holocausts on quiet English suburbs. Crazy and very easy to lose yourself in, but often with little reward at the end. The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking is quite interesting though. It’s the strongest of his solo albums but still very much below par when compared to The Final Cut or The Wall. Personally much darker and more angst ridden; less concerned with loss and sadness, and more focused on how to vent such hang-ups… “Hey Girl, take out the dagger / Let’s have a stab at sexual revolution / Tonight lie still / While I plunder your sweet grave.” Who said prog couldn’t be punk?
But yes. Very glad I gave The Final Cut another shot. Thank you for that little nudge. But Wish You Were Here? Love it. Like I said before, some days I think more of that record than Dark Side Of The Moon, mostly because of the history around its recording. It’s an impressive eulogy not only for Syd Barrett but also for ‘The Pink Floyd Of Old’. To my ears it’s the last record where all four members seem to pull equal creative weight, and by doing so they actually sound as if they are enjoying themselves. Especially if you read some of the interviews with less vocal members like Rick Wright. It also has this massive crash back to reality feel too after a few years in that heady wilderness of touring a world-swallowing album. It’s turned and toned down, like Houses Of The Holy it comes over as a record made in respite, and because of that features some of the more natural and appealing aspects of Gilmour’s guitar playing and Waters’s less fussy lyrics. Emotional lyrics too from a man who, as I pointed out, was on a train bound for total autonomy. The title track is special. “Wish You Were Here” to me is the sound of four pillars holding up a monolith of roots and memories. Nothing overly heavy or complicated, just four friends knocking out a tune in memory of a forgotten comrade. And then you have those two movements of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” that bookend the album perfectly. It’s that specter of ‘Syd The Beat’ I mentioned, who each member of the band carried guilt for at the time, you can almost hear it’s cathartic for all involved. Plus being British I’m extremely partial to a bit of sarcasm and irony and the mid-’70s boasted this everywhere. As a tongue in cheek critique on the music industry at the time Wish You Were Here pre-figured many of the complaints punk would later go on to beef about. The character for instance in “Have A Cigar” (sung by Roy Harper) could so easily be the same guy Johnny Rotten is railing against so angrily on “E.M.I.” And the line “Which one’s Pink?” Brilliant.
Animals I like. Always have. I especially like that loose Orwellian angle they play around, and given the year it was released it’s often held as a neat counterpoint to punk. But as I mentioned before, it’s a return for Pink Floyd to that conceptual Dark Side Of The Moon approach but with a shortage of real standout songs. It’s just always missed something for me. Not coherent enough perhaps? I don’t know. Not sure I’ll ever feel that strongly about it as a record.
WILL: I think all your points regarding Wish You Were Here are pretty spot on. I know in interviews Gilmour always seems to lament that as the last record he actually enjoyed making. I definitely enjoy it for Floyd’s most overtly synth-driven record, but I’ve really never latched onto the three center tracks. And even with both parts of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” I can’t really get into Gilmour’s guitar playing, but that’s more personal taste than a fault of the record’s. But I think unlike a lot of people, I like when Pink Floyd seems less like four dudes playing and more like a singular unit creating a singular vision – despite some of the early stuff pertaining to the former – and Dark Side of the Moon, to me, seems like the pinnacle of the latter. The difference between songwriters and musicians, if you will. As far as Animals, I’d disagree that it’s not very cohesive. I’ve always enjoyed it more than Wish You Were Here because it sounds like a tighter document to me. And I’d say it’s less about song standouts and more about instrumental moments and production detail. There’s nothing better than Waters’ voice melding with the synth on “Sheep.” I sort of think it’s the most interesting long form stuff they’d done since “Echoes.” But I’ve spent a lot of time with it, so maybe I’m too close. I’ve always had a soft spot for its elusive darkness and how overlooked it is. It has an earnestness, impulsiveness, and momentum (especially with Gilmour’s guitar playing) to it that I don’t think Pink Floyd managed to capture since before Meddle.
With the exception of that Live 8 appearance a few years ago and the fleeting ‘one night reunion’ back in May of last year, what do you think the chances are of there being another Pink Floyd project? As I sort of just touched upon when talking about age, the passing of time can have a massive effect on music. It can also be quite the healer of old war wounds as it were. What do you think new generations of music lovers will get from the legacy of Pink Floyd?
I have a feeling that we’ll never see Pink Floyd really in any significant form again. Even with this reissue push, the actual band seemed so uninvolved. But I don’t know. Anything could happen. I think Pink Floyd has a pretty unmovable place as a part of the rock pantheon. I think Floyd kind of exists as a band that rarely steps out beyond the headphones experience, if that makes sense. I think they’re one of the (if not the) quintessential just sit and space out bands. That’s almost become a stereotype and has a kind of drug-related stigma, but for me it’s more about how personal Floyd’s records are for how widespread their reach and acclaim is (DSotM is the third best selling record of all time). The personality never exceeds the music unlike a lot of other rock stars and bands of the same caliber. Perhaps the iconography and drug stereotypes exceed the music at times. But everyone I talk to (even casual fans) has their own experience with the band and relationship with the records that isn’t really governed by popular culture, despite the numbers grounding the band as one of the most ubiquitous. I think that’s an amazing and lasting and completely unique space for a band to occupy.
RICHARD: I think you’re right. It all comes back to this ‘selfishness it’s okay to like’ doesn’t it? The sort of acceptance we give Radiohead ’cause whether we like where they have taken their next album you just know there’ll be something to chew on when discussing it with people who in turn love Radiohead. Pink Floyd made music for themselves first and foremost and for us to listen to second, and should a chord or two strike you along the way then you’re onboard for life. Almost everyone in the history of twentieth century pop music has relied on universal themes we can all relate to (love, loss, fear etc.) but what I’ve always liked about Pink Floyd, especially through that ’70s period is that they make no bones about turning out whatever they’ve made for us to either establish a connection or disconnection with. Like I said earlier about The Wall, whether or not it works for you personally is a moot point since at the end of the day it will always work.
I’ve always had this almighty bugbear with The Beatles song “All You Need Is Love.” As great a composition and wonderful sentiment it truly is… all you need is love? I don’t think a weaker platitude has, or ever will be written like that again. And anyone who says that the key message there hasn’t grown weaker each passing year, either since The Beatles wrote it or you as a listener first heard it, is either lying or a stick-of-rock hippy with the words peace and love sugared down their spines. Age will make you love, hate, love and probably hate that song over and over again. To me Pink Floyd never seemed to go in for that. The use of themes so gossamer thin they’d wear out easily over time. Ask most to sing a song or two from Dark Side of The Moon and some might struggle. Whereas almost everyone can recite the lyrics to “Yellow Submarine” backwards.
Now, I’m not saying that Pink Floyd weren’t about making money but it’s always made me smile a little on the inside that the ridiculous amounts of money they did make came off the back off an album that most would be hard pressed to call straight up rock and/or pop. That ‘headphones experience’ you speak of is certainly true of most of Pink Floyd’s output I think and because of this many are quick to dismiss them outright because the best way to really get into them as a band also proves to be the most anti-social. Either alone in your own head or through the heads of a few close friends.