In many ways, when you listen to A Saucerful of Secrets you’re listening to the very beginning of Pink Floyd as we know them: the emphasis on soundscapes, feel and emotion in the music; the slow and less chaotic compositions; carefully composed longer pieces and a softer guitar sound compared to the jangly and abrasive tone favoured by Syd Barrett that characterised Piper…; all of these defining features for the band on latter albums were bought to the fore on this very album.
To begin with, you have “Let There Be More Light,” an album opener with intent that highlights a completely new band and a fresh approach to doing things. The fast pace gives way to a dirge-like tempo which helps to back-up the ethereal, otherworldly vocals. The move away from jangly guitar pop towards something more psychedelic and progressive isn’t limited to just “Let There Be More Light.” “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” is downright mysterious throughout, carefully pushed along by Nick Mason’s delicate percussion which provides more than a drum-beat for the song; it resembles a heartbeat more than anything else.
Fortunately, the odd and jangly pop isn’t completely dispensed with. “Corporal Clegg” provides a moment of light relief to proceedings as a jolly sounding ditty, with the band heard laughing towards the end. Of course, the subject matter is anything but light-hearted; a man losing his leg in WWII. However, the irony and sarcasm behind the lyrics only go to show how accomplished Roger Waters was as a lyricist even at this early stage, proving that taking over from Syd wasn’t such a daunting task. “Jugband Blues,” the other Piper… sounding holdover, provides a poignant and fitting tribute to the bands former leader and creative driving force.
The title track, “A Saucerful of Secrets” is the unmistakable centrepiece of the album, full of four completely abstract sections which incorporate everything from feedback to dissonant piano strikes. The beginning section is spacey and echoey, segueing into the second section, the heartbeat of which is a drum loop peppered with cymbal crashes and guitar chords. Section three is fairly short, using only an organ and chimes. Sections three becomes section four seamlessly, the organ changing into what sounds like some sort of lament; it’s the first time Pink Floyd move away from dissonance to an actual melody. A lyricless vocal melody is added shortly after wards making the lament far more emotive. As centrepieces go for a fledgling band, it ain’t half bad.
A Saucerful of Secrets gave the band the opportunity, or the burden if you wish, of striking out on their own which is no mean feat considering the input and influence Syd Barrett had on the band up until that point. In the face of that adversity Pink Floyd created a slow-burning and enveloping album; essentially, the complete opposite of Piper. While firmly rooted in the present, it gave a glimpse of what was to come later.